Clause 17 - Temporary increase in theatre tax credit

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 14 December 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 18 to 22 stand part.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Clauses 17 to 22 make a series of changes to the creative industry tax reliefs, in order to support the cultural sector as it recovers from the effects of the pandemic. These changes include temporary rate increases for theatre tax relief, orchestra tax relief, museums and galleries exhibition relief and an extension of the museum and exhibitions tax relief. The changes ensure that reliefs remain targeted, free from abuse and sustainable.

The effects of covid on the creative industries have varied depending on the nature of the medium. Social distancing and wider restrictions have had a particular impact on theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries, as they rely on live performances and exhibitions to generate revenue. Clauses 17 and 21 temporarily double the headline rate of relief for theatre tax relief and museums and galleries exhibition tax relief, from 20% for non-touring productions and 25% for touring productions to 45% and 50%, respectively. From April 2023, the rates will be reduced to 30% and 35%, and they will return to 20% and 25% on 1 April 2024.

Clause 19 temporarily doubles the headline rate of relief for the orchestra tax relief from 27 October 2021, from 25% to 50%, reducing to 35% from 1 April 2023 and returning to 25% on 1 April 2024. The temporary higher rates of relief will provide a further incentive for theatres, museums, galleries and orchestras to put on new productions, exhibitions and concerts over the next two and a half years. This is a tax relief for culture worth almost a quarter of a billion pounds.

Clauses 18 and 20 make changes to theatre tax relief and orchestra tax relief to help clear up areas of legislative ambiguity and reinforce the original policy intent. The changes will apply to any new productions commencing from 1 April 2022. The clarifications are as follows: first, the commercial purpose condition for theatre tax relief and orchestra tax relief will be clarified so that productions must be separately ticketed to be considered as having been performed before a paying audience.

Secondly, the educational purposes condition will clarify that it is the audience that is being educated, not the performers. Thirdly, the legislation clarifies that productions made for training purposes will be excluded. Fourthly, teaching costs incurred by educational establishments, which are not directly related to performances, will be specifically excluded from relief. Finally, the definition of a “dramatic piece” will be clarified, so that to qualify for the relief, productions must contain a story or a series of stories and must have an expected audience of at least five people.

Clause 22 extends the sunset clause of museums and galleries exhibition tax relief from April 2022 to April 2024 in order to give certainty to museums and galleries through the recovery from the effects of the pandemic. The Government will also take steps to prevent abuse or attempted abuse of museums and galleries exhibition relief by clarifying the existing legislation. The clause makes minor changes to clear up areas of legislative ambiguity and reinforce the original policy intent. The changes will apply to any new exhibitions commencing from 1 April 2022.

The first clarification will be to the definition of an exhibition, which will be clarified so that the

“display of an object or work” cannot be secondary to another activity. Secondly, to prevent private companies that are not museums or galleries from claiming on temporary outdoor sites, it will be clarified that being responsible for an exhibition is not sufficient for a company to qualify as maintaining a museum or gallery. Finally, the Government are relaxing the criteria for qualifying as a primary production company to allow more flexibility for museums and galleries scheduling touring exhibitions.

The changes will help UK theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries bounce back by incentivising new productions over the next two and a half years; continue Government support for charitable companies to put on high-quality museum and gallery exhibitions; and ensure that the relief is targeted and sustainable.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

Clause 17 will temporarily increase the rate of theatre tax credit for theatrical productions that commence production on or after 27 October 2021. From 27 October 2021 to 31 March 2023, companies will benefit from relief at a rate of 50% or 45% for touring and non-touring productions. From 1 April 2024, the rates of relief will return to the existing levels of 25% and 20% respectively.

Companies qualifying for theatre tax relief can surrender losses in exchange for a payable tax credit. The amount of loss able to be surrendered in a period is dependent on several factors, but will ultimately depend on the amount of core production expenditure that has been incurred in the UK or European Economic Area. A higher rate of relief is also available to theatrical productions that take place at more than one premise and are considered touring productions. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify how the definition of touring will be applied.

Section 1217K(6) of the Corporation Tax Act 2009 defines touring thus:

“A theatrical production is a ‘touring production’ only if the company intends at the beginning of the production phase—

(a) that it will present performances of the production in 6 or more separate premises, or

(b) that it will present performances of the production in at least two separate premises and that the number of performances will be at least 14.”

Paragraph (b) indicates that if a theatre company puts on 14 performances that were split between two venues—perhaps in the same town, just round the corner from one another—it would be eligible for 5% more tax credits than if it kept all 14 performances in the same venue. Perhaps the Minister could confirm whether that is the case.

As we have heard, clause 18 concerns theatrical production tax relief. It amends part 15C of the Corporation Tax Act 2009 to clarify several areas of legislative ambiguity relating to eligibility for theatre tax relief in relation to theatrical productions where the production phase will begin on or after 1 April 2022. We understand that the amendments are made to narrow the focus of the legislation and, according to the background of its explanatory note, to

“reinforce the original policy intent”.

Subsection (2) requires the intended audience to number at least five people for a production to be considered a “dramatic production”. It also stipulates that for a dramatic piece to qualify as a dramatic production, it must tell

“a story or a number of related or unrelated stories.”

Subsection (3) adds productions made for training purposes to the list of productions that are not regarded as theatrical and do not qualify for relief.

Subsection (4) amends the commercial purpose condition in section 1217GA of the 2009 Act so that a performance will not meet the condition unless it is separately ticketed and such ticketing is expected to make up a significant proportion of the performance’s earnings. A ticket may cover things besides admission to the performance, so long as such things are incidental to the performance and it is possible to apportion the ticket price between the performance and anything else included in the price. The subsection additionally clarifies that for a performance to meet the commercial purpose condition by being educational, it must be provided mainly to educate the audience.

As we have heard, clause 19 provides a temporary increase to orchestra tax credit. It temporarily increases the rate of orchestra tax relief for concerts or concert series that commence production on or after 27 October 2021. From 27 October 2021 to 31 March 2023, companies will benefit from relief at a rate of 50%. From 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024, the rate of relief will be set at 35%. From 1 April 2024, the rate of relief will return to its existing level of 25%.

Companies qualifying for orchestra tax relief can surrender losses in exchange for a payable tax credit. The amount of loss that can be surrendered in a period is dependent on several factors, but ultimately it depends on the amount of core production expenditure that has been incurred in the UK and the European Economic Area. This temporary rate rise is also being introduced to theatre tax relief, in clause 17, and museums and galleries exhibition tax relief in clause 21. It allows companies to claim a larger tax credit and is designed to support the industries as they recover from the adverse economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

Orchestral productions are a tremendously important cultural asset in this country, and we are pleased to support the clause, which provides additional support to a cultural industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. However, will the Minister outline what measures are in place to support musicians of other genres, or who perform in non-orchestral configurations? This is a welcome relief for orchestras, but other musical groups could be left out.

As we have heard, clause 20 pertains to tax relief for orchestras. This clause amends part 15D of the Corporation Tax Act 2009 to clarify several areas of legislative ambiguity within orchestra tax relief. These changes have effect in relation to concerts or concert series where the production process begins on or after 1 April 2022, and they are comparable to the changes concerning theatre productions in clause 18, in so far as the Bill clarifies that relief is not applicable to orchestral productions that take place for training purposes. It amends the Corporation Tax Act so that a concert will not meet the definition unless it is separately ticketed and such ticketing is expected to make up a significant proportion of the performance’s earnings.

Those are uncontroversial provisions that we do not oppose, because they reduce the risk of the tax relief being misused and maintain the spirit in which the legislation was originally developed. However, we note the Chartered Institute of Taxation’s concern that orchestras that made a series election before the Budget—for example, an orchestra that made a series election in September for its whole annual season—would appear to lose out on the higher rate of relief for their entire season. That is perceived to be unfair, and we would welcome clarity over whether that is the Government’s intention.

Clause 21 provides a temporary increase to the rate of relief afforded to museums and gallery exhibitions that commence production on or after 27 October 2021. From 27 October 2021 to 31 March 2023, companies will benefit from relief at a rate of 50% or 45% for touring and non-touring exhibitions respectively. From 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024, the rates of relief will be set at 35% and 30%. From 1 April 2024, the rates of relief will return to their existing levels of 25% and 20%.

Companies qualifying for this relief can surrender losses in exchange for a payable tax credit. The amount of loss that can be surrendered in a period is dependent on several factors, but it ultimately depends on the amount of core production expenditure that has been incurred in the UK and European Economic Area. We do not oppose the measure, because it relates to another sector that has been hurt by the pandemic and that we want to see back on its feet, providing the best educational and cultural enrichment that it can to the British people.

However, will the Minister clarify where world heritage sites fit into the legislation, and whether they could be considered museums or gallery exhibitions? According to UNESCO, the UK and Northern Ireland have 33 world heritage sites: 28 cultural, four natural and one mixed.

Finally, clause 22 concerns the aforementioned tax relief to museums and gallery exhibitions, clarifying some legislative ambiguities and amending criteria for primary production companies. Those amendments have effect in relation to exhibitions where the production stage begins on or after 1 April 2022. The relief was introduced with a sunset clause and was due to expire from 1 April next year, but this clause extends the relief for a further two years. Any expenditure incurred after 1 April 2024 will not qualify for relief unless there is a further extension.

As we can see, subsection (1) amends the definition of an exhibition so that a public display of an object is not an exhibition if it is subordinate to the use of that object for another purpose. For example, if a historic passenger train offers rides between two towns, although the train may have historical or cultural significance, its main purpose is to provide passenger transport. This does not preclude the possibility of there being an exhibition on board the train.

Finally, and more broadly, we are aware of concerns from within the industry regarding productions that straddle the commencement dates of these reliefs. For each relief, the increased rate applies only to productions where the production stage for the exhibition began on or after the Budget on 27 October 2021, when the change was announced. So, a production that received the green light on 26 October, or earlier, would not gain the benefit of the increased rate, however long it ran for after the commencement date for the increased rate. We understand there are those in the sector who perceive that as harsh and arbitrary, and we welcome the Minister’s thoughts on the matter.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 10:45, 14 December 2021

Of course, I support the proposed tax credits. They will be a useful part of the picture of support for theatres, museums and orchestras, of which there are many in my constituency of Glasgow Central—which is, of course, the best constituency in the country, as I am sure everyone would agree. We have the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Scottish Ballet, as well as Tron Theatre company and the Citizens Theatre company. These proposals may be of assistance to them, so I ask the Minister what communication has been put out to the sector to ensure that it is aware of the relief and taking it up as required.

I share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Ealing North, and I, too, seek answers from the Minister to the questions that the hon. Gentleman asked. It strikes me that many of these proposals provide assistance for productions of some kind, but that misses the other side of the equation. It is good to support companies, but if the venues and theatres in which they wish to perform go bust because they do not have the support that they need, that will not solve the problems that the companies have faced for the past year as a result of the pandemic. I urge the Minister to look at support for the sector more widely.

Many who work in the sector—in orchestras and in theatres, behind the scenes and on the stage—are freelancers, and many have received no support whatsoever from the Government during the pandemic. They have faced a very difficult time, and the Government need to resolve that part of the equation. They could perhaps do so by looking at extending the VAT relief that they introduced, as the SNP has called for.

We were very glad that the Government brought in the reduction in the rate of VAT, but it would be useful to see that continued beyond the cut-off in April next year. That would give a sector that has faced such a difficult time a bit of extra support into next year. It does not make much sense to me to cut that off, and not to incentivise people to go out and make use of the theatres and music venues we all have in our constituencies.

The sector has had a very difficult time. The proposed tax credits are useful, but we need to look at the wider picture. If there is no venue in which to perform or to showcase an orchestra, ballet, theatre production or pantomime, because those venues have gone bust and no longer exist, the Government are missing a trick. It is important that we support the venues and those who work in the sector, wherever that is, and that we look at the wider picture, rather than at a narrow bracket of tax reliefs.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Member for Ealing North asked about world heritage sites. The answer to his question is that a world heritage site would be considered to be a site of cultural significance. It would be considered as an exhibition and would qualify, so long as it is maintained by a charity or local authority.

The hon. Gentleman recognised that those who had commenced productions before 27 October would not qualify for the relief. He is right about that, although we have doubled relief until 2023 and increased it until 2024. Productions that started before the announcement have been able to benefit from the normal rates of relief and the comprehensive package of support provided for the cultural sector over the pandemic. They will continue to benefit from relief at the 2020-21 rates. It is important, and we have made it clear, that these proposals relate to new activity, because it is new activity that we want to support through this particular relief.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about touring and musicians. HMRC has recently issued further guidance where industry has asked for it, in relation to the interpretation of the legislation. I will get back to him about those two points.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central made a few points; I am afraid I must challenge her on her statement that Glasgow Central is the best constituency in the country. The best constituency is, of course, South East Cambridgeshire—fortunately, no one will have an opportunity to respond to that. She made an important point about communication. The Chancellor mentioned these reliefs in the Budget statement and they were included in all the communications about it at the time, which were highly publicised. The hon. Lady makes an important point, however, and I will continue to ensure that when we make reliefs, those who qualify for them are aware that they do. We are doing quite a lot of work on how to spread the message more broadly to enable companies to take up the reliefs that the Government offer.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The point is that large production companies will have accountants who will know what those companies are eligible for, but smaller companies might not even be aware of what is available because they are too small to fill in the paperwork. They may need extra support to do so. Anything the Government could offer in that regard would be useful.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

That is a valuable point. I know in my constituency that small organisations got a variety of grants from the Arts Council and were able to access those reliefs, but I will discuss that point further with my officials. I thought the hon. Lady might want to intervene on the question of which constituency is the best in the country.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I commend the clauses to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 to 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Alan Mak.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.