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Coronavirus: Government vows £1.57bn lifeline for the arts - but no plans to resume live shows

06 July

A massive £1.57bn coronavirus lifeline for the arts is being promised by the government, but theatres and music venues could still remain closed until next year.

The emergency cash aid, in grants and loans, has been welcomed by leading figures from the arts, but there will be dismay that there are still no plans to resume live performances.
There are fears that many theatres, concert halls and other venues may not reopen until next summer, which would mean them remaining closed through Christmas - with no panto season.
Labour has dismissed the handout as "too little, too late" and a top Tory MP said it would only provide temporary help - and claimed social distancing does not work for theatres and other venues.
Announcing the rescue package, Boris Johnson appeared to acknowledge that the return of many theatre productions, musicals and concerts of all sizes would not be possible in the foreseeable future.
"From iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries to gigs performed in local basement venues, the UK's cultural industry is the beating heart of this country," the prime minister said.
But he added: "This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down."
The government says it is working to get the performing arts back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so and is being guided by medical experts. Guidance for a phased return will be published shortly.
The £1.57bn lifeline comes after frantic lobbying by the arts world, the closure of the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton and even claims that the Royal Albert Hall will go bust without urgent funding.
It is estimated that 350,000 people in the recreation and leisure sector have been furloughed since the pandemic began. But that scheme is due to end in October.
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Under the new scheme, organisations from the performing arts and theatres, heritage, historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema will be able to apply for emergency grants and loans.
The government claims the money represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture and will help organisations facing closure and bankruptcy stay afloat while their doors are closed.
The package includes:
• A £1.15bn support pot for cultural organisations in England delivered through a mix of grants and loans. This will be made up of £270m of repayable finance and £880m grants
• £100m of targeted support for the national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust
• £120m capital investment to restart construction on cultural infrastructure and for heritage construction projects in England which was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic
• An extra £188m for the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland (£33m), Scotland (£97m) and Wales (£59m).
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations. I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment."
But Labour's shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: "Whilst we welcome the announcement of a much-needed injection of cash into the sector, for many this is too little too late.
"The government needs to ensure that this vital funding gets to those theatres and other organisations currently teetering on the brink and fast - especially those across the towns and small cities where live performance venues and other arts organisations are so valuable to local economies providing many interdependent jobs, particularly in hospitality."
Tory MP Julian Knight, who chairs the Culture Select Committee, said: "This is the first step to help prevent some of our major cultural institutions from going under.
"This money is welcome and should take some out of the danger zone, if only temporarily. But to secure their long-term future there needs to be a targeted sector deal, possibly involving more generous tax breaks.
"We know that one-metre social distancing doesn't work economically for most theatres and venues in the UK. We ultimately need to have a means by which these organisations can open safely and gain the confidence of the public."
There has been a warm welcome for the government aid from leading figures in the arts world, however.
National Theatre director Rufus Norris said theatre companies across the country "stand ready to respond with creativity and commitment, and to reopen as soon as is safe".
"We feel very positive that this major investment will reach and sustain the vital talent and infrastructure - both organisations and freelancers - which make British theatre truly world-leading," he added.
Composer and impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose musicals have run for decades in London's West End, said: "This news is truly welcome at a time when so many theatres, orchestras, entertainment venues and other arts organisations face such a bleak future."
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Playwright James Graham, author of top West End, TV and film hits, said: "In normal times, we are a profitable and world-beating industry, and we can be again.
"The scale and the ambition of this package is incredibly welcome and I have to say a huge relief to the hundreds of thousands of skilled workers, not to mention millions of audience members, who want to be able to get British culture back up and thriving as soon as it is safe to do so."
And Sir Nicholas Serota, chairman of Arts Council England, said: "I know our amazing artists and creative organisations will repay the faith that the government has shown by demonstrating the range of their creativity, by serving their communities and by helping the nation recover as we emerge from the pandemic."
Nickie Aiken, Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster including the West End, said: "COVID has thrown our theatres, arts and cultural venues into a perilous position and 70% were expected to run out of cash by the end of the year.
"If these venues collapse, so do the local pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants that rely on them. For every pound spent at the theatre, a further £5 is spent in the local economy."

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Iran claims it has 'missile cities' as 6 incidents prompt theories it is under attack

06 July

Iran has admitted that "significant damage" has been caused by a mysterious incident at one of the country's nuclear facilities.

The explosion was reported at the Natanz nuclear facility on Friday morning.
The authorities in Iran initially said there had only been minor damage at the plant.
They now acknowledge the damage could set back the country's nuclear programme by months, according to a statement by the country's Atomic Energy Organisation.
In a separate revelation, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Navy chief has said that underground "missile cities" have been built along the country's Gulf coast.
"Iran has established underground onshore and offshore missile cities all along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman that would be a nightmare for Iran's enemies," Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri told the Sobh-e Sadeq weekly.
There have been six curious incidents over the past couple of weeks in Iran.
On the face of it, they are unconnected. But as conspiracy theories abound, what do we actually know? Could they be attacks? Who could be behind them and why?

What happened?

26 June: An explosion at a weapons depot in Parchin near Tehran. Hours later, 600 miles south in Shiraz, the power went out.
30 June: An explosion killed 19 people at a medical clinic in central Tehran.
2 July: An 'incident' was reported by Iranian media at the Natanz nuclear facility.
3 July: A huge fire in Shiraz, the same town hit by the power outage days earlier.
4 July: A fire at a power station in Ahvaz in southern Iran.

What do we know about each incident?

The Parchin attack
The explosion took place early on the morning of 26 June. Footage captured by locals showed a huge arc-like explosion lighting up the sky.
The Iranian defence ministry claimed it was the consequence of a "gas storage facility" leak at the Parchin military base.
Iranian media was given access to a site showing a small hole in a gas tank inconsistent with the images of a huge explosion.
Open-source satellite images released by the weekend showed a large burnt patch of land. It was not located within the military base, as Iran had claimed, but next to it, at a missile production facility in Khojir.
Days later, Kuwait's al Jarida newspaper quoted a "senior security source" saying that the attack was carried out by an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jet.
Officials from the Israeli prime minister's office and the Israeli Defence Force both declined to comment.
The Khojir missile complex, part of the wider Parchin military zone, is understood to contain a research, development and manufacturing facility.
Parchin was visited by nuclear inspectors in 2015 after renovations to the facility prompted international suspicion of nuclear activity.
Shiraz power outage
Six-hundred miles to the south of Parchin, at almost the same time, a power cut hit the city of Shiraz.
Shiraz is home to a major air base and the Iranian military's 55th Airborne Brigade.
No explanation has been given for the cut.
Tehran clinic explosion
Nineteen people died on 30 June after an explosion at the Sina Athar clinic in Tehran.
State media showed extensive damage, with injured people stretchered to ambulances.
Iranian media said the explosion was the result of a gas leak.
Natanz enrichment facility 'incident'
The explosion happened at about 2am on 2 July.
Reports of an incident at the nuclear enrichment facility first emerged from Iranian state media eight hours later.
State media was given a tour of the facility the same afternoon.
A spokesman for the country's Atomic Energy Organisation confirmed minor damage and said there was no risk of radioactive pollution.
The New York Times then quoted an unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence official as saying that "the blast was caused by an explosive device planted inside the facility. The explosion... destroyed much of the above-ground-parts of the facility".
Other reports have suggested the explosion might have been caused by a cyber attack. In 2010, high-speed centrifuges at the same facility were knocked out by the Stuxnet computer worm.
Experts have variously attributed the origin of the Stuxnet virus to Israel and the US.
Natanz is at the centre of the Iranian nuclear programme and is on the International Atomic Energy Agency's list of nuclear sites of interest.
Some of the country's more sophisticated uranium enrichment centrifuges are thought to be assembled at Natanz.
Iranian officials have now conceded that significant damage was caused in the 2 July incident.
Fire in Shiraz
Social media video on Thursday night showed a large mysterious fire in the southern city of Shiraz.
Relying only on social media reports, it's thought the fire was in the Zargari area of the city.
Ahvaz power station fire
A fire knocked out a power station transformer in the southwestern city of Ahvaz on Saturday.
Al Arabiya TV quoted a firefighter as saying that one of the generators had exploded.
There is no known military or nuclear facility in Ahvaz.

Coincidental incidents or part of a coordinated attack?

Intriguingly, the Israeli foreign minister used a weekend conference to fuel speculation.
Asked about the incident in Natanz, Gabi Ashkenazi said: "We have a long-term policy... not to allow Iran to have nuclear abilities.
"This regime with those abilities is an existential threat to Israel... we take actions that are better left unsaid," the foreign minister said.
It follows a pattern by Israel of neither confirming nor denying involvement in attacks which take place frequently against Iranian targets in Syria and Iran.
Israel is increasingly concerned by what it sees as the growing danger posed by Iran's nuclear weapons programme and its attempt to supply regional proxies - such as Hezbollah in Lebanon - with precision-guided missiles.
Israel consistently lobbies Western allies to take the Iranian threat seriously.
In 2011, an explosion in Iran killed a key architect of the country's missile programme. It knocked Iran's nuclear programme back by several years and was attributed to Israel.
A UN arms embargo on Iran is due to expire in October. There is a broad diplomatic effort led by Saudi Arabia and the US, supported by Israel, to extend it.

What now?

On Thursday, Iranian officials hinted that the Natanz incident was an attack and "sabotage" by Iran's enemies. But they stopped short of accusing Israel or the US.
"If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyber attack, we will respond," civil defence chief Gholamreza Jalali told state TV.
Asked about the incidents at strategic sites in Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters: "Clearly we can't get into that."
With Iran, the United States and Israel dealing with significant new spikes of coronavirus, it seems unlikely that any of them wants to be drawn into conflict.
But Iran now says that the incident at the Natanz facility caused significant damage, potentially setting back its production capability.
If the Iranian regime concludes formally that it was a cyber attack then they may want to be seen to respond in kind.

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Coronavirus: People visiting Wales urged to behave respectfully as five-mile travel rule ends

06 July

People planning to visit Wales have been urged to behave safely and respectfully as restrictions on travel are lifted today.

The "stay local" requirement had advised people to remain within five miles of their home.
Visitors are now able to travel into and around Wales for the first time since lockdown measures were introduced in March.
Outdoor attractions can also reopen, paving the way for the tourism sector to begin welcoming guests from 11 July if conditions allow.
Families will be reunited as people from two households are now able to form one extended household.
Public Health Wales said on Sunday one person had died after testing positive for COVID-19, taking the total number of deaths there to 1,531.
The total number of positive tests increased in Wales by 15 to 15,890.
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said: "We live in such a beautiful part of the world and I know many of us are looking forward to visiting beaches, the countryside and our many beauty spots.
"People throughout Wales have done so much over the last few months to follow the rules and help reduce the spread of coronavirus - I thank them for their patience and understanding. I ask them to continue in this spirit.
"Unfortunately, over the recent weeks we've seen the results of people not treating parts of Wales with respect, with crowds leaving piles of litter in their wake.
"This selfish behaviour is a blight on our beauty spots and puts people at risk. While many footpaths and car parks are reopening, not all facilities will be available in every location straight away."
Lockdown restrictions were introduced on 23 March and people were instructed to stay at home apart from for limited reasons.
These measures were eased in Wales on 1 June when the "stay at home" message was replaced with "stay local".
This allowed people from two different households to meet outdoors, as long as they did not travel more than five miles and maintained social distancing.
Measures have now been eased to allow unrestricted travel in Wales - though holiday accommodation will remain closed.
Self-contained accommodation is preparing to reopen from 11 July.
Mr Drakeford urged visitors to check websites where possible and plan ahead, including alternative arrangements if their destination is too busy when they arrive.
The Welsh government has been working with local authorities, national parks, Natural Resources Wales and other landowners to ensure the country is ready to welcome visitors.
There is new guidance about public toilets, focusing on hygiene, social distancing, signage and queuing - with not all facilities able to reopen.
The countryside code has been revised in light of the pandemic, with visitors asked to obey social-distancing measures and plan ahead.
Tegryn Jones, chief executive of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, said: "We urge those who choose to explore our landscapes in the coming weeks and months, perhaps for the first time, to do so with respect - for the people and wildlife, which call it home, and for each other."
The Welsh government will consider a range of options for reopening bars and restaurants outdoors from 13 July and self-contained holiday accommodation from 11 July at the review of Wales' coronavirus regulations.
They will also decide whether hairdressing can restart by appointment only.
It comes as Scotland is continuing its easing of lockdown measures today with parts of the hospitality sector allowed to reopen.
Pubs and restaurants are able to open outdoor spaces, such as beer gardens but will have to wait to welcome customers back inside.
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "I think that it's really important that as we gradually and safely come out of lockdown, people remember that the virus hasn't gone away, it's still there.
"So as we get some normality back into our lives, the challenge for all of us is to make sure that we are still keeping ourselves and others safe.
"And that fundamentally is about following the basic hygiene advice - wearing face-coverings in enclosed spaces, avoiding crowded places, keeping two-metre distance."
Hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons can open in Northern Ireland from today.
Pubs which serve food have been able to reopen along with hotels since Friday.
Restrictions on people visiting loved ones in hospital and care homes have also been eased.
Hairdressers were seen redecorating and installing protective measures in the days leading up to the reopening.

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Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams accuses police of 'racial profiling' after traffic stop

06 July

A Team GB sprinter has accused police of "racial profiling" after she and her partner were stopped and searched in London.

Commonwealth gold medallist Bianca Williams had been with her partner Ricardo in Maida Vale on Saturday when they were stopped.
She told The Times: "It's always the same thing with Ricardo.
"They think he's driving a stolen vehicle, or he's been smoking cannabis."
She added: "It's racial profiling.
"The way they spoke to Ricardo - like he was scum, dirt on their shoe - was shocking. It was awful to watch."
Footage of the incident was posted by former Olympic gold medallist Linford Christie, appearing to show two people - although their faces were not seen - being pulled out of a car in a London street.
The woman sounds frustrated as she tells officers "he didn't do anything" but she grows increasingly distressed about her son remaining in the car.
Christie posted a statement that said: "Was it the car that was suspicious or the black family in it which lead (sic) to such a violent confrontation and finally an accusation of the car smelling of weed but refusing to do a roadside drug test?"
The Metropolitan Police said a car had been stopped in the area on Saturday afternoon after it was seen driving suspiciously.
A man, 25, and woman, 26, were searched.
Commander Helen Harper said: "I understand the concern when incidents like this happen and how they can appear when part of it is filmed without context.
"Due to the concern raised, we conducted a review of the stop. This included social media footage and bodyworn camera footage of the officers at the scene.
"We are satisfied that there are no misconduct issues."
A statement for the Independent Office for Police Conduct said: "We are aware of this matter and will be making further enquiries with the Metropolitan Police. We will then be in a position to make an informed decision on the level of our involvement."

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Coronavirus: Debt is the 'sleeping giant' of problems caused by COVID-19, charity warns

06 July

A charity has warned that debt is the "sleeping giant" of problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.

The fallout from the health crisis has already seen a surge in the numbers of people asking for help - whether it's from food banks, mental health services or other charities working on behalf of vulnerable people.
The surging numbers of UK job losses means families who were already struggling are being joined by households who never dreamt they would find themselves needing universal credit or unable to put enough food on the table.
The Freedom Community Project in Bolsover, north Derbyshire, runs a food bank and financial advice service. It has seen a "harrowing" increase in demand during lockdown.
Food bank volunteer Janet Koszegi told Sky News: "It gets to you, you have got to be professional when you are talking to people but inside you are thinking, 'Oh my gosh'.
"At the end of it you have to go to someone and say 'look this is quite harrowing' - knowing that somebody hasn't eaten for three days, a family that hasn't eaten for three days - that case happened quite recently."
Calls to the project's helpline have quadrupled during lockdown to 2,000 a month.
Mark North, who runs the charity in the former mining area, told Sky News the levels of debt are his biggest fear.
"I characterise it as the sleeping giant... it is going to waken, it's starting to."
He said he was concerned for those "in one of those roles that isn't going to get back to work as quickly", or who are "self-employed and relying on other people that can come back to bite you before you can actually generate the money to pay them off".
"That is my fear - that it is sleeping there, waiting, it's going to waken and it's going to cause quite an issue in our communities."
Local resident Stuart Wishart, who was picking up food parcels for a relative from the Freedom Community Project's food bank, told Sky News: "There are people out there that will not talk to anybody... They are ashamed of doing it, ashamed of coming here.
"They think it's cadging... it's just borrow, borrow, borrow all the time."
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While some payment holidays will be extended others will not be, and a ban on face-to-face collections for bailiffs is due to end on 23 August.
Dame Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "Whether it's the 1.3 million households we estimate have missed a council tax payment or the 2.6 million renters who have missed or expect to miss a rent payment, there are likely to be serious consequences for people who've fallen behind on their bills.
"The government took bold action at the start of the outbreak to try and protect jobs and incomes. It's now time for them to be just as bold in dealing with the UK's impending personal debt crisis."
The Money and Pensions Service has said it expects a 60% increase in the demand for debt advice by the end of 2021.

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