• Culture Commons

Briefing: what does the new Tier system mean for the UK’s performing arts sector?

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

Key Takeaways

- House of Commons agrees Government’s new Tier system despite largest Conservative backbench rebellion since the General Election. Labour abstains on the vote.

- Tier 3 restrictions see all creative and cultural venues close, with Tier 1 and 2 able to open subject to social distancing measures.

- New Tiers will be reviewed regularly with an end date of February 2021, though measures are expected to remain in place until Spring.

Culture Commons will be compiling a list of questions and sending them to the relevant civil servants and MPs on 12th December. If you have questions you'd like to be included, please email them to


On 1st December, the UK Government laid a “motion to approve regulations related to public health” in the House of Commons, providing MPs the first opportunity to vote on the Government’s proposed new Tier system for England.

How did the vote go?

Parliament voted 291 to 78 in favour of the Government’s new Tier system.

Unlike previous votes on restrictions, the Labour Party abstained, allowing the measures to pass. Labour declared the measures too lax and the economic support insufficient to help affected businesses and workers.

55 Conservative MPs voted against the Government’s proposals and 16 abstained. The result represents the most significant backbench rebellion for the Prime Minster since the 2019 General Election.

What’s the Government’s thinking?

The new Tier system replaces the second lockdown measures implemented in early November 2020. It’s been described by the Government as a “tougher” version of the Tier system implemented back in October.

The new Tier system seeks to apply restrictions where “prevalence” is highest, taking a “regionally-differentiated approach”. This will see different levels of restrictions in different parts of England. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have their own regimes. This leaves creative and cultural workers and organisations based in different areas operating under different rules.

Who’s in which Tier?

The Government have taken an area-based approach.

Most larger cities and towns, where large numbers of creative and cultural workers and institutions are located, currently find themselves in Tier 2 or Tier 3. Only 1% of the country are currently in Tier 1.

London is in Tier 2, enabling the West End to operate to a degree, although they must continue to follow the Government’s Covid-secure guidelines.

Manchester and northern cities are in Tier 3, meaning arts and cultural venues cannot open at all.

It is estimated that 700,000 people are located in Tier 1, 31.7 million in Tier 2 and 23.3 million in Tier 3.

You can find out which areas are in which Tiers as of 1st Dec 2020 here.

What do the Tiers mean for us?

In tiers 1 and 2 areas:

  • Socially distanced indoor audiences are permitted provided capacity in a venue is maintained at maximum 50% capacity or 1000 people, whichever is lower.

  • Audiences must be socially distanced and capacity may need to be further reduced to ensure social distancing at all times.

  • Theatres, concert halls and cinemas will be exempt from having to provide table service to audience members. This should be limited to only those with tickets and those who are planning to sit in the auditorium, or area of the venue where the performance / screening is taking place. Food and drink (including alcohol) must be consumed whilst seated in the auditorium, or area of the venue where the performance / screening is taking place. Venues should take steps to reduce queues for ordering, ensuring social distancing is maintained at all times.

  • Hospitality services within theatres, cinemas and concert halls must take last orders at 10pm, and close at 11pm. These venues may stay open beyond 11pm in order to conclude performances that start before 10pm. Venues should also only serve alcohol without a substantial meal to ticketed customers for 30 minutes before, during and 30 minutes after the performance or screening.

In tier 2 areas:

  • Theatres, concert halls and cinemas are exempt from only being able to serve alcohol with a substantial meal, provided it is limited only to customers with tickets who intend to consume alcohol drinks in auditoriums. Venues should also only serve alcohol without a substantial meal to ticketed customers for 30 minutes before, during and 30 minutes after the performance or screening.

In tier 3 areas:

  • Indoor and outdoor performing arts venues, such as theatres, concert halls and music venues will be closed to audiences. However, training, rehearsals and performances without an audience for broadcast or recording purposes may continue. Drive-in venues will remain open to performances with audiences in tier 3 areas. Outdoor performing arts activity can still take place in line with this guidance. See section 3 for more details.

In tier 1, the Rule of 6 applies indoors and outdoors.

In tier 2 and tier 3 areas you may only gather indoors with your household or support bubble. In tier 2, you must not socialise in a group of more than 6 people outside, including in a garden or a public space.

In tier 3, you must not socialise in a group of more than 6 in some other outdoor public spaces, including parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, a public garden, grounds of a heritage site or castle, or a sports facility.

The limits on gatherings imposed at each local restriction tier do not apply to professionals taking part in performing arts activity.

Where not for work purposes, you should consider the case for proceeding (or not) with the activity given the wider health context in your area and the context of your participants, particularly if vulnerable individuals are involved. See the section on ‘non-professionals operating under the performing arts guidance’ for more details. Non-professionals are defined as those participating in the performing arts other than for work purposes.

Performing arts activity for professionals and non-professionals including individuals and groups.

It is a requirement for venues and organisers to ensure compliance with rules on meeting others safely and to ensure appropriate social distancing, through signage, layout, ventilation and entry numbers management.

Everyone should follow the guidance on social distancing. Where you cannot stay 2 metres apart you should stay more than 1 metre apart, as well as taking extra steps to stay safe. For example:

  • wear a face covering: In England, you must wear a face covering in the following indoor settings. The latest list can be found here

  • move outdoors, where it is safer and there is more space

  • if indoors, make sure rooms are well ventilated by keeping windows and doors open

For a full breakdown of Government guidance on performing arts, see the website.

Please Note: Culture Commons strongly recommends you read official Government guidance if you are in a vulnerable category or running a cultural venue that is affected by the latest Government measures. This guide is intended to provide an overview of our interpretation of the legislation agreed on 1st December 2020 only.

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