Unions representing musicians, theatre workers and actors, in Birmingham have, in an open letter to Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, pressed for a one-year delay in the introduction of Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone and for a support scheme for the cultural sector.

The Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the industry with workers particularly hard hit. Falling between the cracks in government support scheme, nearly half (46%) of freelance cultural workers in the region have missed out. The planned introduction of the clean air zone in June is another threat to already reduced incomes. 

The unions are urging the Council to delay the implementation of the clean air zone by at least a year to provide breathing space for the sector to recover. In addition, the cultural unions are also asking for Birmingham City Council to establish a separate fund to support Birmingham’s cultural workers, especially those from low incomes and disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that all cultural workers can continue to gain meaningful employment in the city.

Musicians’ Union Regional Organiser and TUC Midlands Cultural Chairperson Stephen Brown said: “We support measures to reduce climate change and the aims of the clean air zone are laudable. However, the way this is being introduced is ham-fisted. We have consistently raised our concerns about how the practicalities of the scheme will have a negative impact on workers in our sector, but we haven’t been properly listened to.

“The majority of cultural workers are low paid. They only work in the city for a few hours at a time and have to travel by car or van due to equipment requirements. A recent MU survey* revealed that 70% will face being charged, and the nature of their work means that with post-midnight finishes, they’ll get charged twice. It isn’t difficult therefore to see how badly hit they will be.

“Unfortunately, after the pandemic where cultural workers have been too often overlooked this is yet another kick in the teeth. We really hope the Council, even at this late stage, will sit down with us and to devise a scheme that will truly work for all and help us to get on delivering the recovery we are all so desperate to see.”