Compensation for energy costs in the cultural sector seems imminent

The culture sector is in negotiations with the government to get support for the greatly increased energy prices, preferably without the costs having to come (entirely) from the budget of State Secretary Gunay Uslus (culture, D66). Discussions with sources in various ministries show that it is likely that such an energy compensation scheme will be implemented, although it must first be reported to the Folketing in the autumn memorandum by 1 December at the latest.

So far, this government has announced two major packages to help with skyrocketing energy costs: for households and the self-employed (Package 1) and for energy-intensive SMEs (Package 2). And although many decision-makers and self-employed persons from the cultural sector are now being helped, cultural organizations and institutions do not fall under any of the schemes, just like other (semi-)collective institutions such as swimming pools and nursing homes.

Also read: Museums no longer have reserves and fear high energy costs

While museums, venues and businesses also suffer from sharply rising energy costs. For example, the energy bill at the Chassé Theater in Breda has risen from 250,000 euros to more than 1 million euros this year. TivoliVredenburg, which since the beginning of this year has had an energy contract with flexible costs, will pay 1.5 million euros this year instead of the usual 400,000 euros, and it may increase further next year. Museums that cannot save much on energy are also stuck. For example, Museum Thorn is closing this winter due to the unexpectedly high energy costs and the Glass Museum in Leerdam has to close the glassworks.

SME scheme

Until recently, the sector hoped that they could also fall under the SME scheme. During the general political deliberations earlier this month, the Folketing adopted a proposal from, among others, Jan Paternotte (D66) to help cultural institutions with energy costs in addition to SMEs. Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) then set the condition that any support for the cultural sector should come from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science’s own budget, and that it should be separate from the SME scheme. This condition that the so-called line ministries had to cover the costs also applied to other institutions from the (semi-)collective sector, such as care homes, swimming pools and community centres.

The cultural sector has tried to enter the SME scheme, but the package announced by Minister of Economy Adriaansens (VVD) at the end of last week shows that it has not been successful. This is because cultural institutions are not ‘energy-intensive’ enough according to the package’s requirements. To qualify for the SME compensation, a company must spend more than 12.5 percent of its turnover on energy costs.

A preliminary tour of the cultural and creative sector task force showed that energy costs for theaters are between 7 and 12 percent of turnover, for museums between 5.3 and 7.5 percent and for venues between 4 and 8 percent. Minister Adriaansens writes: “For the (semi-)collective sector, the various political departments are investigating the extent to which higher energy costs are a problem and what a suitable solution might be. (…) They also have challenges related to the high energy price, especially because they cannot always pass on the higher prices.”

No more reserves

Jeroen Bartelse, director of TivoliVredenburg and member of the task force, is not yet reassured. “It is really good news that the decision-makers and freelancers have been helped with the first compensation scheme. But the cultural organizations also badly need help, because they cannot cope with the rising energy costs themselves.” The reserves in the vast majority of the sector have run out due to the corona years, he says, especially in institutions that depend on funding from the municipality. Several municipalities have provided extra support to ‘their’ cultural institutions during the corona measures, but many have not – a significant part of the municipalities have financial problems. There are no known examples of municipalities providing energy compensation to cultural institutions.

Cultural institutions can only make limited adjustments by adjusting prices. “Many tickets have already been sold in advance, contracts and budgets are set long in advance, while the cost of running programs continues to rise.” And perhaps most importantly, says Bartelse: higher prices mean that culture becomes less accessible. “It is undesirable in sectors that are co-financed by the government because of the important social effects.”

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