With Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas temporarily closed in the UK from this past Friday, Cineworld Group CEO Mooky Greidinger has written to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking the government to reinstate the furlough program that benefited employees under the exhibition giant’s previous COVID-imposed closure, while also suggesting other measures to aid the industry.
In the letter (see it in full below), Greidinger asks the PM for the government’s “support to help save the UK’s cinema industry, to avert a generation of adults and children suffering a cultural blackout and to help keep the credits rolling on a multi-billion-pound industry.”
Gredinger notes that the decision made to close his circuit will “likely to lead to the jobs of 5,500 Cineworld employees being significantly affected and many thousands more on contract work — cleaners, security guards, technicians — also at risk.”
He continues, “Without urgent action, there is a significant challenge to the viability of our industry… This in turn will decimate broader UK film production, which is one of this country’s greatest cultural exports.”
Greidinger proposes a three-point plan which includes “a significant and direct cash injection for the UK operators — big, small and independent,” as well as “support for our industry’s commercial lease agreements for the coming 12 months” and “the return of the furlough scheme that was in place from April to July for embattled industries such as ours.”
In an email to staff last week, Greidinger said they would be paid up until October 15 for any time worked as well as furlough pay. However, the British government is installing a new coronavirus Job Support Scheme that will replace the furlough initiative after this month. Under the new six-month Jobs Support Scheme, the government will cover a third of workers’ wages and is targeted at employees who are working at least a third of their contracted hours.
However, with Cineworld and Picturehouse sites shuttered for an indefinite period, Greidinger wrote to Johnson, “While we understand the logic behind the updated scheme, it simply cannot work for us without any revenues, as we are unable to provide staff with a third of their normal hours, let alone contribute directly to the payment of their wages.”
On Monday last week, Greidinger told Deadline that the situation regarding employees varies from country to country but that most “will go on furlough or unpaid leave… We are doing it with really a heavy heart,” he said, “but there is not much that can be done except to be patient and to hope that things will change as early as possible. My main concern is the employees, but on the other hand, with no goods, you cannot keep the shop open.”
Here’s Greidinger’s letter to Johnson:
Save cinemas to avert job losses and a cultural blackout
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you as the CEO of Cineworld Group, the second largest cinema company in the world and the largest in the UK, asking for your government’s support to help save the UK’s cinema industry, to avert a generation of adults and children suffering a cultural blackout and to help keep the credits rolling on a multi-billion-pound industry that is the envy of the world.
I am the third generation of my family involved in the cinema industry, as my grandfather opened our first cinema in Haifa Israel in 1930. He would have been surprised to hear on our 90th anniversary that his grandchildren are now running almost 10,000 screens across 10 countries, although he certainly could not have imagined that a global pandemic would force us to close down many of these, including 127 sites in the UK.
As you know, we have been forced to make a difficult announcement this week, which is likely to lead to the jobs of 5,500 Cineworld employees being significantly affected and many thousands more on contract work — cleaners, security guards, technicians — also at risk.
While we were heartened to hear your warm words of support, encouraging people to visit their local cinema, more action is needed to save this nation’s cinemas. As we believe and one national newspaper has commented today, the current support we as an industry are receiving is “insufficient.”
Without urgent action, there is a significant challenge to the viability of our industry, which employs tens of thousands of people, caters for consumers and provides opportunities for people across the UK.
This in turn will decimate broader UK film production, which is one of this country’s greatest cultural exports. In 2019, ahead of COVID in what was a record year for global box offices, film production in the UK generated a total spend of £1.95bn, a 17% increase on the prior year’s £1.84bn and the second highest figure since these statistics were first recorded.
According to the most-timely statistics, the UK’s cinema and film industry generates significant value for the economy, with its direct contribution to GDP at £6.1bn.
Your furlough scheme has been vital to our survival in the depths of the pandemic, but now this policy is changing, whilst our situation is only worsening. We no longer have any significant movies to show this year that would appeal to large audiences and would at least help to fill our cinemas in spite of the social distancing restrictions already put in place. We support these measures, but they have been costly and time consuming to implement. They have included a full safety plan that covers all aspects of operation and we have accounted for social distancing, special sanitising, mandatory mask policies and more.
But at the same time, we have a viable long-term business located right across the UK. Whilst the immediate future is uncertain, one thing we know for sure is people will always turn to the cinema for fun, escapism and an affordable experience.
That is why we hope you can engage with us on a three-point plan to save cinema in the UK, all of which I am willing to discuss in a lot more detail with the relevant Ministers, officials and their teams:
1. A significant and direct cash injection for the UK operators – big, small and independent – apportioned by screen revenue, in line with similar support schemes provided to other institutions.
2. Support for our industry’s commercial lease agreements for the coming 12 months. There is one clear solution evident in other European markets, whereby cinema operators continue to pay turnover based rent, but the balance of rent is partly foregone by the landlord and partly supported by the government. And while we continue to have constructive discussions with many landlords, we also require bespoke protections from those looking to repossess parts of our estate at a time of financial difficulty.
3. Lastly, we call for the return of the furlough scheme that was in place from April to July for embattled industries such as ours. While we understand the logic behind the updated scheme, it simply cannot work for us without any revenues, as we are unable to provide staff with a third of their normal hours, let alone contribute directly to the payment of their wages.
We hope you grasp the chance to give hundreds of British cinemas a Hollywood ending, one similar to that expected by millions of people from the new James Bond movie scheduled for release next month, but now delayed once again until April next year.
As that film is set to portray, now is ‘No Time To Die.’ The same very much applies to our industry.
Chief Executive of Cineworld Group plc
This letter has been copied to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden.