The vision thing – Mark Pemberton from ABO

ABO’s 2020 Conference will ask delegates to look 10 years into the future and imagine the challenges that orchestras will face. Director Mark Pemberton shares his thoughts.

If there is one word that is currently dominating the Association of British Orchestras’ (ABO) thinking, it’s Brexit. Having had reassurances from government, following the referendum in 2016 that the UK would reach a deal with the EU, the growing threat of a no deal Brexit hugely increased our workload. From future immigration policy to the impact on touring into the EU, the ABO team has had to be in constant contact with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office, HMRC and others to voice our concerns. And in the run up to 31 October, we ran a ‘Get Ready for Brexit’ programme for our members, funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

But there are some things it is difficult to ‘prepare’ our members for. For example, we are currently a member of an EU-wide social security co-ordination system. If we leave without a deal, that switches off, and UK-issued A1 certificates will no longer be recognised by the EU27 nations. This means musicians and other staff face the risk of being double charged national insurance contributions when touring into the EU. Each of the EU27 also have sovereignty over immigration – so we do not yet know what work permits our members might need to get for each of the countries they tour to.

We have been working in partnership with our European federation Pearle* Live Performance Europe and colleagues in other European orchestra associations to try to make sense of how our members will be treated by their national governments. But it’s been tough going and our questions remain unanswered.

This wasn’t the only hot potato we had to deal with. The fallout from the Royal Opera House case relating to noise at work regulations absorbed a lot of our time, including helping members get to grips with the implications of the judgment and the subsequent appeal. We’ve been refreshing our industry guidance, looking at developments in technology, and renewing the focus on risk assessments.

We also finished our 70th anniversary celebrations last December with a well-attended reception at the Scottish Parliament, which featured an address by the cabinet secretary for culture, Fiona Hyslop, coinciding with our report Scotland Music Matters.

Delegates at the 2019 ABO Conference Dinner © Jim Corr
Delegates at the 2019 ABO Conference Dinner © Jim Corr

Public affairs remains key to our work, and we initiated a Westminster Hall debate on orchestras and Brexit, and held a Parliamentary drop-in with colleagues from Society of London Theatre, UK Theatre and One Dance UK, where MPs from all parties signed up to support the value of the performing arts to the UK.

We are particularly delighted at the ongoing success of our Find Your Way programme, nurturing the next generation of leadership. We now have more than 50 alumni from across the full programme, residential weekends and Essentials course, with another cohort starting last autumn.

This year has also seen the launch of a new course on Leadership for Musicians. We are grateful to Arts Council England (ACE) for funding last year’s programme, and delighted that we have signed a partnership with Help Musicians to encourage candidates from under-represented groups.

So what’s next? Well, we are keeping a close eye on ACE’s 10 Year Strategy for 2020-2030, which has been the springboard for the 2020 Vision theme of our conference, looking at the landscape for orchestras in2030. While we applaud its ambition, there are concerns over its emphasis on ‘relevance’ and investment in a far wider range of culture and creativity than the traditional definition of ‘the arts’, as well as its statement that the organisations it funds now will not necessarily be the same as those it funds in 2030.

Cathy Graham, director of music at the British Council, at the 2019 ABO Conference  © Jim Corr
Cathy Graham, director of music at the British Council, at the 2019 ABO Conference © Jim Corr

What is clear is that diversity and inclusion will be crucial investment priorities. We know this poses a challenge for our sector and will be working with ACE on much-needed research into diversity – from early years to professional employment – to try to isolate the barriers to progression. This will continue to be a topic at the 2020 conference and beyond.

We’ll continue to work to ensure the best possible outcome for our sector after Brexit, especially in relation to whatever new immigration system is implemented. We need to ensure that talent flows in and out of the UK without unnecessary barriers and costs. These are challenging times, but that is what we are here for. Our mission of connecting, championing and developing our world beating orchestral sector is needed now more than ever.