GOVERNMENT ministers are being urged to make emergency funding available for five of Britain's top regional theatres - including the Mayflower in Southampton.

MPs representing the constituencies in which the theatres are based have sent an open letter to Caroline Dinenage, who is Minister for Digital and Culture as well as being MP for Gosport.

The theatres have been starved of income since they were forced to close when the national lockdown was imposed in March.

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Boris Johnson has announced that many "non-essential" businesses can reopen on July 6, including theatres. However, the continuing need to observe social distancing means they will not be allowed to stage live performances for the time being.

As reported in the Daily Echo, Mayflower Theatre is due to remain closed until December.

The iconic theatre is a charitable organisation which receives no direct funding from the government, despite contributing £75m to the local economy every year.

Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton Test, is among the politicians who are lobbying Ms Dinenage.

Their letter says: "We are writing as constituency MPs for five of our nation’s largest and most successful regional theatres; Birmingham Hippodrome, Marlowe Theatre (Canterbury), Mayflower Theatre (Southampton), Newcastle Theatre Royal and Norwich Theatre.

"These venues are unique in being independent charities and delivering broad and wide-reaching programmes of work of the highest quality without drawing on regular public subsidy.

"Their not-for-profit business models are among the most innovative and entrepreneurial in the arts sector, using highly-sophisticated commercial approaches rather than public funding to deliver massive public benefit as well as economic and social impact in their respective cities."

The letter says publicly-funded theatres could rely on existing grants after the lockdown began, whereas venues such as the Mayflower lost almost all their income.

It adds: "We hope you will see, as we do, that there is an unfortunate inequality here and agree that large-scale emergency funding should be made available to these organisations that have delivered maximum public value with zero cost to the public purse.

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"These theatres have succeeded in being self-reliant and not drawing on public subsidy and as a result they are now hardest hit in this time of crisis.

"Now more than ever before they need help from government in order to survive a prolonged closure period.

"It is not financially viable for these venues to operate whilst social distancing measures remain in place, therefore they will be among the last businesses to be able to return to full-scale operation."

A Mayflower spokesperson said: "Mayflower Theatre is very grateful for the support of Alan Whitehead and the other constituency MPs in raising this issue."