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Topical Questions

Volume 676: debated on Thursday 4 June 2020

The current advice has hit many sectors covered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport the hardest. That is why, in addition to schemes announced by the Chancellor, we have provided specific support for charities, newspapers, tech start-ups and rugby league, and support to tackle loneliness. As we start to ease lockdown restrictions, through the cultural renewal taskforce we are working to support and guide people to safely resume activity. That has included the resumption of live sport behind closed doors and getting cameras rolling again on films and TV programmes. We are working intensively with culture, heritage, arts and tourism to support them resuming as soon as it is safe to do so.

As it is national Volunteers’ Week, I would like to commend the many volunteers in the third sector who have shown dedication throughout the covid-19 crisis, such as the Kingfisher food bank, which demonstrated relentless dedication to serving the local community throughout the lockdown, as I saw when I visited them. Will my right hon. Friend give an update on his support for the third sector? Will he consider launching a third sector covid recognition scheme to celebrate the heroic volunteers who have sacrificed so much to help us throughout this difficult period?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right to highlight the huge role played by volunteers and, indeed, the wider third and voluntary sector, and I join him in marking Volunteers’ Week. One of the big things we have done is provide £750 million to support charities and, indeed, just a couple of weeks ago I announced the start of the coronavirus community support fund, which provides £200 million for small and medium-sized charities. That went live on 22 May.

Our valuable cultural sector is starting to collapse. It will be one of the last to reopen, and its desperate pleas for Government support have been ignored. Tens of thousands of workers excluded from the job retention scheme and the self-employed scheme have been completely ignored, but we then had a tiny glimmer of hope just over two weeks ago, when the commission for cultural recovery and renewal was announced, but since that date there has been silence. There is no information about participants in the working groups, no terms of reference, nothing on what has been or is being discussed and considered to help the sector, no timescales—nothing. This is yet another example of poor communication adding to the plummeting levels of trust and confidence in the Government. So, I ask the Secretary of State: why the complete lack of transparency?

I do not really recognise the hon. Lady’s characterisation. First, we have announced the members of the overall cultural renewal taskforce, but the important thing is the groups that sit underneath it, which provide the specific guidance. I am happy to run through all those groups and write to the hon. Lady subsequently, but just to give her a flavour, they include one on recreation and leisure, one on tourism, one on sport and one on library services. The point of each of those is to provide the guidance to help us open as rapidly as possible, consistent with the public health guidance. That is why I was delighted that at the beginning of this week, we announced that high-end film and TV could resume. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the need to support the cultural sector. I have engaged extensively with people from across the cultural sector and we are working to see what we can do to support them.

T3. My right hon. Friend will know that covid-19 has had a dramatic effect on local advertising and the media that that supports. Will he give an update on his Department’s work to support commercial radio broadcasters, some of which have seen their revenues fall by more than 90% and are at risk of going off air permanently? (902934)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the important role that local radio plays. During this time of crisis, reliable news is more important than ever and local radio stations provide that. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Media and Data has been working with them very closely, looking at issues such as the RAJAR rebate. We are determined to support them through this period.

T4. Coventry City Council, local community groups and charities have been working exceptionally hard to support people across the city during this crisis. Many of those charities have used up their reserves after coming under an unprecedented amount of pressure and a decade of savage local government cuts. Will the Secretary of State commit to providing funding for the charity sector throughout the lockdown and in the time following the crisis? (902935)

The short answer is yes. That is why we have provided a £750 million package and announced £200 million being administered by the national lottery to go specifically to small and medium-sized charities. The charity in the hon. Lady’s constituency and others are very welcome to bid for that.

T5. The Secretary of State will know that many football clubs, particularly those playing professionally in leagues one and two are suffering considerable financial distress because of the lack of match-day revenue and no prospect of that resuming. If clubs start to go into administration in the next few weeks as a consequence of covid-19 and those pressures, what support will be available from the Government? At the moment, there seems to be no plan from either football or the Government to help them. (902936)

I know how much my hon. Friend cares about this subject. I have taken great note of his letter on this and I would be happy to meet him to discuss it further. The most important first step is to get sport going behind closed doors because that helps secure revenue, so we have got the premier league and then the championship. I look to sports first to look after themselves and I am meeting extensively with the EFL, the premier league and the Football Association, but of course we will continue to work on that.

T6. A great number of constituents in Glasgow Central work in film and TV. They are freelancers on short-term PAYE contracts and have been left with absolutely nothing. I have had no reply from the Chancellor to my letter on that. Will the Secretary of State look into the matter and find the support for those people that will save the sector? (902938)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight that sector. In my constituency, I have Elstree film studios and BBC Elstree where indeed I saw the hon. Lady for “Strictly Come Dancing” when it was filming. The most important thing is to get the sector going again. That is why I was delighted that at the beginning of this week, we published guidance to allow high-end film and TV to resume production. Of course, I continue to engage with the Chancellor and others about wider support.

Does the Secretary of State agree that ahead of the post-covid-19 recovery, now is a prime opportunity to look at investing in arts and culture facilities for some of our left-behind communities, which have deep and rich cultural back- grounds, such as the colliery and performing arts heritage of Dinnington College and the town and surrounding mining communities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of supporting the whole of the United Kingdom. Culture is an important part of levelling up. I saw that at, for example, Walsall art gallery, which is a fantastic institution. Levelling up will be central to any proposal that we bring forward to support the sector.

At this time of year, my constituency is normally preparing for the Royal Highland show, which brings £65 million to the economy. We then have the Edinburgh festival in August, and there is also Edinburgh zoo. We have already lost the six nations championship. Communities like mine depend on the cultural and sporting events throughout the year which we have lost. Many workers are on short-term contracts and self-employed. Will the Government look at a way of supporting those communities post-covid-19 and how to re-establish those fundamentally important cultural events?

I have great affection for the Edinburgh Festival. I took a show up there myself in my younger years. We provide an awful lot of support, for example, to the self-employed. The No.1 thing that we can do, though, is to get these activities back up and running again, because every time I speak to artists and others the thing that they want to do is to start performing again. As they start performing, we will look at how we can support them transitioning through this period of social distancing.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). When the FA took the decision to null the season for lower-league clubs it financially impacted clubs such as Redcar Athletic in my constituency. What is the Department doing to support these clubs and ensure that grassroots football remains in our communities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the fact that grassroots football is central to local identity, and I am determined that we work with the EFL to ensure that money flows to those clubs. It is also worth noting that Sport England has brought forward £195 million, which will be able to support those clubs.

In Volunteers’ Week, I wish to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers working in charities and organisations in my community, including Age UK Gateshead, the Rowlands Gill Live At Home Scheme and the Winlaton Centre. What will the Minister do to ensure that we can capture the learning and the enthusiasm from this sector in the future?

I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to all those volunteers, and I think that the NHS volunteers responders has been a marvellous way of people volunteering and showing their support. Over time, we are getting more and more charities to sign up to that, so that people can volunteer. I hope that we can continue that spirit of volunteering, and I will be working closely with wider civil society to see how we can continue that post-covid.

Local media outlets, such as the South London Press, are essential in providing up-to-date and accurate information to communities across the country. They struggle at the best of times, but this pandemic has posed unprecedented risks to their survival. What are the Government doing to ensure they are receiving the support that they so desperately need?

Local newspapers are absolutely vital in bringing forward trusted information and our free press is a cornerstone of our liberties. That is why I have worked extensively with local newspapers—for example, to resolve issues around ad blocking, so they can get more ad revenue. The Cabinet Office has provided a lot of Government advertising, which has helped some of the shortfall in income for those charities, and we have looked at other issues such as business rate reliefs.

I shall now suspend the House for one minute while we have the changeover, so people can leave carefully and safely.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—