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Creative Industries: Covid-19

Volume 680: debated on Thursday 24 September 2020

What further steps he will take to support people in the creative industries who are unable to return to work as a result of covid-19 restrictions. (906484)

I recognise the huge contribution that the creative industries make both to the UK’s international reputation and to our economy, contributing over £100 billion in gross value added. The Government have provided unprecedented support to employees and businesses through the furlough scheme and the £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund, and we will continue to do all we can to provide support and get the sector back up and running.

I am afraid that what has been trailed by the Treasury in the media today will not do anything to help those in the creative industries who cannot work because of covid restrictions, whether in music venues, comedy clubs or theatres, or any of the freelance workers in the sector who already receive no help at all, as we saw from the Musicians Union survey this week. When will the help that has already been promised in the package the Minister mentioned actually arrive for people in the sector, and will the new scheme be targeted to supply life support to our genuinely world-beating creative industries?

The Government’s world-class support package has included the self-employed income support scheme, and about two thirds of our sector have been covered by that. Then, of course, there are the very generous extensions to universal credit as well. However, we know that it is very distressing for those who have fallen between the gaps. That is why Arts Council England has made an additional £95 million of additional support available for individuals who are affected.

Equity, the performers’ union, has drawn up a four-pillar plan to save the industry: providing financial support for workers, enabling the safe opening of venues, protecting vital arts infrastructure, and eliminating gaps in representation and pay. I know that the Minister has met Equity, so are the Government prepared to back its plan and save our performing arts?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that arts and culture is massively important in Canterbury, which she represents. In fact, it has received over £245,000 of emergency funding so far from the Arts Council. We have listened to the sector at every stage of this terrible pandemic. I meet its representatives on an almost weekly basis, from right across entertainment, arts, culture and creative industries. ACE is currently processing over 4,000 applications for more than £880 million of grant funding. We are doing absolutely everything we can to support the sector.

Hundreds of my constituents are highly skilled and self-employed in the creative industries, but most of them have seen their incomes plummet, with no real chance of recovery for the next six months at least. I give the Minister another opportunity to reconfirm that the previous package is not working and is not effective. Will she commit to a new package that will save their incomes and ensure that they and their families do not face poverty?

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that this package of support is not working. In his own constituency of Ealing, Southall, there has been £47,000-worth of emergency funding so far, and £500,000 in total support from Arts Council England in this financial year. We know that, more than anything, those who work in the sector just want to get back to doing what they love. The £1.5 billion cultural recovery fund will secure the future of performing arts and live events and protect jobs in the industry to allow them to do just that.

Millions in our country long for live performing arts to return, none more so than those who work in those industries. Some 70% of theatre workers are self-employed or freelance, but many are ineligible for the self-employed income support scheme and have been excluded from Government support since March, bringing extreme hardship. They desperately need the sector to be back up and running. While we support the Government’s road map to reopening, we know that socially distanced shows are simply not viable without insurance against covid cancellations. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee agrees, warning that without a pandemic indemnity scheme,

“efforts to resume filming, touring and live performance are doomed to failure”.

What representations has the Minister made to her Treasury colleagues for insurance support similar to that for film and television so that our incredible creative workforce can get back to what they do best when it is safe to do so?

As I have already articulated, I meet the sector on a very regular basis, and actually it has been its feedback that has helped to form, to shape and to drive the cultural recovery fund as we have it today. As I have explained, there is £95 million of additional support in there for individuals, including freelancers. We continue to listen. We continue to talk to Treasury colleagues to make sure that we are creative, inventive and thoughtful and doing everything we can to get our sectors back up and running.