[Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the contribution of theatres, live music venues and other cultural attractions to the local economy.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and I am delighted to have been able to secure this, my first lead Westminster Hall debate, on such an important topic. As the covid pandemic continues to threaten people’s health and livelihoods, hon. Members across the House have rightly been highlighting sectors of the economy that remain at particular risk. I applied for this debate to highlight one such sector—arts and culture. In March, theatres closed their doors. Gig venues and clubs across the country turned off their sound systems, and museums and galleries turned off the lights. Some have reopened, with social distancing measures and other restrictions in place. Many in my own constituency, including the commercial theatres, remain unable to reopen because of the simple fact that it is not financially viable to operate within current restrictions. I hope that over the course of the debate, other hon. Members and I will be able to convince the Government and the public of the reasons why those businesses are vital to our communities and worthy of ongoing support.
I am keen for other hon. Members to play their part in the debate, as I am acutely aware that when I speak on these issues, representing the Cities of London and Westminster, I am often—and easily—accused of being London-centric. I hope, however, that through our contributions we will be able to show that the arts and cultural sector contributes massively to local economies up and down the country. I am incredibly proud of the vibrant arts and culture offer in my constituency, from theatreland to iconic live music venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, the 100 Club and Heaven, as well as the Barbican centre, the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I reel off some statistics to support the argument that arts and culture are vital to the economy. In 2019, 18,000 performances across west end theatres attracted more than 15 million audience members, providing a gross revenue of £800 million. In 2018, the gross value added of arts, museums and galleries in the west end alone was more than £1 billion. It is estimated that across London there are 97,000 jobs in music, performance and visual arts, and more than 17,000 in museums, galleries and libraries. VisitBritain research suggests that a quarter of tourists who come to London come specifically for its cultural offer. Those statistics show, I hope, the direct impact of the arts and culture in supporting the wider local economy. Modelling shows that for every £1 spent in theatres, for example, £5 is spent in the wider local economy—in bars, restaurants and shops.
Theatres, live music and cultural venues play a vital role in the ecosystem of the west end, and it is the same across the UK. Figures provided by UK Music suggest that every £10 spent on a ticket for a live music venue is worth £17 to the local economy. One Ed Sheeran gig in Ipswich last year brought in £58 for every £1 spent by the council to put on the concert. The net value to the local economy was more than £9 million.
What impact has covid-19 had, and what impact will it continue to have? The Heart of London Business Alliance, a business improvement district in my constituency, is about to publish a report on the economic benefits of the west end and the heart of London arts and cultural sector for the wider economy, and the case for covid-19 support. It has been kind enough to provide me with an advance copy. The report models four scenarios and the predicted impact for the economic output of arts and culture in the west end. Scenario one is repeated lockdowns, scenario two is strict rules and social distancing in place, scenario three is seasonal covid with occasional softer social distancing remaining, and finally, scenario four, which is a return to normality—something I think we all wish for. For the arts and culture sector, scenarios one and two are modelled to have very similar outcomes. Employment in the sector in the west end would fall by 95% by 2024. Even in the best circumstances of a return to normality, the arts and culture sector is projected to produce 10% less in 2024 than in 2019. Those models make for challenging reading and I strongly encourage the Minister and her officials to read the report in detail.
Venues in my constituency have worked incredibly hard to find solutions to open under current social distancing measures. The Barbican centre in the City of London has been trialling a new approach to concerts with the Live from the Barbican series, involving 300 socially- distanced audience members in the hall alongside a pay-per-view live stream that enables audiences to watch from wherever they want. I am delighted to report that those concerts have sold out, with encouraging interest and early sales for live streaming.
In the west end, Andrew Lloyd Webber has undertaken heroic action to introduce measures to prove that theatres can be socially distancing-friendly at a capacity that works for safety and for his theatres’ commercial viability. What can we do in this place and what can the Government do to support the sector in the return to normality scenario?
I pledge huge gratitude to the Culture Secretary and his team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, including my hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture, who is responding to this debate. I know they have worked tirelessly since lockdown to support the arts and culture sector. I recognise their huge achievement in securing £1.5 billion in support for the arts. However, there is more to be done if we are to secure our arts and culture sector once we have beaten this dreadful virus.
I encourage the Government to continue funding jobs in sectors that remain unable to recover because of restrictions that are in place. As those businesses remain closed through no fault of their own, they will likely lose all access to current support measures when the furlough scheme ends. The sector has been hugely grateful for the support so far, but that support needs to continue. I ask the Minister to persuade the Treasury once again to reassess the support it offers the self-employed, as many in the sector are freelance and work in a mixture of self-employed and employed roles, depending on their contract and the employer. Too many have gone without any support at all. Current Government support has been more focused on salaried staff, and there is a worry that freelancers will drop out of their profession, leading to a shortage of expertise when we are back up and running.
I think all of us in this hall accept that theatres, live music and cultural venues need clear signposting as to when they will be able to open. Theatre productions, for example, have lead times often in excess of six months before opening, so require as much notice as possible. I urge the Government to extend the 5% VAT reduction for at least three years, in line with recommendations from the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support the introduction of a Government-backed insurance scheme for live music, theatre and performance to allow venues, producers and creators to proceed with developing projects in confidence that, should they not be able to do so, the Government will support them. We have launched a similar and very successful scheme for the film industry and, knowing how much it costs to put on a commercial theatre production, such an insurance scheme would prove beneficial for the whole industry. With that, I thank hon. Members for joining me to take part in the debate and I look forward to hearing their contributions and the Minister’s reply.
As always, it is an honour to appear under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. This is an important discussion and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing the debate. Theatres, live music and cultural venues are an essential part of what we are as an island nation. It is what sells Britain plc to the rest of the world and I have been heavily involved in it for years.
According to the Creative Industries Council, our industry is estimated to generate £48 billion in turnover and to support nearly 400,000 jobs. The building blocks of this national contribution are, of course, individual local economies. In Clacton, our local economy is hugely dependent on tourism; it represents some 17.4% of all employment in the area. We have wonderful venues, such as the Prince’s theatre, the West Cliff theatre and my own Frinton summer theatre, which I used to run years ago. We also have 19th-century Martello towers, our two famous piers, the beautiful Walton backwaters, the sunshine coast and amazing beaches, all of which bring many people to our wonderful coastal area. Those people take advantage of our tourism offer and they come to our cultural centres.
Tourism in Tendring is worth some £392 million, and for a district such as Clacton that is vital. Without strong tourism in Clacton, we would be in real trouble, but that is what we could face if we lose the venues and attractions that bring people to our area. Yes, we have the culture recovery fund to keep these establishments open, but we now need to create domestic demand. We need to get people from the UK to come to UK resorts and keep us going.
We need to find a way to bring people safely back to the theatre. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster mentioned Andrew Lloyd Webber. What a wonderful example—he fogs the Palladium, fills it with an alcohol gas and cleans everything up. The Palladium has self-cleaning handles. We must be creative; we are the creative industries, after all.
We need to get people back into theatres, but as my hon. Friend mentioned, that is also about the restaurants, the bars, the taxis and all the surrounding ecosystem. Those have to be supported too. Like the eat out to help out scheme, I envisage a voucher scheme that would help people to get back into the theatres, and I put that proposal to the Minister now. There must be some means whereby theatres, which would have to operate on a lower percentage in order to keep people safely spaced, could be helped to open with a voucher scheme. I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of man to come up with that. There could also be something to help with the food offer in our local restaurants around the theatres.
We need to begin to focus on returning people to these establishments in a safe way, because if we do not do that, when Government support for theatres ends we will be in real trouble. We have a global gold standard in our theatres and we must protect them. Finally, I have to say something about freelancers, such as actors and musicians. We must ensure that they are protected, so I say to the Minister, “Look after the freelancers too”.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing this debate, and I will also say how proud I am to see her leading the debate today. Not all hon. Members will know that I used to teach her at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff. It is wonderful to see her leading our debate today and it is a privilege for me to participate in the debate with her. I am sorry that she ended up the way she did, Mr Walker. [Laughter.] It was despite my best efforts, but there we are.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) who, like me, is a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on his speech. As ever, he made his constituency sound like a wonderful place, although he was unable to establish, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster did with her constituency, that we can literally find heaven within it.
I always like to stress the importance of the value of the arts and culture in and of themselves, as well as their economic benefits. In and of themselves, they are valuable and we should encourage them. Nevertheless, it is important to note that places such as the Sherman theatre in Cardiff, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), make a wonderful contribution—and an important economic contribution too. Cultural and creative industries contribute £10.8 billion a year to the UK economy and £2.8 billion in taxation, and they support over 360,000 jobs. This was also the fastest growing sector of the economy; we should not forget that.
In Cardiff, we have wonderful cultural facilities too. Recently, the Womanby Street campaign tried to protect our music venues—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) was very much involved in that. We have the wonderful Millennium centre in Cardiff, which is also in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and the Chapter arts centre, a world-leading contemporary arts centre in my own constituency. All of these places are wonderful, but they have all been very badly affected by coronavirus and the lockdown.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the Womanby Street campaign; I was proud to work with him on it. Does he agree that Eluned Morgan, our Welsh culture Minister, has been doing an excellent job in securing a package to support our industries, including freelancers, crucially?
I agree. She is another of my protégés, and is doing a marvellous job as arts Minister in Cardiff.
Through the Minister, I say to the Chancellor that he must stop the talk about people in the creative industries going on to do something else. In a report today on the ITV website, the Chancellor suggests that musicians and others in the arts industry—actors, creatives and so on—may need to retrain and find new jobs. When asked whether he was suggesting that some of the UK’s fabulous musicians, artists and actors should get other jobs, the Chancellor said that although there is still work available in the creative industries,
“as in all walks of life everyone’s having to adapt.”
That is true and all very well, but he is in danger of becoming the Aunt Mimi of Government if he is not careful. For those who do not know, Aunt Mimi was John Lennon’s aunt, who brought him up and told him to get a proper job rather than going into the music industry. Those are proper jobs! Roles that are involved in our creative industries—actors, such as my brother or the hon. Member for Clacton; musicians; directors; or whatever freelance or employed role—are proper jobs in the fastest growing sector of our economy. It is about time that the Government acknowledged that.
In all fairness, some parts of the Government do, and I welcome the package that they have brought forward—although that money needs to be distributed now—but the view that those are not proper jobs has got to go. The Chancellor has to stop saying that. The Minister may not feel free or at ease to say so in the debate, but will she say privately in the halls of Government that that kind of talk has to stop? The Government’s job is to provide a bridge to the future for what is a very viable creative sector. There is a bright future for it and for those who work in it. We need to acknowledge that and provide more support to enable it.
In the early 1970s, when I was seven or eight, I was taken to a performance of Bach’s St John Passion because my mum was singing in it. It was electrifying and magical, and it changed the course of my life. Eight years later, Bob Dylan had a similar effect. That is because great music, art and live performances change lives. As the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) rightly said, it is about not just the economic cost, but the social cost, particularly and ironically when, in a time of so much fear, uncertainty and loneliness, live performances and venues are so important to society.
Just outside my constituency sits the site of the Glastonbury festival—some of the far-flung campsites are in my patch—which brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year; supports gazillions of businesses such as pubs, hotels, restaurants, catering, transport, you name it; and brings in about £45 million a year to Somerset. Businesses are devastated. Many of them are really struggling because this year there was no Glastonbury festival.
This is not just about the big festivals, however; smaller venues are also affected. The Cheese & Grain in Frome is a member-owned social enterprise and registered charity that provides a huge boost to the cultural, economic and social life of Frome. It is now looking at making 40 of its 53 staff redundant and, having been closed for eight months, it may become insolvent. I know that the Chancellor is being held upside down so that people can steal money out of his pockets all the time, but if we do not help those businesses, they will go under and be devastated. I wrote to him and suggested a tourism and cultural resilience fund, with targeted support and grants to carry those businesses through the winter, and I urge the Minister and the Government to consider that carefully.
I have also said that the furlough scheme should be extended for businesses that are unable to open, and again, I hope that my words are being heard. In the west country, it is particularly important because the incidence of covid is very low, but the economic cost is very high. We must keep changing lives and supporting those whose businesses change lives.
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and to take part in this debate instigated by my fellow west London MP, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken).
For one of the smallest London boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham packs a big punch creatively in the arts, theatre, live music and exhibitions. These institutions are the lifeblood of our cultural life, but also a main driver of the local economy. We have lost some iconic venues in the last few years, such as Hammersmith Palais and the Earls Court exhibition centre, but we have Olympia, which is undergoing a major renaissance, the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo and Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and three fantastic theatres—the Lyric, the Bush and the Riverside—all of which were thriving before covid hit and had new or substantially enlarged premises.
We have a lot of good smaller venues, such as Bush Hall, which has provided live music for 20 years. They are particularly vulnerable, because they do not have good income streams or reserves of finance, and many of them are in danger of closing down as we speak. The Lyric is consulting on losing about 20% of its staff. None of these theatres can stage productions, because on a 30% capacity they cannot make productions commercially viable.
They all do excellent community work, which does not appear to be reflected in the Government’s funding. Notably, the arts fund was directed to prioritise institutions of national or international significance, but that does not cover the whole body of good work that the institutions do. For example, there would have been 45,000 visitors to Christmas shows at the Lyric on Hammersmith Broadway. The Bush theatre is in one of the most deprived parts of my constituency and it drives a large part of the local economy. That is all suffering at the moment.
What do we need? We need a payment support scheme—either grants or loans, as applicable to the type of institution—to keep those institutions above the water line for the next year; it probably will be a year. We need support for freelancers—70% of people who work in this area are freelancers—and that has not been in place throughout the crisis. We need insurance, because without proper insurance schemes it will not be possible to put together productions and put them on at the risk of another lockdown. We need clarity, because it takes at least three months to put together such exhibitions or productions. We need the Government to say: “We will support you until lockdown has ended”. That is the only way we will achieve something. Without that, I fear for the cultural sector across my borough, which I care for deeply, and across the country. I hope the Minister will respond to this.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank my neighbouring colleague, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), for securing this important debate and for her important work on this issue over the last few months.
My constituency in Vauxhall is close to Westminster and we have a fantastic cultural centre. It contains many of Britain’s iconic cultural institutions—familiar landmarks to many people around the world—including the London Eye, the National Theatre, the BFI on the south bank and the South Bank centre. The origins of the South Bank centre date back to the festival of Britain, and it houses the Hayward Gallery and the Royal Festival Hall, which is home to the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The south bank area of my constituency not only contributes to our culture’s enormous identity, but generates so much income and employment. My constituents work in a number of these organisations, and in the many auxiliary bars, hotels, restaurants and shops that support millions of tourists and visitors every year. These people are skilled freelancers—the backstage workers—and they need our support. Without them, these organisations would not be able to function.
Alongside those big, hard-hitting cultural heritage sites, we have smaller but no less important sites: live music venues and theatres, such as the Young Vic theatre and the historic Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Aside from their cultural importance, what makes them so special is that they are embedded in the communities where they are located. They bring a cultural, economic and social enrichment to the lives of our residents in the form of employment, and artistic and creative support programmes.
Last month, I had the honour of attending a socially distanced 50th anniversary celebration for the Young Vic theatre. The Young Vic is an incredible, innovative theatre that is embedded in schools and the community. Under the leadership of the inspiring playwright and director Kwame Kwei-Armah, it runs a year-round programme for residents, championing diversity. For those people who are traditionally under-represented in arts and culture, that is so important.
These organisations, from the smaller theatres to the big ones, will continue to suffer under the financial challenges of covid. We have seen a dramatic fall in audiences—and, in some cases, no audiences whatsoever. Many of my constituents who work in the sector will not return to business as usual, even as the lockdown eases. They will continue to be hit hard. In July, I welcomed the Government’s financial support, but it is now October and we have not seen that money come through. Will the Minister confirm when theatres will finally see the money, and will she lobby the Chancellor to ensure that our amazing culture sector gets the targeted support that it needs?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), a fellow former council leader, for securing the debate. When I was first elected as the Member for Northampton South, one of my hopes and aims was regeneration of the town centre, both physically and in what it had to offer those who seek a cultural experience. Northampton has a lot to offer, from the iconic Royal & Derngate theatre, which I have visited many times, to the host of historical, archaeological and artistic treasures found at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. We look forward to that development. There are also a large number of community-run drama projects, historical attractions and music venues that add to the cultural tapestry in Northampton.
I thank the Government for the £1.57 billion support package for the sector. Many businesses have been in touch thanking me for that support, but my worry, which is shared by many, is that a further support package will be needed to keep many of our local theatres and attractions open. As a vice-president of the Local Government Association, I know that local councils would like the Government to adopt a place-based approach to recovery by ensuring that councils are at the table for discussions, including at the new cultural renewal taskforce and the Tourism Industry Council. Councils are one of the biggest investors in cultural activity, spending around £1.1 billion a year, so they should be part of future discussions.
One often overlooked part of the culture and leisure sector is betting and gaming organisations. I have visited both Aspers and Grosvenor casinos in my constituency and, as the lockdown eased, I was invited to look at the covid-safe measures being implemented at considerable cost, including limits on capacity, perspex screens, hand sanitisers and social distancing. I was impressed by their efforts to comply with Government guidance, but the 10 pm curfew has put at even greater risk what has been, in these changed times, a precarious survival. I hope the Government will look at the 10 pm issue urgently. Otherwise, I am afraid that many casinos, including those in my constituency, will not survive. That is not to say I am a great fan of gambling; I just think it is better in a regulated environment for reasons of taxation and supporting the vulnerable.
I am grateful for the previous Government support, but, as we approach Christmas, the Government must look at how we can safely reopen this vibrant and vital sector, and focus on this. Although many economic sectors will suffer downturns and huge disruption as a result of the crisis, other distinct sectors either cannot operate at all, or cannot operate for practical purposes as a direct result of specific Government rules, sectorally or locally. They have an especial claim for direct compensation or support.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing the debate. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests with support from the Musicians’ Union.
I start with a message to all who work in the creative industries, and to musicians in particular: you are viable, you do matter and you deserve better, because you are the lifeblood of my constituency and our country, not just economically but for our soul. Everyone in the Chamber knows that. I think of the Wales millennium centre, the Glee Club’s stand-up comedy, the theatre and events sector and the amazing film and TV that goes on in my constituency. I think of dance, live music and so much more, which is crucial for our economy and crucial for our soul. All of this is devastating for me personally, as a singer and performer—I know that many others in this room who have come from the industry, whether professionally or semi-professionally, will be feeling the same—and it is devastating for my constituents in Cardiff South and Penarth.
Yes, some are adapting. BBC Studios has adapted in a covid-safe way in Cardiff South and Penarth, and the world-leading Iris Prize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film festival is starting tonight virtually, online. That is fantastic, but many others simply cannot adapt in a way that is economically sustainable for them and those who work in their industries, and unfortunately the response of the UK Government has been too slow and too little, and too many are falling through the gaps. One major local music body has told me in the past two days that the Chancellor’s declarations about viable jobs are meaningless and insensitive in this context. I want to draw attention to the demands by the Musicians’ Union and many others in this sector, who have said that not only do we need to get musicians back to work safely as soon as possible—70% of them are currently unable to do more than a quarter of their usual work, in order to get the income that they normally rely on—but we need to expand the self-employment scheme, because 38% of musicians are ineligible for the schemes the Chancellor has set out. We also need individual support.
Did my hon. Friend see the protest outside Parliament today by the Let Music Live group, where musicians came together to play some of Gustav Holst’s music? I join him in congratulating the Musicians’ Union on their work, including that of Horace, the general secretary, and Naomi Pohl, the wonderful assistant general secretary. I declare my own interest as a member of that union.
I totally endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. The scenes outside Parliament today were incredibly powerful; I was not able to be there in person, but I saw them online. They show the scale of devastation in the sector, but also those people’s wish to be able to perform and earn their livelihoods as they otherwise would.
We are well aware of the concerns that are affecting individual freelancers in Wales. The Welsh Government have announced a specific fund for freelancers; I am told that Arts Council England has been told that the money cannot be used to support individual freelancers in England, and I wonder if the Minister can explain why that is the case.
I am aware that over the past 24 hours, there have been some concerns and frustrations in my own constituency about being able to get funding from the freelancers’ scheme in Wales, which shows the huge demand and desperation that is affecting so many people. I want to reassure those who have raised concerns that I have been speaking to Ministers, as have others, and we have been assured that a second phase will be opening very soon, because the Welsh Government recognise that the demand is there. However, that scheme does not even operate in England. In Wales, a total fund of £53 million has been announced for the arts and culture sector; that is the most significant fund across the UK, and £7 million of it is ring-fenced for freelancers.
I will end by reflecting on a couple of the heart-rending messages I have received from constituents, showing the human cost of this crisis. One constituent, who is a friend and a musician, wrote to me saying, “I know many fully professional musicians who are in utter panic. It is their sole livelihood, and it is devastating to see them with distress etched on their faces.” He is thinking of leaving this country. We will lose this talent; it will go elsewhere. Another writes, “I am leaving the profession. There is no hope.”
We need to see better from the Chancellor and from Ministers. I was deeply concerned by the Chancellor’s comments today, when he said,
“It’s a very sad time…I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job”.
We all need to do better. We need to do better as a country, and we need to support these people through this crisis; otherwise, the cost will not only be to our economy but, crucially, to our country’s soul.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Charles, and to see the Minister in her place. Like many others, I express my thanks for the package the Government have put in place for the arts sector, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). She is right that as London MPs, we are extraordinarily proud of our city’s cultural offering and the economic benefit it gives to this nation. It would be remiss of me to not point out that this cultural offering is not just in central London. In Wimbledon, we have the New Wimbledon theatre, the home of panto; the Polka theatre, which is the best children’s theatre in the country; the Lantern arts centre, of which I am a patron; and many other small venues.
I will focus my remarks on the events industry. Back in March, I first mentioned in the House the problems that the supply chain into the hospitality industry and the live events industry was likely to have if support packages were not in place. The people who work in that industry—caterers, photographers, event planners, exhibition organisers, audio-visual engineers, musicians, actors, and more—simply have not been able to work at all, because events and exhibitions have all been stopped by the pandemic. I would suggest that it has affected this industry more than most others, and perhaps most of all. The Chancellor has put in place an extensive package, but there is a good case for looking at the industry.
In Wimbledon, as in so many parts of the country, we have extraordinary businesses—viable businesses—such as White Light and Oxygen Event Services. Only yesterday, the managing director of another events company—Nineteen Group—wrote to me saying that the sector does not want to go into hibernation; the exact opposite is true.
Like everybody, those businesses would like certainty. Like everybody, they want more help with money for jobs. I rarely agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), but he is right to say that one of the things the Government could do would be to put in place a guarantee package that would allow the industry to start having some certainty for planning for events for when we finish covid, hopefully at some stage next year. At the moment that certainty is not there, and a Government guarantee would work.
I had a Zoom meeting with my constituents Mark and Judy Faithfull last week. They pointed out that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and other Government Departments have been involved in test events. There was a test business trade exhibition, a test trade event at the Hilton in Canary Wharf in September and a test banqueting event. The industry does not understand why other parts of Europe and the world are looking opening up test events. Will the Government look again at the test events they attended, which proved that such events could be covid-secure? Will they look to open those up, so that the industry can thrive?
It is a pleasure, once again, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing this important debate.
I am delighted that Coventry is set to become the UK city of culture in 2021. In the run-up to that event, however, our theatres, live music industry and other cultural attractions have been hard hit by the pandemic, with too little support promised far too later. Concerns raised by people in the arts and culture sector have been ignored by the Government. The arts and culture sector in Coventry enriches lives and employs hundreds of my constituents. Venues have rightly closed their doors to the public because of the pandemic but have, unforgivably, not been supported enough financially by the Government to ensure their viability once they open their doors again. Our theatres, live music venues and other cultural attractions play a big role in our local economy. Not only do they provide jobs to my constituents, but they ensure that other local businesses surrounding them benefit from increased footfall.
I want to pay tribute to community institutions such as Imagine theatre and Belgrade theatre, which have brought tears of laughter and joy to adults and children alike across Coventry. It is what they do best, but there is no such joy for them now. Without urgent care and consideration from the Government, my constituents might not have access to theatres to look forward to once the pandemic ends. Both of those prestigious theatres are confronted with potentially 22 months with no income whatever, with their productions postponed to 2021. They have no income, but the Government expect them to take back staff from 1 November through the job retention scheme.
Can the Minister tell me how the Government expect our theatre businesses to survive? The sector is facing mass redundancies, and many businesses will be bankrupt. How can we expect such industries to thrive post covid, or to be part of rebuilding our society, if the Government are not investing in them now to ensure the viability to safeguard jobs? If a better package is not delivered soon, up to 800 jobs could be lost from those two theatres in Coventry alone. That is 800 jobs too many.
We must do everything we can to support businesses in our arts and culture sector, both in Coventry and across Britain. Venues are a shining source of entertainment and culture, showcasing the very best of our country. The post-pandemic viability of the industry will depend on action—not taken later, not taken if or when it folds, but taken now. I am willing to work with partners, including the Government, to safeguard the sector.
It is a pleasure to appear before you, Sir Charles, for my first Westminster Hall debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing it.
My son’s realisation that we were not living in normal times came about two weeks ago. We were talking about what we will do for Christmas, and he said to me, “We’re not going to be able to go the pantomime this year, are we?” That is something that really struck me. Going to the theatre to watch a live show, especially with children, not only brings families together; it makes everything great about being in Britain.
We all know why difficult decisions to pause performances have been taken, but we must not underestimate the wider, long-term impacts of those decisions. Understandably, a lot of the discussion around the theatre world is focused on the west end and major regional theatres such as the opera house in Manchester or the Liverpool Empire. This debate, however, is also about the contribution to the local economy. Just for a second, I want to highlight the contribution that live events make to our sense of community, such as the amateur dramatics society that uses the village hall to put on a run just for three or four nights. Those am-drams are the training grounds for future performers and technicians; everything that will make our vibrant theatre sector just as vibrant for years to come.
I want to highlight the impact for Warrington’s local economy of the closure of our local theatres. I am grateful to the team at Culture Warrington, which has provided me with some detailed insight into what has happened in the sector. The Pyramid arts centre and the Parr Hall stayed empty since mid-March. Losses for Culture Warrington are likely to top £1 million. I know they have been able to use some of the Government schemes but, sadly, redundancies are following. It is not just that performances are not going ahead, it is that the pre-theatre dinners, the after-show drinks and the wider impact also are not happening.
I am grateful to the Minister and the Secretary of State for the £1.5 billion package the sector has benefited from. In recent weeks, however, I have been particularly struck by conversations with my constituents Dale and Adam Wilson from Great Sankey, a father and son who own sound and lighting company WH Leisure, which, in normal times, would be distributing and setting up equipment all over the country right now. They need additional support through the months when, frankly, they would have been making the money that keeps them afloat through the slower periods next year. With venues closed, we know that thousands of highly skilled technicians who work behind the scenes and put on the shows cannot return to work. Those are the people we need to offer additional support to. Their jobs will return once the Government allow performances to return.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I have the honour to represent Liverpool, Riverside, covering the city centre and the waterfront, with its world heritage status, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors in a normal year. There are five art galleries and four museums, including the International Slavery Museum, which is the only one in the country dedicated to the history of the transatlantic slave trade. People will have seen our streets and listed buildings in shows and films. In 2017, 289 films and TV shows were shot, contributing over £11 million to our local economy. We have five theatres, including the Everyman and Playhouse, two large arenas and music venues—too many to count. Liverpool is not a UNESCO city of music for nothing.
We might be synonymous with The Beatles, but the city has a rich and diverse music history that reaches back to the 18th century. Our Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is the UK’s oldest continuing professional symphony orchestra, and it marks its 180th anniversary this year. We are a city that leads culturally, from the Merseybeat sound to Eric’s and the punk scene in the 1970s and 1980s to the global clubbing brand Cream. We are home to the annual Africa Oye, the largest festival of African music in the UK, and the Liverpool International Music Festival, which was the largest European music festival in 2018.
Liverpool has gone from strength to strength since its capital of culture days in 2008, doubling its visitor numbers and becoming synonymous with cultural innovation and creative excellence. We have a thriving independent sector and when our city does culture, it does it big, it does it loud and it draws people in. We only have to view the numbers who have visited our Giants spectacular. Liverpool boasts around 68 million visitors annually, bringing more than £5 billion to the city region and creating 57,000 related jobs—or it did, until covid-19. What was a booming sector is now facing a serious threat to its existence. While the additional culture recovery grant funding announced earlier this year by the Chancellor was very welcome, it is short term, a stop gap, a sticking plaster on a gaping wound: it does not address the looming funding crisis for many of our arts and cultural venues.
Liverpool is now under further local restrictions, which will severely limit visitor numbers and will pose a significant threat to the sustainability of our venues. At the heart of our famous and rightly celebrated scouse culture are people—performers, actors, musicians, producers, technicians and support staff. They are what makes Liverpool’s cultural sector punch above its weight. I will end with a quote:
“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”
That means financially supporting all of our artists.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing this debate. She represents the west end—the national showcase for the world-leading UK theatre industry. However, it is an industry that extends throughout our four countries, and it is important that the roots are nurtured so as to ensure that the industry does not wither away.
In Waveney, there are five main theatres, which complement each other well and are deeply embedded in their communities—the Marina, in the centre of Lowestoft, with its 800-seat auditorium, the Players Theatre at the nearby former Bethel church run by the Lowestoft Players—one of East Anglia’s premier amateur theatre groups, for whom I am an ambassador—and the Seagull theatre in Pakefield, the Fisher theatre in Bungay and Beccles Public Hall, which are all run by volunteers. I shall briefly outline why those theatres are so vital in the area.
First, they are crucial to the future of our town centres, which are facing enormous pressures and undergoing dramatic change, not only as a result of covid but also due to the fast-changing face of retail. Secondly, the theatres are doing so much great work in the community. The Seagull runs dementia classes and engages with care homes and schools, as does the Marina, which, in 2019, in addition to performances, clocked up more than 5,000 engagements through its community outreach work. Thirdly, theatres nurture talent and enable people of all ages and all backgrounds to fulfil their dreams and realise their full potential. In 1953-54, Sir Michael Caine spent a year in Lowestoft in rep at the Arcadia, which is now the Hollywood cinema.
Finally, we must not forget what goes on back- stage. UK theatre has a well-established world-leading supply chain, which cannot function when there are no performances. In Lowestoft, Scenic Projects designs and builds sets and scenery, which it transports around the country.
The theatres in Waveney are getting out and helping themselves. The Marina has launched its survival fund and the Fisher theatre and Beccles Public Hall will be putting on special socially distant pantomimes, “Raiders of the Lost Panto” and “Inside the Snowglobe”. However, covid-19 has stopped them all in their tracks. The cultural recovery fund is welcome, but the money needs to get out quicker and get right across the country. Moreover, more support is required, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) has articulated in his role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for theatre.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing this important debate.
The Minister will have heard me speak last week when I was very proud to have an Adjournment debate on grassroots arts and culture in my home town of Luton, which I am proud to represent. Our creative sector promotes community cohesion, develops social capital and fosters happier, healthier lives. As many others who have spoken have said, so much of our culture takes place in our town centres, and that is why it is so important that we must secure the vibrancy of our cultural sector once more. I am proud that Luton town centre has had its purple flag status since 2018, which means it is safe, diverse and enjoyable for a night out in arts and culture. Like others today, I was infuriated by the display by the Chancellor of apparent contempt for those working in the creative sector, saying that musicians and artists should get another job if they are struggling due to coronavirus. Yesterday, I was contacted by many local pubs and music venues who say that there is demand for live music and that they want to operate safely. We must try to do what we can to save them.
We all enjoy and consume arts every day, as they have numerous social and economic benefits. People working in the creative sector should not be left excluded and their role in society deemed unviable. Last week I was proud to take part in the WeMakeEvents demonstration outside Parliament, supported by BECTU and Equity, because the sector is so vibrant and important in all our lives. The sectors are viable. They will be important after the pandemic and will play a crucial part in building back better. They must receive support. We cannot afford the skills to be lost.
This weekend I had the best and the worst of it. The best was that I went back to the Hat Factory in Luton and watched live theatre. In a 100-seat theatre there were 21 of us. We were socially distanced and covid-secure, and it was great to see the staff so proud to open their venue again. The same weekend I had the worst of it with Cineworld announcing tens of thousands of jobs being lost, including those in the Cineworld in my town centre. That is terrible news, and I have already had constituents getting in touch because they have been laid off with such little notice.
I have mentioned before to the Minister that Luton is a brilliant case study of how embedding culture in a local area’s growth strategy could provide a basis for building back better. Last year, our programme of culture, “people, power, passion”, employed 84 artists and trained 13 young people from diverse backgrounds. That is something to be proud of in our town. I will make sure I write to the Minister to invite her to visit Luton and our cultural offer.
It is great to see you in the Chair, Sir Charles. I am going to speak up for Glasgow Central and our renowned cultural offer. We are also a UNESCO city of music. I want to talk about the many people that work in the communicative sectors, both in the limelight and behind the scenes. The band Ash tweeted earlier:
“Not just musicians though is it? It’s our technicians, our engineers, our management, our agent, our promoter. It’s the venues, their staff, the production companies, transport, storage. It’s roughly one million people you’re throwing on the job market”,
by not supporting the industry further. I would add to that the restaurants, bars and hotels and all of the people that work in them. An entire local ecosystem is at risk without further support in a sector that is worth £111 billion to the UK economy.
Some of the comments from the Chancellor and the Treasury have been quite hurtful to many people in terms of their role within the sectors. I will read a comment from one of my constituents, Jazz Hutsby. He writes,
“My partner and I are freelancers within Live Events and The Arts. To call this a career would not describe what our jobs mean to us. We have dedicated our lives to our practice, we trained specifically for this role. We are specialists in our field, make no doubt that we do not need to “get better jobs”, or to “upskill”. What we need is effective support. The rhetoric from Westminster over the last week has been, quite frankly, disgusting. Our vocation, our lives, have been deemed unviable. This was, as I’m sure you are aware, quite literally what the Chancellor suggested.”
I can tell the Minister that that was written before the comments on ITV earlier today. There is so much more that Jazz points out that needs to be done to support the sector by all Governments and by local government, and I will seek to pursue those issues with whoever can help.
I want to talk about the events and conferences sector because the Scottish Events Campus in my constituency of Glasgow Central employs more than 200 people, with additional people that come in for events. Exhibitions are worth more than £11 billion to the UK economy, but they and their suppliers have little or no support, and the ending of furlough could mean unemployment for around 114,000 people in the exhibitions sector, which is completely avoidable if the Government choose to support the sector. It is and will be viable. It just needs bridging to get to that point. Further job losses have been announced in Cineworld, and potentially the Odeon, which will affect my constituency.
Lastly, I want to talk about the museums sector. Museums Galleries Scotland has pointed out that as of last week only 160 of Scotland’s 423 museums and galleries are open. That is 38%. That might be a high point for the year as we go into winter and some have to close down for that. Some museums cannot open because they do not have the capacity to do so safely, social distancing makes their business model unviable, and their staff have been redeployed, or their volunteers are too vulnerable to come back in. The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions found that only 28% of attractions that have reopened are opening at an economically sustainable level.
We need such sectors. We need them to survive for all our health and wellbeing, and for the cultural joy that we draw from these things. The Government need to get their finger out to provide the extra support to see them through the winter.
There has been great self-discipline from Back-Bench colleagues and we have had two no-shows, so the Front-Bench speakers each have at most 11 minutes, which leaves the mover of our debate two minutes at the end. I call Gavin Newlands.
I do not intend to take up 11 minutes, Sir Charles, unless I am intervened on several times. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I congratulate the local MP, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), on securing this important debate. She set out the stark statistics, and the real issues facing the creative sectors, very well.
There have been some fantastic speeches this afternoon. I do not have time to touch on them all, but the point made by both hon. Members for Cardiff, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who is no longer in his place—[Interruption.] Apologies: he is lurking behind me—we can do the panto bit now. The point about the Chancellor’s attitude to those who work in the creative sector was very well made and one with which I very much concur.
I also agreed with the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) when he mentioned the importance of panto. My children would ordinarily be very much looking forward to Paisley’s PACE Youth Theatre panto this Christmas, but sadly that will no longer take place.
Of course, in the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), that great Renfrewshire commuter town that lies to the east of my constituency, we heard some fantastic points, particularly about the Scottish Event Campus in hers, which I frequent often.
As we enter the fag end, as I like to call it, of 2020—it has been that sort of year—we are looking to put this pretty desperate year behind us. If there were any justice in the world, we should be looking forward to Paisley celebrating its tenure as UK city of culture 2021. I have never spoken again to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury since he, as a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister, announced Coventry as the winner of that competition—but in all seriousness, I wish Coventry well in 2021. I am sure that, despite the difficulties presented by the situation that we all face at the moment, it will deliver a fantastic and impactful programme and secure a great cultural, economic and social legacy from that.
The word “culture” still elicits a curious response from many. Culture is for everyone, but many still instinctively think of highbrow sophistication, snobbery and elitism at the opera or theatre. That is a long-held but unfair reputation. People are just as likely to sit next to a snob at a stand-up comedy act—as I did at the Stand in Glasgow last time I was there—as at the opera. In case anyone thinks that I am doing opera down, I should say that in my stint as the branch fundraiser, one of the more risky events—that ended up being one of the most successful and enjoyable events that Renfrew SNP ever held—was an opera concert at Renfrew town hall.
The truth is that culture, in whatever form, enriches us all, individually and collectively. That is the case whether it is live music in stadiums, village halls or the pub; theatre, including panto, and opera and theatre productions big and small; stand-up comedy; or, of course, museums and galleries.
Missing from my hon. Friend’s long list is ballet, of course, and Scottish Ballet is based in my constituency. Does he share my sadness that its Christmas productions will not be going ahead as normal this year? And unless there is further support from the Government, there might not be theatres for it to host its productions in in the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course—how remiss of me to forget ballet, particularly as my daughters are both dancers themselves. My hon. Friend made a very good point, and I hope that the Minister was listening to it.
In many of these sectors, the people who derive a livelihood from them, be they performers or staff who facilitate and assist the performers, are in severe financial peril. Of course, the Scottish Government have acted when the UK Government would not, or before the UK Government when they did. The Scottish Government were proactive and announced a £30-million creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund, and £10 million has been provided to protect vital performing arts venues, with an additional £59 million announced in August.
We need the UK Government to step up. One has just to look, as others have mentioned, at the announcement by Cineworld of 5,500 people losing their jobs as the chain mothballs itself until the spring. That decision just proves the utter inadequacy of the so-called job support scheme. The Chancellor says that the scheme exists to provide support for viable jobs, so does the Minister think that cinema and the jobs that support it are no longer viable? Of course they are. These are the sorts of jobs that any job support scheme worth its salt should be protecting.
There are also the 125,000 jobs supported by concerts in the audio-visual and events sector, with companies such as Adlib and FE Live in my constituency, without which concerts just could not be delivered.
While we are on the subject of supporting those who earn their livelihood from this sector, let us turn to the self-employed, whom many have mentioned and who constitute a large number of workers in the creative industry because of the preponderance of freelance actors, performers, technicians and so on. We have heard today from Members across the Chamber that the Chancellor’s support for the self-employed is simply not enough. Not only is the level of financial support not enough, but not enough people qualify for support. Whereas the UK Government have failed to help those people, the Scottish Government have provided £185 million of targeted support for SMEs and the self-employed, and £5 million for creative freelancers specifically. The Chancellor must rethink his approach or a great many people across the UK will face a long, difficult winter.
Creative industries in Scotland account for 70,000 workers and 15,000 businesses, and are estimated to support about £9 billion of activity within the wider Scottish economy, contributing £5.5 billion to Scotland’s GDP. Edinburgh of course, has its world-renowned festival and fringe. The fringe alone provides 3,000 jobs and £173 million to the Scottish economy. We absolutely recognise the vital role played by creative businesses, which employ tens of thousands in Scotland. As others have said, the UK Government’s focus on financial viability alone ignores industries’ true value. Local live music venues provide meeting places and community hubs, and cultural events such as the Edinburgh fringe elevate global awareness of Scottish and British arts and culture. Not only that, but they bring culture and entertainment from all over the world to our doorstep.
The cultural sector is vital for preserving our national heritage, and connecting people. Its preservation is more important than mere economics. However, of course, the vast majority of Scots’ cultural engagement and entertainment is found not at the Edinburgh festival but in communities, towns and cities the length of the country. Ninety-three per cent. of the grassroots venue network faces permanent closure, and 34% of musicians are considering abandoning the industry completely. Those are stark figures, so I am glad that the £2 million-plus grassroots music venue stabilisation fund was announced by the Scottish Government. One of the recipients of that lifeline grant was the Bungalow in Paisley, a well-known venue and community interest company, which, for the past 40 years or so, has put on its stage every musical genre of up-and-coming-talent, spanning punk to big band jazz. Bungalow co-director Tommy McGrory said:
“This money is our lifeline. Without this money, we would find ourselves in a very serious position. We have just been limping on.”
It must be said that the Scottish grassroots music fund is, in relative terms, six and a half times the size of the UK Government’s comparable scheme for England. They must do more for this vital sector.
I have, despite what my colleagues may think, relatively broad cultural taste, but, to be honest, it is grassroots venues, be they live music or stand-up comedy, that I really miss—even some that are outwith my constituency, such as the 180-year-old Gellions bar in Inverness, the city’s oldest venue, which has bands such as Schiehallion featuring among the 650 gigs played there in a normal year. Live music is critical to venues like the Bungalow and Gellions bar, and as long as clinical advice continues to ensure that no indoor live music or comedy can be performed, the venues and performers must be supported.
I mentioned in my opening remarks that Paisley was robbed of the city of culture award, and it should be warming up to embark on its 2021 programme with the ninth year of the Spree festival, an extremely popular and growing celebration of music, arts and comedy, which should have kicked off this very Thursday. Sadly, it is just another event that has been cancelled because of the pandemic. It is fair to say that the bid itself will leave a legacy in the town for years to come, with £22 million being spent on plans to preserve Paisley town hall’s place at the heart of life in the area and turn it into a landmark performance venue, and £42 million on the transformation of Paisley museum into an international-class destination telling the story of the town’s pattern, heritage and people. I very much look forward to those great venues reopening, but I sincerely hope that, when they do, Renfrewshire will not have lost many of its grassroots and small venues, for that would amount to a pyrrhic legacy.
The SNP Scottish Government have supported the Scottish creative industries, but would like to do more. To do so, they need the financial powers and funding. The UK Government have tools at their disposal. As others have mooted, they could extend the 5% cultural VAT rate on tickets, in line with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. They could also provide a Government-backed insurance scheme to provide the music industry with the necessary confidence to reopen. Whatever they choose to do to support reopening they need to act now to deliver fuller support for those vital businesses, so that the Scottish Government can use the consequentials to support the Scottish creative and cultural industry. The UK Government must act now, or the damage of collapsed businesses and lost talent may be irreparable.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing this important debate. No one is a more passionate advocate for the west end than the hon. Lady.
Is it not delightful to be back in Westminster Hall, having proper debates? I cannot say how grateful I am to everyone who spoke in this debate. We have seen, across all parties, how everyone in the debate really cares about the cultural sector and the cultural industry. That includes people who worked in the industry, such as the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), or as I did for three decades as a freelance actor and writer; musicians such as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who is a fantastic musician, and I urge everyone to buy his album; or people whose children are interested in the arts. We all know, too, the impact that the arts have on our own communities, for wellbeing, tourism and so on.
Obviously, we are in a difficult time. I will go through some areas on which great points have been made. On the events sector, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) talked about tests being done—can we see those tests being rolled out to open the sector up? The events sector feels absolutely abandoned and left to one side.
On community and how mental health is supported by work done in communities, my hon. Friends the Members for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) talked about the work in their constituencies. In Hammersmith, I know that work is being done on equality, inclusion and diversity. My concern is that, as we get our sector back on its feet, such work will be the low-hanging fruit that we will lose across the piece—that work with communities and schools, and on bringing on new writers from diverse communities. It is vital for such work not to be cut as we try to survive.
Pantomime is the first chance that most young working-class kids have to go to a theatre. The concern for pantomime was mentioned by the hon. Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter). Last week, in a great demonstration, in the panto parade we saw a lot of the freelancers in their pantomime dame costumes. The dedication they give to their sector is really a joy to behold.
In Vauxhall, we have the Young Vic. I am so excited about the work being done there, and about its anniversary. On our museum sector, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) said, when we go to Liverpool we all know about the vibrancy and energy we get just from being on the streets, because the music-based passion for culture is at every corner.
Concerns were expressed about the involvement of councils and how we should support them. Theatres and music venues are civic centres. The hon. Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) said that the council is one of the biggest investors, and that is absolutely true.
With tourism, we cannot get away from this—in the majority of our communities, tourism is held up by our cultural offer. My friend from the all-party parliamentary group for theatre, the hon. Member for Clacton, talked about his constituency and about the voucher suggestion—the seat out to help out. Any support for our regional theatres to open would be welcome.
Let us not forget the issue of freelancers. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) knows this perhaps more than others, because the BBC is in his constituency, but the BBC is held up by limited companies, freelancers, PAYE freelancers and creative freelancers, who come in and out for shows. They really need our support. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) has done so much to raising the issue of the excluded and freelancers.
The Minister has shown great dedication in this area. While the Chancellor clarified his statements to ITV by saying that they were not specifically about musicians, there is a sense that the creative industries feel misunderstood, as we heard this afternoon. They will be the last to come back and the least supported. There is a sense that they are not viable or that the people in them could retrain. As we know, musicians spend all their lives, day in day out, learning their musical instruments. To be told to become a care worker instead will only lead to poor mental health and depression because they are not doing the thing they have trained for. The Minister is assiduous and I am sure she will take that point back to the Chancellor. What was said on ITV has impacted us all and deeply upset the industry, which does not feel that the Government understand its value.
We all want to see our venues get back to normality. We have heard today about their financial impact. We have also heard about the cultural hub of a community in terms of visitors, support for local restaurants, taxi firms, employment and our local economies more widely. During the summer months when restrictions were easing, we had a sense of positivity and excitement, but with local restrictions it is unfortunately unlikely that those activities will flourish.
The Government’s furlough scheme and self-employed income support scheme are very welcome. I am very grateful and I know other hon. Members are also grateful that that has been extended. However, it has been extended in a way that makes it impossible to use. How does a venue that cannot open contribute to a workforce’s salary? Sadly, we heard today about the RSC potentially laying off hundreds of its staff, which will be devasting for them and their communities. We have also heard from the sector that delays in the cultural recovery fund have brought great anxiety.
I thank the Minister for her letter, which I received today, regarding my concern around the “crown jewels”. In my mind, the crown jewels are our community offer as well as the west end—the ecosystem of regional and community theatres that the west end needs. We are all intertwined—push over one domino and the rest of the dominoes will fall. It is really important that the money does not only go to the crown jewels.
When I put a call-out on social media for freelancers to tell me their experiences of what is happening—perhaps slightly foolishly—my inbox exploded and I received over 4,000 responses from people I know and care about. Couples have lost a year’s work and still have childcare costs and a mortgage, and they are leaving the sector. We have heard from the Musicians Union that one third of musicians are thinking of leaving the sector. The support for freelancers could not be more needed. Cineworld’s 5,500 workforce is a tsunami of job losses. The training is not there for people who want to retrain. We have to put support in as fast as possible.
In the time I have left, I have a number of questions for the Minister that I hope she will address in her response. I work with a culture committee of people in the sector and we had a meeting this morning. My understanding is that there is still no news of who has the money. Will the Minister explain the delay? On what date will the successful organisations receive their funding? A number of organisations did not apply for funding, because of the restrictions. For example, to show that they have tried everything to stay afloat, they have fired all their staff, or they were unable to show that they could spend all the money from the Government by 31 March. With stage 5 now kicked further into the year, have those criteria changed? Does that mean that those organisations that originally did not apply because they did not fit the criteria will now have an opportunity to apply? Clarity on that would be extremely helpful. What was the total number of organisations that applied and what was the total amount of funding applied for?
For concerts and theatre to return with confidence, we really need an answer about insurance. I asked the Minister a question about insurance in DCMS questions, but she was unable to give me an answer. I am sure that there are lots of conversations going on with the Treasury. We have insurance for film and TV, and that is why they are back up and running. What does she know about the negotiations that are happening around insurance? Can she at least give us a chink of hope around that issue?
Have the applications for loan supports been greater than expected? If so, will the cost of additional loans be taken from other funding pots? Would the Minister explain the 10 pm curfew that applies to music venues but not to theatres? What evidence can she share with us that the 10 pm curfew will save lives? In order for venues to reopen, they have to spend money on covid safety costs. Will they get that money back, even if they do not get money from the ACE funding? Is there a contingency fund in place to help venues that reopen but have to close again? What framework is in place to support local authorities and metropolitan Mayors to work together to support those who need support? Finally, I was surprised to learn that the cultural taskforce has been wound up for now. Can she elaborate as to why that is? Is there a feeling that its job is now done? I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
It is a great pleasure, Sir Charles, to serve under your fantastic stewardship, and to be back in Westminster Hall.
I will begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing this really vital debate and on presenting her case so articulately. I also congratulate everyone else who has taken part. I feel like I have been on a whistle-stop tour up and down this country of some of the marvellous and magnificent arts and cultural venues that we have from Liverpool to Lowestoft, and from Clacton to Glasgow. We are world-renowned for our incredible arts and cultural sector, and we are very lucky to have great champions up and down our nations to support it here.
I thank the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) for her contribution. I must put on the record the fact that she is always very pragmatic and supportive in the way in which she approaches her role, and she asks legitimate questions; I will try to answer most of those she asked, but if there are any that I do not manage to answer today, I will, of course, write to her with the answers. This is a terrible time and it is really important to work as constructively and co-operatively as we can to support this sector, which we care so passionately about.
It has been evidenced today by what people have said that our cultural and creative sectors are one of the UK’s greatest success stories; in this regard, I think that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster speaks on behalf of a London constituency, as did many other speakers, but up and down the country the attractions that we are discussing are the heart of an ecosystem.
My hon. Friend talked about the co-dependence of west end theatres and live music venues, museums and galleries, and the health of the hospitality sector, including hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, taxis and, of course, the night-time economy. That situation is reflected up and down the country, with a theatre or gallery offering a cultural heart to a community. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who I think is no longer here in Westminster, said that in many cases cultural institutions were embedded in the heart of a community and driving economic prosperity in a range of other sectors that support or surround them.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) very kindly invited me to articulate my commitment to those who work in this sector and of course I am very proud to do so, as I am committed to them. These are proper jobs; these are jobs that are vital. Indeed, the people doing these jobs can do something that very few other people in this world can do. They can not only entertain but educate, they can lift spirits, they can improve mental health and wellbeing, they can take us to places that we have never been to before and open our eyes to the world around us, and they can genuinely offer young people from some of the most difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds a glimmer of hope as to what they can be, where they can go and what the world can potentially offer them.
I recognise the devastating impact that covid-19 has had across the arts and culture sector, on businesses and their staff, on freelancers, on those who rely on the sector and on many other people who helped to make it such a success.
As many hon. Members have articulated, the Government stand with the culture sector. We are making the biggest ever one-off investment of £1.57 billion, with hundreds of millions in loans and grants due to be allocated in the days ahead. That is in addition to the £160 million emergency fund that Arts Council England made available at the outset of the pandemic to venues that were struggling over the summer.
I will leave the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) to pick a fight with the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) about which city was the most deserving of the city of culture. I am looking forward to coming to Coventry to celebrate with her in the year ahead. She said nothing had been done, but Coventry alone has had £2,123,690 in support from Arts Council England this year. Of that, over £730,000 was emergency funding for support through the covid crisis. That is before we have started finally allocating the rest of the culture recovery fund.
We are doing everything we can. The funds will be used to help support the performing arts, theatres, museums, heritage, galleries, independent cinemas and live music venues across the country, and we are determined that every region of the UK should benefit. It is also vital that the work of the Department is able to continue to support and celebrate people who are so vital to the cultural life of the nation and the communities that they work in. We want the money to go right across England. We want to ensure they get that funding, as well as the funding from the Barnett formula. That money will help the levelling-up agenda, and that is why we included the geographical balancing criteria in the fund. I am pleased that the first funds to be allocated went to grassroots live music through the emergency grassroots music venues fund, and to independent cinemas through the £30 million British Film Institute fund.
Of course, our world-beating cultural and creative industries are absolutely nothing without the people who work in them. Without such people, they are just buildings. We know the importance of protecting jobs and livelihoods in the creative arts sector. Through the furlough scheme we have protected 303,000 jobs, with claims totalling £1.47 billion. The self-employed income support scheme was taken up by 64% of eligible arts and entertainment workers, with grants totalling £153 million. The Chancellor has announced that the scheme will be extended. The universal credit system has been extended and made more generous, but we know that so many people are still falling through the gaps and are not being supported.
The situation is heartbreaking. My father has been in broadcasting for what feels like many hundreds of years, but I think it is about 55. He was a freelancer for all of my childhood. I know how stressful it is for a family—now more than ever. The one thing that such people want to do, more than anything, is to get back to work. The £1.57 billion culture recovery fund will help to do that. It will help to secure the future of the performing arts and live events sector, and it will help to protect jobs. However, the sector needs money in the meantime. That is why, to complement the Government funding, ACE has announced £95 million of additional support for individuals and freelancers. It is also opening another round of “Developing your Creative Practice”, which is an £18 million project to help individuals in the arts to develop new creative skills.
I understand that operating with reduced seating capacity is just not viable for some venues at the moment. I want to see such institutions reopen their doors as soon as it is safe for them do so, and we are working extensively with the sector on how to achieve that. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen asked about what sorts of committees and cultural hubs are working on this issue. We have various working groups that sit under the main cultural board. In some cases, the working groups have been meeting weekly since February, and they continue to do so. The work on this issue is by no means done, and it continues regularly.
Last week, I visited the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Lighthouse in Poole. It shows that the dedication and passion of such cultural institutions is bringing our arts back to life. The stage has been enlarged so that the whole orchestra can fit on it and play in a socially distanced way. By doing that, it has ensured that the orchestra’s weekly Wednesday night performances have now restarted, with a mixture of live—socially distanced—and livestreaming audiences, courtesy of the venue’s incredible first-class digital team. They have already sold 11,500 tickets for performances between now and Christmas. That is an absolute credit to their tenacity, talent and overwhelming determination to bring their magic back to the audiences who utterly depend on them. I give credit to them and to others up and down the country who are doing the same.
A number of west end theatres have made steps towards reopening: Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres, is planning to welcome audiences back with a combination of some previously running shows, as well as some new stuff. The National Theatre is preparing the Olivier auditorium for some socially distanced in-the-round performances.
We are aware that many in the sector would like greater clarity on the potential transition to stage 5, given the planning that they need to do to remobilise and the lead-in time required for programming, casting and rehearsing. We have always said that, of course, further openings will depend on the public health context. We have a venue-steering group, including representatives from leading sector organisations, as well as Public Health England and other experts, to develop an action plan for maximising activity under stage 4 and for how we proceed to stage 5, which is the silver bullet—opening everything up. DCMS will continue to work with the sector to establish an appropriate pilot process for testing and return to stage 5 activity when appropriate, and we are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on its Moonshot project.
Many hon. Members have asked me about an insurance scheme. We are aware that there are many calls for something similar to the one that we have produced for film and TV production. Of course, Members must understand that there is a high bar for intervention in the insurance market. The film and TV restart scheme that we introduced worked because it was the absolute last barrier. We were 100% clear that access to insurance was the final remaining obstacle to them being able to reopen. We are looking at that for theatres, but to intervene, I need evidence that insurance is the only obstacle to opening the doors again. I am really grateful for the evidence that has been provided and am keen for Members and their constituents to keep it coming. I know that DCMS and Treasury colleagues are working closely together and are monitoring the situation in the sector.
We want to see full audiences return as soon as possible, but we have always been clear that moving to stage 5 will ultimately be determined by the public health context. We are working at pace with the sector on innovative proposals for how full audiences can return when it is safe to do so. I really hope that hon. Members across the House are reassured that my ministerial colleagues and I are absolutely dedicated to doing everything that we can to support this incredibly important sector, which not only makes a difference to people’s lives but, in some cases, saves lives. We are acutely aware of the harm that covid-19 has done across the whole of the country, and we understand its significance to the people and organisations who make up our globally recognised sectors.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster and other hon. Members that we are doing everything that we can to help, so that when we emerge from the pandemic, our cultural organisations will once again be ready to welcome international tourists, visitors from across the UK and those who live and work here.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and thank the Minister for her words. It is obvious that she is passionate about the arts and culture sector, and I take her assurance that she will look into the insurance scheme—we will provide more evidence to her—and that DCMS is keen to get to stage 5 as soon as it is safe.
Although I am a central London MP, the reason I wanted to secure this debate is because this issue affects every single one of us in the House—that was clear from everybody who spoke. It really hit me when my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) mentioned that his son said that he cannot go to pantomime this year. The speeches today brought back so many memories: going to my first pantomime at the New Theatre in Cardiff with my nan; taking my kids to their first pantomimes at the Lyric Hammersmith and the New Wimbledon Theatre; taking them to Liverpool to see the fantastic offer there last summer; taking them to the Tate; and taking my daughter to her first production of Shakespeare at the National Theatre.
It has been a real delight for me to hear hon. Members’ speeches, but it has also been very sad. We have talked about the local economy, but this is also about health and wellbeing and the memories that arts and culture leave us, our families and our constituents. It is so vital that we continue to campaign to ensure that we can open our arts and culture venues as soon as it is safe to do so.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).