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Covid-19: Music Sector and Creative Economy

Volume 803: debated on Thursday 23 April 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of COVID-19 on (1) the United Kingdom music sector, and (2) the creative economy.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so I declare my interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music.

My Lords, the Covid-19 pandemic presents a significant challenge to many of DCMS’s sectors, including, of course, music and the wider creative industries. The Government have announced unprecedented support for business and workers to protect them against the current economic emergency, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, £330 billion of government-backed guaranteed loans to support businesses, and the self-employed income support scheme. We are continuing to work very closely with partners across music and the creative industries to understand the impact of Covid-19 on their activities and to provide the necessary support.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Music, the bedrock of our creative economy, is in deep trouble. The virus has had a terrible impact on the sector, because music cannot exist without audiences and human contact, and both have disappeared along with the livelihoods of thousands of musicians. Is my noble friend aware that four in 10 creative organisations, where many hourly-paid musicians are employed, have seen their income drop by 100%? The truth is that the music business model is being destroyed as a result. As it becomes clear that mass gatherings are likely to be the last to be reintroduced after lockdown, and with many event cancellations having started in January, this will be a devastating lost year for the whole sector and so many individual artists. Does my noble friend agree that there must be an urgent sector-specific package of financial support for music and the arts, similar to the €50 billion programme in Germany, to ensure that the sector and all those who work in it survive the emergency?

My noble friend is right to highlight the huge challenges to cash flow for these sectors of our economy. The Government, as I said earlier, have focused on offering very broad support, and doing so at scale and at pace. My honourable friend the Minister for Digital and Culture is meeting representatives from the music industry and the wider creative industries on a weekly basis to understand individual impacts, gather the evidence and then see what we can do to support them on any issues that emerge from that.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the board of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, and in doing so I thank DCMS and Arts Council staff for working with museums and understanding the particular and deep ways in which this crisis is affecting them.

As the Minister knows, many museums across the UK have a fine record not only in promoting tourism but in engaging with schools and the different communities in their areas. For that reason, I echo the call that has just been made for the Government to ensure that there will be a joined-up, targeted approach across all relevant government departments, backed by the Treasury, to support the creative sector and its key economic and social role as we try to move forward.

The noble Baroness is right to high- light the extraordinary part which the creative industries have played in the success of the British economy. I commend the work that Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums did prior to the crisis, supporting children educated at home; I imagine that demand for that work is expanding greatly at the moment. The noble Baroness will be aware that Arts Council England has announced £160 million of emergency funding and is in the process of gathering further information on needs within the sector. We continue to work very closely with it.

My Lords, orchestras and other performing organisations are currently focused on short-term survival with the help of the Government’s welcome support schemes, despite gaps that affect the creative sector in particular. Can the Minister expand a little on her answer to the noble Lord, Lord Black, and indicate when the ban on large-scale events might be lifted so that orchestras that have managed to survive that long and find themselves without bookings, tour plans or indeed income can have some hope and understanding of what support they might be able to expect in future?

The decision about the ban on large-scale gatherings will obviously be driven by the scientific advice which the Government receive. More broadly, the department is now starting to work on plans for how we emerge from this crisis, but we do not underestimate the challenge that some degree of long-term social distancing poses to the economic model that orchestras, theatres and others will face.

My Lords, while much of the focus will be on the so-called high-end events affected by Covid-19, including many festivals cancelled this summer, will my noble friend also consider the plight of small music venues, which play a key role in nurturing new talent as well as being essential and important community assets? Many world-conquering British rock bands started out playing to small audiences in such venues. Earlier this month, the Music Venue Trust warned that over 500 such small venues could face permanent closure as a result of lockdown. Can the Government do anything more to support them?

I thank my noble friend for his question. We recognise the financial challenges which small venues face, particularly those in London that might not benefit from the relief to business rates because they have a rateable value above £51,000. We are grateful to the Music Venue Trust for the work it is doing to gather evidence from the sector, and we will use that to inform our plans as we move forward.

As the Minister will know, and the noble Lord, Lord Black, and other noble Lords have highlighted, the music sector and other live arts performance has been extremely badly hit by the coronavirus lockdown. We have discussed current support for the sector this morning. Will the Government give serious consideration to financial incentives to stimulate and promote UK music and other live performance production after the lockdown, especially in view of the recovery period that will be required?

The noble Lord is right that the recovery period could be longer for these sectors than some others. As I said, we are working very hard to understand the evidence on this. Giving evidence to the Select Committee yesterday, the Secretary of State said that we have not reached the end of the road in our thinking. We are listening, analysing the evidence and working on where we should focus our support.

My Lords, I applaud the Government on the way they have coped with this very alarming pestilence. Does the Minister agree that Covid-19 has had a dramatic effect on the music sector and the creative economy, a major source of the health of the country? Much of this is the result of the repeated, and successful, slogan “Stay at Home”. So successful has it been that it is reported that people dare not venture out even to be tested, so will the Government now say “Get tested and contact tracing”?

I thank my noble friend and agree on the critical part that this sector has played in the growth of the economy and the creation of high-quality jobs. As I said in response to an earlier question, our advice will be based on the science and the five tests that were highlighted earlier this week. I cannot add to that at this stage.

My Lords, the power of the creative industries is often expressed in its ability to generate £100 billion to the economy, but perhaps more important is its contribution to the national psyche. Since lockdown, one of the few bright spots in this difficult time has been to witness the irrepressible creativity and joy that results from the rise of book and film clubs, galleries and theatre online, ballet from the kitchen and rock legends performing in their bedrooms. Does the Minister recognise the sector’s need for a specific financial support package that does not look only to the immediate needs but rather recognises the atypical workforce and the length of time it takes to get an idea from page to public?

Congratulations, Lady Kidron, on getting through all the electronic feedback while you were putting your question.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right and speaks from great personal experience. I am sure that many noble Lords have enjoyed seeing extraordinary examples of agility and creativity shown in productions from National Theatre Live, in the work of the British Film Institute and, of course, of the music industry. On funding, I hope that the noble Baroness is aware that we have announced £750 million of R&D funding for small and medium-sized firms where we hope the extraordinary combination of creativity and tech will flourish in the future. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that, at a time when many of us are reflecting on the values of our society, the creative industries can help us think them through and build on the sense of connection that we are all feeling so strongly.

My Lords, I regret that the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed and I apologise to the four Members who have been excluded from it. That underlines the need for short questions and short answers.