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Arts, Culture and Heritage: Support Package

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2020

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given on Tuesday 7 July in the House of Commons.

“The UK’s arts and cultural heritage are not just beloved in the UK but are the envy of the rest of the world. Our theatres, live music venues, museums and galleries are incredibly valuable to our economy, bringing in £32.3 billion in 2018 and employing approximately 680,000 people. However, they are much more than that: they are the linchpins of their local communities, entertaining, enlightening and educating us, and bringing us together through shared experiences.

The coronavirus pandemic dealt those sectors a body blow, forcing thousands of institutions to close their doors. The Government have already provided substantial financial assistance to see them through the crisis, including loans, business rate holidays and the self-employed and furloughing schemes. Together, those schemes have provided hundreds of millions of pounds of support, saving livelihoods, beloved organisations and institutions. Of course, we have been working extremely closely with the sector and medical experts to try to get things back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so.

Our battle against coronavirus is not over. With social distancing still in place and crowded venues not possible for the foreseeable future, it was clear that the cultural sector desperately needed help to weather the ongoing storm. The Government have provided it this week, with an unprecedented £1.57 billion rescue package for museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues across the country in the form of emergency grants and loans. It is the single largest one-off investment in UK culture and proof of our commitment to protecting the sectors that do so much to enrich all our lives. It has widely been recognised as exceeding expectations and DDCMS Ministers would like to put on record our thanks to the many people who have worked so incredibly hard on this behind the scenes over the weeks.

The funding will support the country’s long-standing and rightly famous cultural institutions such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, the Mary Rose Trust, which I visited yesterday, and the National Theatre, but it will also support lesser known but equally cherished cultural and heritage institutions and organisations in regions up and down the country—places that have been cultural anchors for their communities for years. That will include theatres, live music venues and museums, but it will not just be about cultural spaces, as it will include dance companies, orchestras and touring arts groups that do not have their own venues but that still play a key role in our cultural life and, of course, still need support. By protecting these organisations as well, the funding will help to support those working across the cultural sector.

The package will also see £120 million invested in rebuilding, upgrading and starting new construction work across our cultural infrastructure as part of our wider effort to build, build, build after coronavirus. This will help to revitalise historic buildings across the country, creating jobs and protecting livelihoods all across our regions. Another £100 million will be allocated to arm’s length bodies such as the British Library, the British Museum and the British Film Institute. An extra £188 million will be given to the devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as the Government support our whole union; our cultural strength is stronger as a family of four.

The broader package comes on top of the announcement made last week by the Arts Council to reopen its project grants competition and make an additional £39 million of funding available to support creativity—in particular from freelancers, creative practitioners and independent organisations.

We all want to see full audiences back in our venues and institutions, enjoying the very best of British culture as soon as possible. We will keep our foot very firmly on the pedal and are finalising guidance for a phased return of the performing arts sectors as we speak. This package allows us to protect some of our precious cultural assets during an uncertain time ahead. It will help thousands of organisations to make it through this crisis and out the other side for future generations to enjoy. I ask the House to join the arts sector in welcoming this massive rescue package. It is a lifeline to help the sector weather this storm and bounce back even stronger.”

My Lords, we welcome this much-needed, albeit long-awaited, injection of cash for the arts and cultural sectors. The announcement has been well received, although some concerns have been expressed. I hope the noble Baroness will agree that it is vital that this money does not go just to the biggest venues or to those with the loudest voices. The creative sector’s crown jewels are very well distributed throughout the country, and all parts, including in the devolved Administrations, need to be nourished.

Can the noble Baroness explain why, according to the department’s own briefing, funds will not actually arrive until the autumn? The arts bodies we are in touch with are already in substantial need, and further delay may push several into bankruptcy, which would be a tragedy. As she knows, the creative industries rely on freelancers, many of whom have been excluded from the Treasury’s Covid-19 schemes. What steps will the Government take to make sure not only that arts and cultural sector buildings are saved, but that they will have creators, actors and performers delivering live performances too?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for welcoming the package of £1.57 billion of new money for the arts and culture that has been announced. I can reassure him that the plan for the package is not just to prioritise the largest institutions, although they are very important and £100 million is set aside for them, but to nurture the ecosystem of arts and culture organisations, which will also have important implications for freelancers in the sector and for the whole supply chain. As regards getting the funds out quickly, I can reassure the noble Lord that colleagues are working tirelessly to do that as fast as possible.

I welcome this excellent news and thank the Secretary of State and his team, including the noble Baroness, at the DCMS. It is a generous package, and it shows a listening department. Can the Minister confirm that funding decisions will reflect existing priorities within the arts—she just mentioned in her Answer that it was understood that funding for creatives in the regions was important—but also the encouragement of inclusivity and diversity in both the workforce and audiences?

To clarify in response to the noble Baroness’s question on priorities, there are three priorities that we need to balance in deciding where this funding goes. We want to protect our nationally and internationally significant institutions but we also know that there are important institutions which are critical for our levelling- up agenda in places and communities all round the country, and we also want to prioritise those that are key drivers of economic growth. Therefore, there will be some balancing and some choices to make. On inclusivity, the noble Baroness is right that we will aim to support a diverse range of organisations; funding decisions will look at organisations’ track records of inclusivity as regards audiences and those delivering the arts.

My Lords, well done to the DCMS for getting the ball rolling. However, the sooner we can get organisations open, the sooner freelancers will be back in work. It makes no sense that you can sit in a plane but not in a hall, especially when there are many venues with open spaces and movable walls, such as Garsington, that we should be using. Finally, would the Minister look at the Music Publishers Association’s plan, in which money set aside by the Government might be used to buy those tickets that they are no longer allowed to sell, thus benefiting the venues, composers and publishers?

The noble Lord raises the important issue of freelancers. On the plane issue, there is a great deal of difference and a great deal more complexity in reopening a theatre, for example, than having passengers on a plane. However, we are working to try to address these issues and we are hopeful that we can move to stage 3 of our plan—namely, outdoor live performances—within a few days. We have also done a great deal already for freelancers but we believe that by having a mix of funding between bricks and mortar as well as touring companies and other elements of performance, we will reinvigorate the supply chain and allow freelancers back to work. I will take the noble Lord’s suggestion regarding the Music Publishers Association back to the department.

I wholeheartedly welcome this extraordinary package, which I understand is the biggest package of support and investment for arts and culture anywhere in the world. Does my noble friend agree that it is the wonderful cultural life that we enjoy that attracts so many talented and ambitious men and women to this country, not just because they want to work here but because they want to live here? That is one of the reasons why Britain is such a global leading financial centre.

May I press my noble friend a little further on what she has just said about theatres? What progress is being made on the reopening of theatres, and can I press her particularly on the matter of open-air theatres, which really need to be back in operation right now, while the weather is improving? If pubs can open and air passengers can fly, why not let us enjoy our great culture out in the open?

My noble friend is right that our cultural sector and the extraordinarily talented people who work within it have been a great driver both in terms of quality of life but also economic growth in this country. As regards open-air performances, as I said, we are optimistic that we will be able to move to stage 3 of our road map very shortly and to stage 4 later this summer.

My Lords, I too welcome this support and thank all those in government and the cultural sector who have worked so hard to deliver it. Can the Minister press two key points with colleagues in DCMS and the Treasury? First, there is the importance of balancing ambitions to safeguard the sector—I quote both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor—with recognition of the need to address existing imbalances and inequalities through investment in people, places and ideas, particularly creative freelancers and those parts of the country too often overlooked. Secondly, there is the urgent need to agree not-before dates so the sector can plan the journey to reopening, as set out in stage 5 of the plan.

To be clear on the criteria for where funding is going, grant and loan recipients will need to show that, first, they are viable, secondly, they are at risk, and thirdly, they have exhausted all existing avenues of funding. As regards diversity, I touched on a number of those points in my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter. That will be a clear priority. On the date for reopening, I am afraid that I can say no more than that our priority remains safety, but as soon as we can give a date, we will.

My Lords, HMG got it right: support for the arts is vital. Does the Minister agree that without pantomime, we will lose all our regular theatres permanently beyond anything a grant can achieve? Pantomime gives more employment to more members of the industry than any other form of theatre. Its audience is more inclusive and diverse than in any other field of culture. It provides irreplaceable release and relief. It is as British as the fortitude with which the UK has faced this crisis. Does the Minister agree that it will heal us and bind us back together once again? Why be Ebenezer when you could be Aladdin? Pantomime is our reward. I urge the Minister: please make it possible in time for Christmas.

My noble friend makes a most persuasive case for the pantomime. I absolutely agree that it brings value. We will be driven by safety considerations but will move as quickly as we can within those constraints.

My Lords, it is good to welcome a package that actually exceeds expectations, in scale if not timing, but there is still plenty more to do. How will the package help new entrants into the profession, particularly those who have just graduated from the conservatoires and music and art schools, who may be worried about their career prospects turning to dust?

Not only is it good to announce a package that exceeds expectations but it is very nice to respond to one as well. The noble Lord raises a critical point as regards new entrants. Obviously, the fabric of the grants that we give out will need to reflect not only the ecosystem of our arts and heritage and culture but its future, of which new entrants are a critical part.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Urgent Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the three noble Lords who were not able to ask their questions.

Sitting suspended.