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Covid-19: Performing Arts

Volume 804: debated on Monday 13 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to provide further assistance to performing arts companies and venues which are unable to resume operations due to the restrictions in place to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to my interests as listed in the register.

My Lords, the Government recognise how severely the cultural sector has been hit by Covid-19. On 5 July, we announced a £1.57 billion support package for key cultural organisations, to help them through this pandemic. The funding will provide targeted support to organisations across a range of sectors including performing arts, theatres, museums and galleries, heritage sites, live music venues and independent cinema. It will protect cultural assets of international, national and regional importance, and prevent the loss of the valuable cultural fabric from our towns and regions.

My Lords, I of course acknowledge with gratitude the scale of last week’s announcement, but there is urgent need for further clarity about whether the new funds will do anything to address the plight of freelance workers, including performers, who make up 70% of the sector’s workforce. Many of them have been unable to access current income support schemes. Further, when will funds start being distributed, and when will there be a plan with dates and sufficient notice to allow theatres and other indoor spaces to reopen in an economically viable way? At this perilous time, speed really is of the essence.

I acknowledge that the Covid-19 crisis has presented a particular challenge for freelancers. The package will support cultural institutions, which means the physical and the human fabric of those institutions. The department is working with our arm’s-length bodies to get the funds out as quickly as possible, and the noble Baroness will be aware that stage 3 of the road map has now been reached, meaning that outdoor socially distanced live performances are now possible.

My Lords, having raised the plight of small music venues previously, I warmly commend the Government for the unprecedented package of support announced last week, which for many will be the difference between closure and survival. With venue owners now looking forward to planning schedules and reopening, particularly in time for the all-important Christmas period, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, in urging the Minister to do everything possible to ensure that the application process for funds can be expedited as quickly as possible so that support reaches those most in need.

My noble friend is right to highlight the importance of bringing back our live music venues as quickly as is safe to do so. We hope that the application process for funding will be open by the end of the month and that funds will start to flow from the autumn, but there is a small amount set aside for those in short-term distress, and obviously, a number of arm’s-length bodies have already been actively distributing funds over the last few months.

My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. Of course, the great flagships of our cultural fleet must be protected, but surrounding the main flotilla are many small craft employing freelancers, who, as we have heard, are currently in a perilous financial situation. These smaller vessels address many of the Government’s aspirations in terms of geographic reach, diversity, education and innovation, not least in their instigating vital new work from our composers and writers. Will the Minister push for these criteria to be at the forefront of DCMS and Arts Council deliberations?

The department has been very clear about where our priorities lie, in protecting both nationally and internationally recognised institutions and the role of local institutions, particularly in levelling up and economic growth. Hard choices will have to be made, but both those elements are seen as vital within this package.

My Lords, mention has already been made of the national institutions and their international reputations, as well as the spread of small-scale institutions and enterprises around the country and the importance of freelancers in that respect. Going forward, numerous small enterprises are still at risk, so may I suggest that the Government consider underwriting insurance for theatre productions in case they are forced to pause or close?

My Lords, I declare my interests as laid out in the register. Does the Minister accept that, despite the generous and much-appreciated cash injection for the sector announced last week, unless we get the EU-UK deal right post Brexit—and now, post the possibility of an extension—and in particular the right deal on movement of talent and skills, the creative industry faces another crisis and imminently? Are the Government working on a creative freelance visa to maintain access to EU talent and reduce red tape and costs for performers and creatives?

The noble Baroness is right that travel and working within the EU have been important for freelancers in many artistic disciplines. I remind her that we have been clear that we are not asking for anything special in relation to freelancers, but to replicate some of the deals that have been struck with other countries.

My Lords, following the Question asked by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the Minister implied that the funding package recently announced included funding for freelancers but how that is to be done is opaque. Will the Minister write to me setting out precisely the quantum of financial support expected to be available to freelancers in the creative industries and what the take-up has been to date? Will she also set out fully the plan for how freelancers will survive until the full opening of the sector?

I am always delighted to write to the noble Lord—I feel that I do so at regular intervals, which is entirely appropriate. It is hard to be precise about the specifics of take-up to date on a sector-by-sector basis to see exactly where particularly the self-employed income support scheme has been used, but I can give the noble Lord the data that we have. How it will work will be up to individual institutions to judge in their applications for funding.

My Lords, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Dance Group, I am particularly interested in that sector of the performing arts. However, there has been a lack of clarity about how the welcome government package announced on 5 July applies to the world of dance. It has been suggested, for example, that only professional dancers and choreographers will be allowed to use dance studios. But according to the Prime Minister’s earlier statement on 23 June, they must remain closed. Will my noble friend clarify the extent to which the general rules apply to dance and whether any further guidance is due?

My understanding is that the package does include dance companies in particular and touring companies. My noble friend refers to training that I understand is in line with other elite sports, but I am happy to write her to confirm that.

My Lords, even with the funding, this could yet be a disaster for the music sector where 90% of the workforce is self-employed. Will the Government extend the self-employed scheme at least until the end of the year? Otherwise, there is the danger that many talented musicians will leave the industry or go abroad.

I beg to differ with the noble Earl that the scheme is a disaster. It has been welcomed widely by the sector and is recognised as the most generous scheme of its type in Europe. I am not aware of any plans to extend the self-employed scheme.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We move to the second Oral Question from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford.