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Covid-19: Night-time Economy

Volume 809: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the restrictions put in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic on (1) the income of businesses working in, and (2) jobs related to, the night-time economy; and what steps they are taking to address any such impact.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and refer to my interest as chairman of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme board.

The night-time economy includes businesses operating between 6 pm and 6 am and is therefore very broad. BEIS and DCMS sponsor the hospitality, entertainment, arts and culture sectors, all of which play a significant role in the night-time economy. Over the course of the pandemic, the Government have worked closely with businesses from across these sectors to understand their concerns, and have responded with £280 billion of funding to support businesses, retain jobs and provide support on backdated rents.

I thank my noble friend for his Answer and for the support that the sector has received. I am delighted that he recognises the contribution that the night-time economy makes, in billions of pounds of revenue—in its heyday—and in accounting for 8% of the national workforce, with a high proportion of young people employed. Will he work closely with the Treasury to ensure that, going forward, specific support can be targeted on the fixed costs of those working in the night-time economy, such as rent, insurance, electricity and water, which amount to 15% of their turnover? To date, little targeted help in that regard has been given; this would be very warmly received and would ensure a return to a sustainable and vibrant future as soon as businesses are allowed to reopen.

My noble friend makes some important points. We will of course work closely with the Treasury, as always. The support package that the Government have put in place is designed to help businesses with their fixed costs. It includes the business rates holiday, the job retention scheme and various grants, and introduces a moratorium on the eviction of commercial tenants. The Government keep all these support measures under constant review.

My Lords, the night-time economy also generates employment for freelance and self-employed musicians, actors and technicians. It is clear that DCMS funding for established building-based clients is not reaching this group, over half of whom have reported receiving no support. Will the Minister work with colleagues in DCMS to ensure that this issue is resolved quickly and for the future?

The noble Lord makes an important point, as he so often does. The Government recognise the important role that freelancers, including musicians, play in the night-time economy. That is why we have put the Self-employment Income Support Scheme in place. We have funded Arts Council England to provide £26 million to support over 8,200 creative people. We have provided £6 million in benevolent funds to make direct awards, reaching almost 3,500 people so far, but of course we need to look at what more we can do to help.

My Lords, the night-time economy is essential to any city or town in the United Kingdom. Hospitality is a critical source of employment, particularly of young people starting out in life. Today, it is the highest unemployment sector. Successful theatres, pubs and restaurants contribute considerable amounts to the Exchequer every year. Does the Minister agree with me that there are also important and immeasurable social, mental and physical health benefits to the nation from people enjoying social interaction, which is clearly evidenced by its unhappy absence over the last 12 months?

I do agree with the noble Lord. The night-time economy generates around £66 billion in UK revenues. It employs 1.3 million people, across a wide range of businesses, so the points that he has made are well received.

I wonder if my noble friend could update the House on the progress of the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, which was announced by the Government and is most welcome; I congratulate the Government. Does he agree with me that this sector of our economy is important not just economically, with 1.3 million people estimated to be employed, but culturally, socially and health-wise?

My noble friend is correct. The Culture Recovery Fund is delivered through Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and the British Film Institute. It covers charitable and private organisations of all sizes, in the arts, museums and heritage sectors, as well as music venues, festivals and independent cinemas. The Government continue to work closely with each of these sectors to understand what further support we can provide.

My Lords, I declare my interest as vice-chair of the APPG for the Night-Time Economy. In 2019, the annual revenue budget for the night-time economy nationally was £66 billion. Comparatively, the fishing industry, in 2018, was worth £784 million to the economy. That is about £60 billion less a year. Could the Minister explain, in pure economic terms, why people are asking me why the night-time economy has been abandoned by this Government in favour of protecting the fishing industry? Minister, I like fish, but not at the expense of Ronnie Scott’s or the Band on the Wall in Manchester or thousands of other venues now on their knees. Many thousands of jobs are predicted to go permanently in our sector, if more financial support is not immediately forthcoming.

I am not sure of the point that the noble Lord is making. It is not a choice of one or the other. Of course the fishing industry is important, but the night-time economy is vital also. I outlined earlier the many steps that we are taking to help them.

My Lords, black cabs and licensed Hackney carriage drivers are essential to the night-time economy. Is my noble friend familiar with offers from black cabs in London and licensed hackney carriage owners throughout the country to assist in the Government’s response to the pandemic? What consideration have the Government given to this offer, specifically to deliver the pandemic vaccination programme?

Not just black cabs but various private hire companies have offered to help. I will certainly pass on those comments to my colleague, Minister Zahawi, who is responsible for the vaccination programme.

Although the Chancellor’s support for the arts, already mentioned, has been vital and is much appreciated, I know that the Government accept that many freelancers, particularly musicians, have fallen through the support network if they have failed to qualify for universal credit or the SEISS. I wonder if the Minister and his colleagues could look at some kind of register, through the auspices of agencies such as the Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society of Musicians, to identify and assist cases of real hardship, at a time when musicians cannot work and some are in dire straits.

The noble Lord makes an important point. I understand his concerns. In my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I outlined the support that we are providing to the sector, but I am sure that my colleagues in DCMS will work closely with the sector to understand its concerns and see what more we can do to help.

My Lords, UK Music tells us that almost three-quarters of musicians are thinking of quitting due to the drop in income and opportunities. The legendary rock drummer Bob Henrit says that we are in danger of losing a whole generation of talent. Are the Government happy about losing the tax revenues that these people are likely to generate in the future?

No, of course we are not happy about it. We are not happy about any of the measures that have we have been forced to put in place because of the pandemic. We want to see these venues reopening, as soon as it is safe.

My Lords, live events are a significant aspect of the night-time economy. The need for a Government-backed insurance scheme to protect organisations against the cancellation of events due to Covid cannot be emphasised enough. Many organisations, including festivals, cannot survive much longer without such insurance, which has been granted to the film and TV sector.

I outlined the support packages earlier. We want to take into account the concerns of many sectors, such as those that the noble Earl highlights. We will keep these matters under review and my colleagues in DCMS will continue to liaise closely with the sector.

The night-time economy accounts for 8% of the UK’s employment, with revenues of £66 billion a year. Perhaps less well known is that 18% of the black community work at night, compared to 11% of the white community. Bearing in mind that Covid appears to have more of an adverse effect on the black community, what progress are the Government making into researching the reasons for this racial disparity?

The noble Lord is tempting me to stray into matters beyond my brief. I know that considerable research is going on, from funding provided by the DHSC, to ascertain the precise impacts of the virus on different communities. The noble Lord is entirely right that the night-economy time is vital to the black community. Within the night-time economy, the hospitality sector alone employs around 2 million people, with 7% more BAME employees than the UK average of 12%. As I outlined earlier, we have taken steps to try to preserve as many of these jobs as possible.