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Creative Industries: Covid-19

Volume 811: debated on Monday 26 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of COVID-19 on the levelling up agenda in relation to the creative industries sector.

My Lords, our creative industries are a global success story, growing at four times the UK average before the pandemic struck. While the pandemic has had a heavy impact, particularly on audience-facing subsectors, the Government have provided them with unprecedented levels of support through the £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund and the £500 million TV and film production restart scheme. Both these schemes have supported businesses across the UK and will help to ensure that the sector can return to growth as soon as public health conditions permit.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The Budget included the levelling-up fund, which drew attention to the importance of the creative sector in this endeavour, so why are the Government so resistant to working with the industry to create a scheme for insurance cover for festivals and live events? Without this, and as long as the threat of the pandemic continues, events that are so important to local economies and local jobs will not happen this summer. Does the Minister agree that in preventing such an insurance scheme the Government are taking a backwards step in their bid to level up the country?

The Government absolutely do not accept that we are taking any backwards step, either in support of the creative industries or in relation to levelling up. We have offered substantial practical help through setting out a very clear road map and identifying an events research programme to get those events going. We are aware of the wider concerns about securing indemnity for live events and are continuing to explore what further support we can offer.

My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests. Many creative industry venues, which are important dimensions in the tourist economy, have been devastated by Covid. Can the Minister confirm that the levelling-up fund may consider projects aimed at making these venues more secure against Covid while maintaining their audience capacity and giving audiences the confidence that they need to attend such venues, and that it will be in order for local authorities throughout the UK to submit applications to the fund in support of such projects?

The levelling-up fund has very explicitly focused on the importance of cultural and creative spaces in regenerating those areas and includes new and upgraded community hubs of the very type to which the noble Lord refers.

I declare my interest as a former member of the Advisory Committee on Pop Festivals and my other interests as set out in the register. As the Minister knows, festivals are often a major foundation of artistic activity outside our great cities, but many of those planned for this summer are already being cancelled because of uncertainty over Covid. Do Her Majesty’s Government have plans to assist?

The Government recognise the importance of the live music sector more broadly, and music festivals in particular, which is why more than £34 million from our cultural recovery fund has supported festivals, including Boomtown, Shambala, Glastonbury and Deer Shed. As I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, we are aware of the wider concerns around indemnity for live events and are trying to understand the market failure and how it impacts on different forms of live events.

I declare an interest as a freelance TV producer making content for Netflix and the Sony Channel. Organisations representing freelancers have called for a freelance commissioner to be established, as many are not covered by the Small Business Commissioner. During the past year, 45% of freelancers have fallen into debt or used up their savings. Millions of others in the creative industries are struggling to find work. Does the Minister agree that it is essential to set up a commissioner dedicated to supporting employment rights and employment obligations for freelancers?

I agree with the noble Viscount that freelancers are a critical part of our creative industries and that we should explore many ways of ensuring their success in future. That is why we recently extended the pan-economy self-employment income support scheme with individuals now able to qualify for grants based on their 2019-29 tax return, meaning that more than 600,000 self-employed individuals will be newly eligible for the scheme.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register, which include my membership of two trusts involved in cultural activities. In many of our most deprived communities, the cultural industries have taken a severe hit. Given that they are closely aligned with the hospitality sector, what plans do the Government have to develop a national plan to help the hard-pressed cultural sector recover as we emerge from lockdown? Can the Minister say some more about the support the Government are likely to give to freelancers, who have been frozen out of many of the schemes supporting workers in the cultural sector?

I just commented on the expansion of the scheme, which we think will include many new freelancers who are self-employed. The Government share the noble Lord’s concerns about support for our deprived communities and see cultural assets as critical in their revival. That is why more than two-thirds of the Culture Recovery Fund has been spent outside London and why we have a major series of funds, including the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund and, in future, the shared prosperity fund, all of which have a creative industries strand within them.

My Lords, a number of groups in the creative industries are falling between the cracks in government support. For example, recent BECTU figures show that the overall number of black and minority-ethnic workers employed in the theatre industry has fallen by 19% over the last year, compared with a 3% overall reduction in the number of white workers. Does the Minister agree that levelling up must be about disadvantaged groups as well as geography? What can the levelling-up fund do for the creative industries in this respect?

The noble Lord is right to raise these points. Absolutely, levelling up should cut across a number of axes, including the one the noble Lord raises. We are working to improve this area. At Budget the Chancellor announced a new approach to apprenticeships in the creative industries, with £7 million of pilot funding to test flexi-job apprenticeships that might suit better the working practices of the creative industries. Over 1,300 creative industry placements are now available via the Department for Work and Pensions Kickstart scheme.

My Lords, I recognise the substantial support the Government have given the creative industries and pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister and her officials for all their hard work. When she mentioned apprentices, it reminded me that the BBC has announced that it will employ 1,000 apprentices. Will she join me in recognising the crucial role the BBC and other public service broadcasters play in levelling up, given their increased regional presence? For example, the BBC now makes 60% of its programmes outside London.

As my noble friend is well aware, the BBC is operationally and editorially independent from government, but I share his warm welcome for the BBC’s recent announcement that it plans to move 60% of network TV commissioning spend and 50% of network radio and music spend outside London.

Does the Minister agree that, while levelling-up action must give priority to investment in creative and cultural enterprises across all regions, investment in arts and humanities education is equally important and crucial for innovation and creativity? This aspect is not often valued. What are the Government doing to ensure that this significant area is not overlooked?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. She will be aware that much of the work we are doing today stems from the creative industries sector deal, which includes an important plank focusing on skills, just as the noble Baroness suggests.

Sitting suspended.