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Covid-19: Entertainment and Arts Venues

Volume 817: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further support they will provide to entertainment and arts venues following the introduction of new COVID-19 regulations.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are continuing to support the sector through the Culture Recovery Fund, which has provided nearly £2 billion of public support for arts and culture. To help people over the winter, we have reopened the emergency resource support strand of that programme, giving more applicants at risk of financial failure an opportunity to bid for support. We continue to work with our arm’s-length bodies and the sector to understand the pressures being felt as a result of the pandemic and the move to plan B.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the considerable difficulties the arts are having getting back on their feet, with many venues experiencing low ticket sales before the most immediate crisis. Will the Minister look again at the Live Events Reinsurance Scheme, which does not cover regulations that make events financially unviable or where cancellations occur because of staff contracting Covid? Will the Minister look as well at extending the Culture Recovery Fund to creative freelancers, many of whom, particularly in the music sector, did not receive help under the Self-employment Income Support Scheme?

My Lords, the noble Earl is right to point to the fact that we are doing everything we can to support the sector to return to doing what it loves and what people love to enjoy it doing. We launched the live events reinsurance scheme in September, and I will certainly look at examples where people are not able to benefit from it. Self-employed people have been able to enjoy some of the other support that has been given by the Treasury but, again, I am very happy to hear from freelancers and those representing them to make sure that the support is being given.

Does my noble friend acknowledge that English choral music is particularly enriched by church music? Is the Royal School of Church Music eligible for grants from the Culture Recovery Fund?

I do not know specifically, but I will follow up on my noble friend’s request, find out whether it has bid for any of the rounds of the Culture Recovery Fund and write to him with the answer.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of Carlisle United Football Club. What plans do the Government have to ensure that places are available for away fans in football games which are subject to the latest Covid regulations?

I will discuss that matter with my honourable friend the Sports Minister. Of course, the Culture Recovery Fund has been helping organisations right across the wide range of things that people enjoy.

My Lords, yesterday’s newspapers reported on the new musical “Cabaret”. These five-star reviews remind us what a magnificent magnet our London theatres in particular are for inward investment and tourism. However, the Society of London Theatre is warning us that these new circumstances—and they are new; the Prime Minister had to have a special broadcast, and we have to have special legislation—mean that the theatres are now faced with entirely new threats, yet from the department it still sounds like it is business as usual, rather than action this day.

My Lords, the department, both at official level and ministerially, has been speaking to the sector throughout the pandemic. Of course, we have stepped that up since the move to plan B. I have a meeting tomorrow with our venue steering group so that I can hear from it myself. I have been to two theatres since we moved into plan B: the Young Vic on Thursday, and the Greenwich Theatre to see the pantomime at the weekend. I am pleased to report that they were full houses of people wearing masks. The most important thing we can do to support not just the cultural sector but every part of our economy is to get our boosters, wear our masks and have consideration for those around us.

My Lords, given that so many freelancers fell through the Government’s welcome support network during Covid, the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, promised from the Dispatch Box to write to me about the rules concerning universal credit, because she accepted that there was a problem. Would the Minister be kind enough to fulfil that promise, as I have yet to hear from her? Also, the double whammy of Covid and the restrictions on touring have really hit the musical sector. Given that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told us that the advantages of Brexit would outweigh the disadvantages, could the Minister enlighten me as to what advantages the creative sector has so far garnered?

My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott has been away for a few days, so I will certainly pick that up with her office to make sure that the noble Lord gets the answer to his first question. I also have a meeting with counterparts in the DWP to take up this issue in response to a question we had in a debate recently with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and others. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, knows, we continue to work bilaterally on touring. We provide information on GOV.UK to make sure that the sector has clarity about the rules, and we are making progress with many other countries in ensuring that they match the welcoming access we provide to musicians who want to come to the UK.

My Lords, many venues which took out government-backed Covid loans early in the pandemic are either now starting to repay the loans or are coming up to being asked to repay them. With the continuation of the pandemic, are the Government looking at whether those repayments can be deferred? Given the contribution that live entertainment and the arts make to our well-being and that of our communities, what work is being done across government, including with the Treasury and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, to recognise that so that this time, if needed, support measures can hit the ground running?

My Lords, the money continues to be disbursed. So far, we have helped more than 5,000 organisations around the country and the money continues to go out. As we set out in the accompanying fund guidance documents, the Government will keep the delivery of the funding under active review and will consider how best to adapt it in line with the needs of the sector. We continue to work with other departments to make sure that our response is appropriate.

My Lords, many public houses have a tradition of providing live music. That seems to have ceased since Covid. Have the Government any measures whatever to try and encourage public houses to start to open up as venues for live music?

The rules on certification vary depending on the size of establishments, their opening hours and whether they serve alcohol after certain times. The noble Lord is right that live music can be enjoyed in all sorts of settings and we want people to get back to doing that safely. The best way for them to do that is to help us by getting their boosters and wearing their masks.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the cultural venue future for the north of England would be considerably enhanced if communications were improved—that is, if you could actually get to venues in the first place? What weight are he and his department giving to discussions about northern rail and other transport infrastructure?

The right reverend Prelate makes an important point. We want to ensure that people have access to entertainment, arts and culture wherever they live and however they get there. We work with the Department for Transport, local authorities and metro mayors to deliver that.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests. The noble Lord has rightly focused on the enjoyment that people get from the arts and of course I would be entirely in sympathy with that, but he has not mentioned the economic benefit that comes to the country from the success of the sector. That very much includes the performing arts, particularly theatre. Have the Government made any assessment of the likely impact on our economy if there is serious damage to that sector over the next few months or years?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. This is about not just the enjoyment that the arts bring but the contribution they make to our economy and society. The Culture Recovery Fund was testament to that—money from the Treasury to make sure that our vibrant and expanding cultural sector was still there and in good health as we emerged from the pandemic. That is why we keep that under review and are keen to ensure that it can continue to grow as quickly as it has been.

As most people get their entertainment from television and from Netflix and Amazon, is there a way that we can tax these much more severely because they take so much out of our live music, our theatres and all sorts of things? Can the Minister not start petitioning for a real tax of Amazon and all those others?

My Lords, during the pandemic thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund a lot of independent venues have been able to stream the work that they have done, bringing it to people to enjoy in their homes. A lot of the film and television production companies have been working with us, making use of apprenticeships to help get lots of people into the creative industries and taking up job opportunities. They are part of the solution. We want a thousand flowers to bloom.