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House of Lords Hansard
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10 September 2020
Volume 805

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support the music industry, particularly the self-employed and sole traders, for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021.

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My Lords, the Government recognise the crucial role that the self-employed play in the music industry and that the pandemic presents a significant challenge to individuals in the sector. The Secretary of State announced a £1.57 billion support package for cultural organisations, providing targeted support for sectors including music. This fund will help preserve venues and festivals, which will ensure that musicians have a stage to perform on. We are committed to supporting the sector through this very challenging time.

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My Lords, UK Music estimates that 72% of those who work in the music industry are self-employed. This means that thousands of people have not earned a penny since the lockdown began, and now thousands more are fearful about how they will pay their bills in the gap between the furlough scheme ending and the full reopening of venues. Will the Government finally accept that sector-specific support and extensions to the furlough scheme are needed for struggling industries, such as the music industry, to save them and the people who work in them from total collapse?

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The Government absolutely recognise some of the issues that the noble Baroness raises. We do not have the data specifically for music, but across the cultural sector, about 75,000 people have already benefited from the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. We have aimed to structure the cultural recovery fund in a way that maximises employment opportunities for those working in this sector, but obviously we are keeping it under review and are in close conversation with sector bodies.

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In normal times, many musicians and music enterprises make part of their money from live appearances and touring, particularly across Europe. I have yet to have a reply to my question to the noble Lord, Lord True, last week as to what post-Brexit provisions for free movement of musicians and free passage of their equipment, and that of support teams, the Government are looking for in this week's negotiations. I ask the Minister here today: what are the expectations of her department in that regard?

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Obviously, my department is working very closely with those involved in the negotiations, and we aim to negotiate reciprocal arrangements which will facilitate businesses, including musicians and groups of musicians, to deliver their services within the EU.

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I declare my interest as a director of Standon Calling Ltd, a music festival business. I understand that the funding available through the cultural recovery fund has separate allocations for small loans of between £50,000 and £250,000 and larger loans from £250,000 up to £3 million. Can my noble friend tell the House to what extent the smaller loans category has been subscribed? If it has been oversubscribed, will the Government direct funding from the larger loans allocation to the smaller loans category, where it is of greatest assistance to freelance artists and the self-employed, who have not been able to benefit from the furlough scheme?

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Unfortunately, the data my noble friend seeks has not yet been published. We are expecting Arts Council England to provide that data shortly, and it will obviously be shared publicly. In terms of reallocation, an enormous amount of work went into deciding the proportions within the fund, and those reflect where we think funds are needed.

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My Lords, at a minimum, the furlough and the SEIS scheme should be extended, but we need to go further. The Prime Minister in his Statement yesterday outlined plans to pilot mass testing in Salford for indoor venues. Will the Minister ensure that music venues in the local area are part of these pilots, and will the Government look into underwriting insurance to event promoters in the event of short-notice cancellation in any pilots?

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I can certainly confirm to the noble Lord that the Government really value the contribution of the arts, including music, are ambitious in trying to get venues open as quickly as it is safe to do so, and are considering all options to do that.

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Our cathedral choirs are one of the glories of our country, and they have been very badly affected by Covid restrictions, in that they could not perform, although some are just beginning to sing again. Cathedrals are large, airy spaces and rarely packed with people. I hope this will justify interpreting the Covid restrictions in a flexible way. Will my noble friend urge this on the churches, her colleagues and local authorities?

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My noble friend makes a very persuasive case for cathedral choirs, and the Government share her enthusiasm and recognition of their important contribution. From 15 August, we reached stage 4 of our road map on the safe reopening of venues, which has allowed choirs, including cathedral choirs, to put on live indoor performances in front of a socially distanced audience. I am pleased to say that yesterday’s announcement about groups of six makes no change to that.

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My Lords, newly self-employed musicians who started self-employment in the tax year 2019-20 have no financial support under the current measures. This is the younger generation, whom we need to nurture. Can the self-employed scheme be extended to include them?

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There are no current plans that I am aware of to extend the self-employed scheme to that group, but the £95 million fund announced by Arts Council England is trying to maximise employment opportunities, including for those early in their careers.

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My Lords, while the total funding made available by Her Majesty’s Government is welcome, the Minister will be aware—we have raised this with her before—of the problem facing freelancers who operate under a limited company and take dividends as a source of income. They are unable to claim through the current SEISS. This issue also affects high-tech start-up entrepreneurs. It is clearly a problem that has not been properly addressed. Can the Minister take this up with the Treasury and press for support to be extended to this group?

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I am happy to raise this issue as the noble Lord suggests, but one issue that we have struggled with is separating out and identifying dividend income in the kind of examples that he has given us for those getting dividend income from their investments.

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Since the end of the Self-employment Income Support Scheme, many people in the live arts industry are surviving off money that they set aside for tax. May I ask the Government to consider being flexible about the tax payment deadline on 31 January, so that people can pay their tax when they are able to earn money again?

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I think that is more a question for my colleagues in the Treasury, but I am happy to pass it on.

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My Lords, grass-roots music venues are a vital launch pad for emerging artists, and 93% of them are commercially owned. Emergency stop-gap funding to prevent imminent evictions is welcome, but does the Minister agree that a longer-term solution, such as a property management fund, is required so that this valuable network of venues is not lost?

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The noble Baroness, as ever, makes a good point. Of course those venues are critical. We are trying to learn as we go along, and look forward to hearing about the impact of the cultural renewal fund, which aims to retain employment and allow some venues to reopen and others to partially open. We will keep the situation under close review.

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My Lords, the Minister mentioned stage 4 of the road map. Is there still an intention to move to stage 5 this autumn? Is she considering a scheme, like the Chancellor’s for restaurants, of giving a financial incentive to the public to come out to such events, in a socially distanced way, and give a real fillip to those performing centres?

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It was a little difficult to hear the second part of the noble Lord’s question, but I got the impression that it was something along the lines of “Sing out to help out”. In answer to the first part of his question, the Government still aim to reach stage 5—indoor and outdoor events with fuller audiences—as soon as it is safe to do so. We continue to work with the industry towards achieving that goal.

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My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked, and we now move to the fourth Oral Question.