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Covid-19: Cultural and Creative Industries

Volume 807: debated on Monday 26 October 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what fiscal steps they are taking to support cultural and creative industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

My Lords, this Government stand with the cultural and creative sectors. We are making the biggest ever one-off investment of £1.57 billion in them. To date, more than £500 million has been allocated through the Cultural Recovery Fund to organisations across England. During the coming weeks, further Cultural Recovery Fund awards will be announced, including more from the British Film Institute’s independent cinema fund and the Heritage Stimulus Fund, as well as further grants of more than £1 million and the repayable finance awards.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I congratulate the Government on the creation and deployment of the Cultural Recovery Fund, its broad geographical distribution and its application across all types and sizes of artistic enterprise. I know that the Government continue to consider a variety of forms of fiscal exemption, such as the theatre tax relief and government-backed insurance schemes. The approach of winter, when all outside performances are being driven inside, will be a cruel time for these creative industries, which are particularly dependent on live performances. Can the Government confirm that they will consult the industry and look sympathetically at all forms of additional support, such as giving grants to cover the costs of temperature checking for those whose only operations will now comprise socially distanced audiences in covered venues?

I thank my noble friend for his recognition of the scale and breadth of the Cultural Recovery Fund. He is right to ask how we can think of innovative ways to support the sector to reopen. There have been great examples of that during the summer. We have formed a venues working group with key sector leaders to look at how we can maximise the safety of fuller opening, including in the area of ventilation. We are happy to continue to commit to consulting the sector on this.

My Lords, Arts Council England has supported freelancers with £2 million, compared to £5 million has been allocated in Scotland, £7 million in Wales and £4 million in Northern Ireland. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of such a disparity in arts funding across the UK?

I do not wholly recognise the numbers that the noble Lord cites. We are very clear that we stand by our freelancers across the creative industries, both directly through the Self-employment Income Support Scheme, as well as through major packages such as the £500 million Film and TV Production Restart Scheme. We estimate that this will directly support between 40,000 and 50,000 new jobs in the sector, many of which will be taken by freelancers and the self-employed.

My Lords, what is the estimated value of the total annual output lost by the cultural and creative industries as a result of Covid-19? What proportion of GDP per annum does this represent?

As my noble friend knows, the cultural and creative industries have been a critical and rapidly growing part of our economy, representing about £111 billion of gross value added in 2018—or 6% of GDP. We estimate that, up to August 2020, output in arts, entertainment and recreation was about 28.1% lower than in February 2020.

My Lords, the recent grants to arts organisations are very welcome but, if we are not careful, we risk winding up with too few artists to perform in many of them. What further action are the Government considering to stem the exodus from the profession of many musicians—perhaps more than 40% of the total? They can neither find employment nor access the relief schemes currently in place.

The noble and gallant Lord makes an important point. Our approach through the Cultural Recovery Fund has been to try to support the cultural ecosystem. Enabling those institutions to remain viable in turn supports jobs, including those of the musicians who work within them.

One of the best ways to help those working in the creative industries—whether self-employed or otherwise—would be to allow them access to paying customers. We are still far behind many other European nations in providing safe access, based on safe design, for people to attend sporting and cultural events. Surely there is now an opportunity for the Government—in advance of the winter, when so many families will be feeling so much pressure from being locked down and under other restrictions—to create a proper plan to reopen our cultural and sporting venues nationally and locally, with limited, safe access. This would ensure that families could go out and enjoy themselves without going into other spaces or staying at home and becoming clinically depressed.

The noble Lord is right that culture and the arts play an important part in our mental health and sense of well-being. That is why we have worked so hard with the sector, providing guidance on reopening; we are now permitting indoor performances with socially distanced audiences. We continue to look at a variety of ways, including wider use of testing and better ventilation so that we can achieve exactly what the noble Lord hopes for.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Colgrain, in thanking the noble Baroness’s department, Arts Council England and others for the grants and funding given during this crisis. However, a major stumbling block for those wanting to put on live events or planning them for the future is the availability of affordable contingency insurance. I know the noble Baroness has been asked this before, but please could she and her department work with theatres, venues and insurers to get a solution in place? A precedent exists in the form of cover that was needed for terrorism acts insurance in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the Government stepped in and intervened.

Again, I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words regarding the Cultural Recovery Fund. With regard to government-backed insurance, particularly for theatres, the same applies across the arts. There is a very high bar for intervention in the insurance market, and the Government would need to be absolutely clear that access to insurance is the remaining obstacle to reopening if they were to intervene. However, we continue to work with UK Theatre and colleagues in the Treasury and others so that we leave no stone unturned.

My Lords, I ask the Government whether they agree that the mental health and well-being benefits of the arts, museums and galleries are now even more important and to so many a lifeline during this pandemic, when they are placed under so many strains? Will the Government assure me that they will keep this lifeline going to help those people?

I agree with my noble friend that there are many brilliant examples of where the arts have helped to promote positive mental health. Indeed, the launch of the National Academy for Social Prescribing is an important recognition of exactly that point.

My Lords, the music sector is the original gig economy: no play literally means no pay. To its credit, the sector has come up with several suggestions to help it reboot, including a cut in VAT on tickets and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, said, backing an insurance scheme to encourage venues to reopen. The Minister seemed sympathetic to this last point; what more information does she need before she can support it?

As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, we need absolute clarity that insurance is the real barrier to reopening, and, at a time when the pandemic is changing from week to week, obviously a number of wider issues have to be taken into consideration.