I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for being here to respond to this debate and apologise for making his Friday longer than it might otherwise have been.
Britain has a world-class arts and culture scene that generates a huge amount of tourism, growth and economic activity. In no sector is this more true than our theatre scene, which is not only beloved by millions of theatregoers up and down the country but engages with people from all ages and backgrounds, from the pantomime at Christmas in our local theatre to the big-name productions at the National theatre and everything in between. Theatre gives everyone an opportunity to take part, whether children at school, amateur dramatics in the local village hall, or world-class theatrical schools up and down the country. Some people even say that this very Chamber is the greatest theatre of them all. I guess that it is true for many MPs that our time in Parliament ends either as a comedy or a tragedy. I live in hope of neither.
We have many fantastic local theatres and performance venues in Colchester: the Mercury and Headgate theatres and Colchester arts centre. These theatres are proof that cuts to the arts are a false economy. Every £1 of grant aid that the Mercury theatre receives generates £3 for the local economy. The total economic impact of this theatre for my local area is £3.6 million—hardly an insignificant sum.