Arts, Culture and Heritage: Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:37 pm on 7th July 2020.

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Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 1:37 pm, 7th July 2020

I am grateful for the granting of this urgent question.

We welcome this much-needed injection of cash for the arts and culture sector, but I have to ask: what took the Government so long? We have already seen venues going under and mounting job losses, and warnings from the Opposition and across the sector were ignored for weeks on end. Urgently getting the money to where it is needed now is critical, but according to the Department’s own briefing, funds will not arrive until the autumn. Less than half the £160 million announced in March is with the organisations that need it, and we are now four months on.

It is vital that this money does not just get hoovered up by the biggest venues with the loudest voices. As well as protecting the jewels in the crown, every town and city lucky enough to have a theatre that is a precious part of the local economy must keep it. We were disappointed that yesterday there was yet again no mention of freelancers, who make up 70% of the workforce in theatre alone. These are highly specialist, creative people—musicians, performers and other professionals—who have been excluded from the Treasury schemes since the start of this crisis. I am concerned that the Department does not understand the nature of the work in this sector, which is why we have continually warned against a one-size-fits-all approach.

As has been the case with the Government throughout this crisis, within hours of the announcement yesterday, the package—which was described as “world-leading”—was already starting to unravel.

I have some specific questions for the Secretary of State, therefore, that I hope his Minister can answer.

Is there provision in this package to reverse job cuts, such as those announced at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, and theatre closures, such as the Nuffield Southampton? Yesterday, the Secretary of State refused to confirm that live performance venues would reopen by Christmas. Can the Minister confirm what date the Government are working towards that has allowed them to calculate that this package will secure the future of these industries, as they have said it will do? If venues cannot open for at least six months, has the Secretary of State secured agreement from the Chancellor that the Treasury schemes will be extended for this sector until the Government give the go-ahead for it to reopen?

Will the Minister commit to publishing the health and scientific evidence that says the public can sit in an aeroplane for hours on end but not in a theatre for two hours? Lastly, I want the Government to focus on the people who have made this sector admired around the world and the specialist and highly skilled jobs they do, because once those are lost, they will be almost impossible to recover.