I was very pleased to join our Select Committee Chair in applying for and securing this debate, which is most timely. I declare my interests as a member of the Musicians’ Union and the Ivors Academy of Music Creators.
At the end of the month, the Chancellor’s job retention scheme will come to a cliff edge and the self-employment income support scheme will offer those freelance musicians, actors, artists, recording engineers and so on—those whom the Chair of the Committee, Julian Knight was talking about—who are lucky enough to qualify, just 20% of their average profits. That is despite the delay to the return of audiences that he described, despite nightclubs remaining shut, despite theatres, cinemas and grassroots venues closing down due to the financial pressures of operating under social distancing and despite local lockdowns countrywide.
Earlier this week I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate about the contribution of the arts and cultural sectors. I again stress the value of the arts and culture in and of themselves, leaving aside economic matters, but the Chancellor must also recognise that the fastest-growing sector of the UK economy relies on a talented, entrepreneurial, highly-skilled, creative workforce who now face a deeply uncertain winter with just 20% of their normal expected income—if they are lucky. As the Musicians’ Union has noted, 72% of freelancers in the music industry are not covered by the self-employment income support scheme. I urge DCMS Ministers to go back to the Chancellor and make the case again for our creative workforce.
Earlier this week in his controversial ITV interview, the Chancellor implied that those working in the sector should consider retraining and doing something else; for those who say that he did not, I have the full transcript. It is not surprising, on reading it, that musicians were so annoyed by what he said. The Chancellor can easily prove that that was not what he meant by putting in place the right kind of package to help get the creative workforce through this crisis. Deeds trump words in this case.
I wish to draw the attention of Members to my early-day motion 978, which congratulates “Whispering” Bob Harris on his efforts on behalf of musicians with a charity release later this month. I also congratulate the new CEO of UK Music, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, on his appointment. Yes, he is a former Tory special adviser, but it is an excellent appointment, and I look forward to working with him and the chair of UK Music, Tom Watson, to support our music sector. They have made clear that under social distancing rules and without Government support, some performances are not economically viable. Given that that is a result of their regulation, the Government have a moral responsibility to do more to support those businesses to resume their events in a way that protects public health.
We need from the Government a bridge to the future—a proper support scheme for creative freelancers that, when combined with tax incentives and grant funding for live events, and in compliance with social distancing guidance, would help to generate supported work for freelance performance across the UK. That is not something for nothing; it is a partnership to enhance the wellbeing of the population, and support the national effort to overcome the depressing impact of this virus on our lives. If beating the virus is a kind of war, we must garner all our national resources, including our cultural resources as much as any other, to get us through this.
The report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published last July called on the Government to introduce enhanced measures for freelancers and small companies, in addition to a sector-specific recovery package. I welcome the culture recovery fund that the Government have announced, but it is yet to pay out, it has been delayed, and it will not be enough without the kind of additional targeted support that the Committee and I suggest.
In their understandable focus on the pandemic, and their addiction to hyperbole about so-called world-beating schemes, the Government are failing to protect something very precious and genuinely world-beating right under their nose: our fantastic creative industries. I say to the Minister, do not take that for granted. This pandemic is like an asteroid crashing into our lives, and we must not allow it to cause a cultural climate emergency by wiping out great creative institutions, and causing an employment- extinction event for those who work in the sector.
The creative and cultural sector in the UK is a flourishing but fragile ecosystem that is already being undermined by a culture war against things such as the BBC. Our creative sector contributes hugely to human happiness and wellbeing, and it is also the fastest growing part of our economy. We must not damage it and its workforce through a lack of creativity and imagination in Government.