Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:53 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of David Warburton David Warburton Conservative, Somerton and Frome 2:53 pm, 8th October 2020

It is a pleasure, once again, to follow Kevin Brennan on this subject, and I congratulate him and my hon. Friend Julian Knight on securing this important debate, and on the tremendous work they both do in championing the sector.

I will focus my remarks on the creative industries, and particularly on musicians. Having been a musician, I tried to eke out a living as a composer in a former life, and I had to play the piano in various restaurants and hotels in London, and teach. It was not easy then, even in the best of times, but now with the pandemic biting it must be so much harder.

The Government have provided the £1.5 billion cultural recovery fund, which was hugely welcomed on all sides, but I would like to raise some concerns about that with the Minister. In a Westminster Hall debate earlier this week I mentioned the Cheese and Grain, which is an arts and music venue in my constituency. It has thrived for many years, and although it applied to the fund back in July, it is yet to hear whether it has been successful. What is the procedure for accepting or declining applications, and how can we push things on a little?

The furlough scheme is now over, as my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull mentioned, but the job support scheme is of little use to such venues because they are effectively closed down, which means that there is no employer contribution. I wonder whether DCMS could work with the Treasury to provide some sort of bespoke furlough scheme for businesses in this position, because there are many of them across the country.

I spoke to my mum the other day, and she told me that over the past few weeks she had been to the cinema a couple of times to watch Arthur Miller plays being projected. At one of those performances, there were just three people in the audience, and at the other, just five. I would like to add my voice to those who are calling for some sort of empty-seat subsidy or grant to enable more venues to open and still be economically viable.

I also want to talk about the self-employed, who have been mentioned already, and self-employed musicians in particular, On Tuesday, many Members will have seen the hundreds of freelance musicians performing spectacularly in Parliament Square, knocking out a bit of Holst. Perhaps Members saw it on social media. It was moving stuff, and it absolutely highlighted their plight. The Treasury has worked out that 95% of the self-employed can get access to the self-employed income support scheme, but the music industry is structured in such a way that up to a third of them cannot. A venue without musicians is pretty pointless, and musicians without anywhere to play are facing financial ruin.

I very much support UK Music’s call for the Government to provide an indicative date for stage 5, or full reopening, because without that, and without their cultural funding, venues such as the Cheese and Grain in Frome will have to make nearly all their employees redundant by Christmas, and the redundancy fees alone will push them into insolvency. I know that the Chancellor is facing calls from all sides, and he has quite rightly said that he cannot save every job and every business, but I hope that DCMS can work with him to ensure that we do not lose an entire sector, and such a crucial one at that. The creative arts have sacrificed an enormous amount over the past few months. I am pleased that this debate is taking place, and I hope that it will pave the way for more redress for the sacrifice they have suffered, so that they can get the support they desperately need.