Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton 3:01 pm, 8th October 2020

This is an important discussion. I thank my hon. Friend Julian Knight and Kevin Brennan for bringing it to the Chamber today. It is absolutely vital. For brevity, my comments will focus on two important DCMS sectors: tourism and theatres. I will start with tourism,

Before the outbreak, tourism made a significant contribution to our nation, supporting 3.1 million jobs, while also protecting and displaying our cultural heritage. However, the sector has, like many others, been damaged by the pandemic. DCMS spending now needs to be channelled in a way that restores that contribution, while also enhancing it. For my constituency, that is imperative. Tourism is vital to our local economy, with some 9,000 jobs in Tendring linked directly to the industry. Some 6,500 of those jobs are full time, representing 17.4% of all employment in the area. Economically, tourism in Tendring has an impact worth £392 million. That is simply irreplaceable in the short to medium term. Without a strong local tourism industry, we would return to the slow coastal decline we saw before, rather than the growth and prosperity we all want and need.

The same is true for destinations right across the country, but Government spending on tourism specifically has, beyond the usual schemes to which all businesses are entitled, been insufficient so far. Of course, some tourism businesses will benefit from the culture recovery fund, which is excellent given the overlap between the sectors, but this is simply not enough. I ask the DCMS to seriously consider introducing a tourism recovery fund that would operate and provide grants in the same way that the CRF does.

I also ask the DCMS to divert funding in a way that creates and sustains demand within domestic tourist destinations, as that will help their long-term recovery. We have seen heightened footfall and demand this year, and the strongest recoveries in UK resorts compared to pre-virus norms. That is good news, but we cannot expect that to persist. New travel options, the deteriorating weather as winter comes on, and the rise in cases will all act now to limit demand within domestic destinations, so we need to safely create that demand ourselves, even during the low season. Creating that demand in tourism destinations is key for their recovery after the covid-19 outbreak. I ask the Department to look at ways in which we can intervene with spending to do just that—whether that be a voucher or cheaper food options, as we have seen before—and to attract footfall, as I mentioned in the Westminster Hall debate earlier this week. This would be a bespoke intervention certainly, but one that would deliver real rewards and growth for the industry and communities that depend so heavily on the economic outputs of tourism.

Turning briefly to theatres, I was generally pleased with the culture recovery fund. I thank DCMS Ministers for all they did in that area and, of course, Treasury Ministers for their support, but we need to go beyond that now. We need to extend the culture recovery fund into the next financial year. It is not automatic, which means that unspent funding could be lost, even though coronavirus is likely to run well beyond next April. As theatres will probably be the last industry back into action, we need rapid testing to reduce risks, Government assistance in the provision of insurance for the theatre sector—that was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull—and a temporary increase in theatre production tax relief to reduce the costs of staging shows when theatres eventually open.

We need to increase the retail business rates discount for theatres. Currently, this is set temporarily at a 100% discount—zero—but it will revert to a level below that offered to retail businesses, cinemas and live music venues, which is unfair on theatres, and that could be easily changed. These are areas and suggestions that DCMS will be championing and supporting in its own spending. I recognise that further funding may be required, which is why I wrote to the Chancellor last week, supported by 154 parliamentarians, to lobby for the suggestions I have set out.

To conclude, we need DCMS to push for more spending in the creative sector. I believe that by doing so we can create year-round demand for our vital tourist destinations, while also stimulating and sustaining a recovery for our theatre sector. My final words are in support of the freelancers—the actors, the costumiers, the producers—who have fallen through the net of all other spending. These people need supporting now. We are losing talent permanently every day, so please support the freelancers.