Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 3:06 pm, 8th October 2020

I congratulate the hon. Members for Solihull (Julian Knight) and for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on securing this important debate.

The sectors represented under the remit of DCMS are varied and wide-ranging, and I hope to cover a few issues that are critical in my constituency as well as more widely. Although I welcome the £1.57 billion funding package, with its Barnett consequentials of £97 million for the Scottish Government, it is clear that these, alongside the other support schemes, have not properly recognised two key issues: the seasonality of many DCMS areas and the nature of the workforce in the industry, which often does not fit into the tick-box core employment methods on which the Government have focused their efforts.

I would like to start by highlighting the cross-party letter that my hon. Friend Sarah Olney has written to the Chancellor. In it, she highlights a simple ask from the exhibitions and events sector, which is that it be allowed to be reopen, when appropriate, in line with Government-approved guidance and that it be provided with support until it is able to do so. The Events Industry Alliance estimates that some 80% of the exhibitions workforce—consisting of events suppliers, organisers and venues—will be made redundant in the coming weeks: over 90,000 people. This is due not only to continued event closures as we see infection rates rise, but to the inability of employers in the industry to access the new job support scheme, as they are not able to trade at all during this time.

In my own constituency of North East Fife, I have a number of businesses in the mobile catering sector that support such events and festivals but have never been able to access support, often because this was, prior to the pandemic, a growing sector, with many entering it as recently self-employed. This meant that they could not access self-employment support grants and that changes made to support other areas of hospitality, for example, had some unintended knock-on consequences.

A key factor that I want to highlight is the seasonality of many DCMS areas, whether in sport—for example, the shinty season runs from February through to the end of September, so there has in effect been no season for this amateur sport—or in relation to cultural and historic visitor attractions, which are so dependent on tourism during the summer months. Events such as the popular Pittenweem arts festival have been cancelled, and the Saint Andrews Voices festival has been rescheduled to later this month, but will be delivered in a virtual format.

As my constituency is the home of golf and I am a trustee of the St Andrews Links Trust, I would point to the impact of golf from a tourism perspective. Yesterday, I met the Scottish Inbound Golf Tour Operators Association, and I would highlight that, although populated by small traders, this sector brings in an estimated £13 million a year to Scotland by welcoming visitors from the US, Canada, China and elsewhere. They are now in a situation where they need support to survive to the spring of 2021. They have rolled over bookings, but there are no guarantees, returning deposits would be challenging and staff have no active employment now. They need the whole Scottish package of attractions—distilleries and other visitor attractions—to present to their clients. Unless Scotland and the UK are ready to welcome visitors back when they are able to, through effective testing and tracing and other mechanisms, other countries, such as Ireland, may beat them to it. They need support now, and what is currently available is not sufficient.

The second issue I wish to highlight is how people work in the sectors under the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport umbrella. This is what my constituent who works as a self-employed rigger, sound technician, engineer and production manager—these people are multi-skilled—told me:

“I am a sole trader working as a freelancer and I am employed on an event by event basis…My skills and services contribute to the creative industries…which were worth £110 billion to the annual economy as evidenced in the Government’s website DCMS figures

I am not eligible for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme as less than 50% of my income came from self-employment in the tax years from 2016 to 2019. Nor am I eligible for the Newly Self-Employed Hardship Grant”— which the Scottish Government offered—

“as I was registered as self-employed before 6 April 2019…I contacted Fife Council to ask whether allowance could be made…but was told it could not. I have therefore fallen through a crack in the system of support”.

Another, who works in sound and lighting, has said:

“Whilst the arts are getting support from the government, which is brilliant, it does not actually reach many of the people that need to be helped in the sector.

The company I work for currently relies heavily on the furlough scheme, as we have had…no income since…March…It is not as simple for us that when lockdown starts to ease further income will automatically return again…the worry is that the money will not reach suppliers and manufacturers such as us…I am asking for more support for our industry…In Germany, they have extended their furlough scheme for their equivalent of our industry, until March 2021”.

Finally, I have been told:

“I am a musician. Having spent the last 7 years building towards being self employed...My business turned over £65,000 in revenue last year, supporting myself and other musicians…I am sure that cumulatively our impact on tax revenues is hardly something to sneer at.

Mr Sharma’s comments that we should ‘get better jobs’
is deeply insulting and condescending. I don’t need a better job. I’m in it already”.

To conclude, DCMS sector spending has been welcomed, but it has not truly recognised either the seasonal way in which many areas operate or the different ways in which many work within in it. Both the UK and Scottish Governments—I note that to date the Scottish Government have committed only £59 million of their allocation to support packages—need to do more. We will all be the poorer otherwise.