Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester 3:12 pm, 8th October 2020

I wish to centre my remarks on two areas. First, our Government deserve great credit for the unprecedented support they have given companies, charities, workers and individuals in this sector during the pandemic. It would also be awesome if we could not continually misquote the Chancellor. Any of us who has served in government knows how slow the Whitehall machine can be, so we should marvel at the furlough scheme, the SEISS, the grants we have put out there through local authorities in England, and the Government-backed loan scheme. There is no doubt that they have saved millions of livelihoods and businesses, so credit should go to Ministers for making them happen, while we recognise, as we must, that every single penny is the British public’s—I always say that in this Chamber—and one way or another every single penny will have to be paid back. These support measures have absolutely helped the DCMS sector, albeit with notable exceptions, which I wish to focus on.

The first of those exceptions is the UK events sector, which has been brought to its knees by covid, as Wendy Chamberlain mentioned. It is so sad, because the exhibition and events industry was a vibrant, growing sector before covid hit, contributing some £70 billion of economic impact to the nation. At a stroke, the industry became unviable, because Government restrictions mean that, basically, no UK events are permitted to take place—I should imagine this will last until March at the earliest. The Meetings Industry Association estimates that some 700,000 people are employed in this industry and there have been just north of 120,000 job losses so far. We are talking about catering and front of house staff; event and account managers; the technical staff; the many freelancers who build the events; the sound engineers; the people who hire out the stands and the furniture; and, of course, the audiovisual guys and girls.

I do welcome the Chancellor’s new job support scheme, but a salary subsidy for companies that are not able to trade is not the stuff of dreams. I totally get the honesty in government talking about “viable jobs” in the changed post-covid economy, but we have to be honest and say that there is a difference between an unviable business and one that is not allowed to be viable, as is the case with the UK events sector.

Furthermore—this goes back to the much wider point about the events world, although it involves many who work within it—the self-employed support scheme has troubled me from the off, and I have said that many times in this House. The intention to achieve parity between self-employed workers and those on PAYE was absolutely the right thing to do but, as paragraph 12 of the conclusions in the Committee’s report on the “Impact of COVID-19 on DCMS sectors” states, the fact that

“too many self-employed people have missed out on support to date, means the future of our creative workforce remains at significant risk.”

It continues:

“From October 2020 at the latest”— this month—

“the Government should introduce flexible, sector specific versions of the…
SEISS guaranteed for the creative industries until their work and income returns to sustainable levels.”

The Treasury Committee’s report on the “Economic impact of coronavirus” proposed some practical solutions as to how that might be achieved, and we endorse it.

To return to the UK events sector specifically, I understand that DCMS proposes a targeted economic support package for the business visitor economy, which will be a crucial and welcome move. If the Minister can say anything about that, we will be all ears.

Last year, the UK festival and live music sector contributed £4.5 billion to the UK economy, supporting over 200,000 jobs. Festivals themselves—I declare an interest—generate £1.75 billion and support some 85,000 jobs. The catastrophic impact of covid on the sector cannot be underestimated. According to the most recent survey by the Association of Independent Festivals, at least 50% of the workforce faces redundancy. The festival season, which is obviously between April and September, was of course totally abandoned this year, and the sector is working towards, but not hopeful of, returning next year.

Part of that hopeful return involves the DCMS festivals working group, for which I thank the Department. It has now had three meetings, and several drafts of the covid operational festival planning guidance have been produced. I understand that a working draft will be produced next week and hosted on The Purple Guide website, which is a “good to go” industry standard for health, safety and welfare at music and other events. It is imperative that we take that seriously.

In closing, the £1.57 billion culture recovery fund is excellent. Heaven only knows why it has taken so long to get the money out, but I understand that it starts tomorrow and then again on Monday. Above all, when the funds do get to the arts sector next week, I hope that that the wonderful Theatre Royal in Winchester, which has done so much to help itself, will have some help from Government to continue its great work. That will be a nice October surprise.