The covid-19 pandemic has impacted industries across the UK, threatening countless people’s livelihoods. Many families now face serious financial hardship. The arts and culture sector has experienced untold difficulties, with live performances unable to go ahead, venues unsure when they will reopen and many performers uncertain about their future.
The industry contributes so much to our lives, from the films we watch and the books we read to the music we listen to. It enriches and expands our world view. The creative industries in Scotland account for 70,000 workers and 15,000 businesses. They are estimated to support around £9 billion of activity in the Scottish economy, contributing £5.5 billion to Scotland’s GDP.
However, since March, countless east end constituents have contacted me about how their lives have been affected by the pandemic and how inadequate the support for the arts and culture sector has been, with many self-employed and freelance artists and performers excluded from the original Government financial support packages. In Glasgow East, the showpeople community is a vital part of my constituency. They put on seasonal fairs, from summer fêtes to Christmas markets. Currently there are 340 members of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild. Each is a small business owner and all of them have families, numbering 5,000 across Scotland.
More than that, showpeople have been a rich part of Scotland’s tapestry for hundreds of years and have a proud history and heritage extending back many years in my constituency. I am deeply concerned that most major fairs have been cancelled this year due to covid-19, greatly putting at risk showpeople’s livelihoods. At the heart of the issue is the fact that the financial support offered to the tourism industry during the pandemic continually excluded showpeople. Due to the manner in which show- people operate, for example, not having a static business or a shop front, they have often been left out of Government financial support packages. The community provides so much, not only to my constituency and to Scotland, but across the British isles. They deserve financial support and guidance as we head into the winter months and the second wave of coronavirus, which we find ourselves in now.
The Showmen’s Guild has been excluded from the recreation and leisure taskforce and has been asked to be represented by the Association of Circus Proprietors. That is akin to asking the Brownies to represent the Scouts. It is unacceptable. I encourage the Government to look again at including the Showmen’s Guild in their recreation and leisure taskforce, which will almost certainly have to be reconvened as a result of the second wave.
We should also focus on the steps that other European countries have taken in providing financial support, specifically to showpeople. In Belgium, the Government have put in place several support measures including the delay, the reduction or the exemption of the social contributions to be paid in 2021, and a bonus of €4,000, and, after 21 days of non-activity, €160 per day.
I would also like to use today’s debate to call on Scotland’s 32 councils to exercise the maximum flexibility on licensing for showpeople. We can acknowledge how difficult it has been for showpeople, but actions speak louder than words and it is time local authorities in Scotland started treating showpeople a lot more fairly when it comes to the licensing regime.
Along with other members of the all-party group on fairs and showgrounds, I have been working closely with the Showmen’s Guild on these issues and I will continue to urge the Government to put in place serious provisions to help showmen, who are a significant part of this island’s culture.