Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:37 pm, 8th October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Nickie Aiken. I share her love of musicals—I just wish we could all dream a dream of a better future for the industry.

I declare an interest, as a member of the APPG on music, and my speech will be about support for the music industry. At midday on Tuesday, I was in Parliament Square, and I listened to 400 highly trained freelance classical musicians perform 20% of the great masterpiece “Mars” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”. I congratulate Let Music Live and #WeMakeEvents on organising such an amazing event. The event was visually and musically stunning. The silence after just two minutes was poignant and demonstrated how quickly after music there is silence. It was a metaphor, if one was needed, of the plight of many musicians since covid-19 restrictions were introduced in March, who have seen their livelihoods dwindle to nothing overnight.

A number of freelancers have contacted me, and I want to read a few lines from one of the emails I received from a freelancer who wants to remain anonymous. They said:

“I have applied for various jobs…I have got rejections for all of them. The vast experience I have playing the violin, whilst extremely highly skilled, means nothing when applying for anything non music-related. Ultimately I have lost my home, my work and the only way of life I have ever known.”

That is true for many musicians who are struggling at this time.

There is no doubting the estimated £10.8 billion a year contribution of the arts scene to the UK economy by those in the creative industries, but unlike other sectors, the cultural sector has had nowhere near the support it needs to survive. Little thought has been given to this sector. It was not until July that the Government announced the culture recovery fund, and despite calls from many organisations such as Chickenshed Theatre in my constituency, the vast majority have not received anything from that fund. With nearly all venues closed, some of which will never reopen, there is little opportunity for musicians to play. While DCMS funding for venues and arts organisations may be welcome, it does nothing for the vast majority of workers in the arts, as most freelancers do not qualify either for the JRS or the SEISS and therefore make up part of the 3 million workers who have been excluded from help during the pandemic. According to Musicians’ Union research, 70% of musicians are unable to undertake more than a quarter of their usual work; 65% are facing financial hardship now; 36% do not have any work at all; and 34% are considering abandoning their career in music while 37% are not sure. The truth is that while this was once a viable industry, it is now met with empty diaries and no plans for the majority of musicians.

There are two things that the Government could do to resolve this: have a similar scheme to eat out to help out for venues so that tickets can be subsidised, and help those freelancers who are in desperate need. A few weeks ago, there was a big campaign to get “Land of Hope and Glory” played at the last night of the Proms. That is taken from the Elgar piece, “Pomp and Circumstance”, but now we need to overcome the covid circumstance, and we must ensure that we let music live.