It is a pleasure to follow Wera Hobhouse. Bath is not the only spa town in which the arts and culture are absolutely foundational to our way of life. A defining characteristic of much of the sector is that it is social. It consists of bringing people together as audiences, as spectators and as teams, so music venues, theatres and sports grounds have been particularly hard hit by the social distancing requirements. Those have been carried out on behalf of us all, but those places have borne the brunt of them, and so it is right that they have been singled out for special treatment.
I called for and welcomed the culture recovery fund announced in July, but it is a long time since it was announced, and organisations across the country need to have the allocations from the forum. I think of The Forum in Tunbridge Wells, a small, independent music venue that has been a hotbed for musical talent since 1993. Just a few weeks ago it was declared Music Week’s grassroots venue of the year for the whole of the UK. However, it is too small to open with the audiences that are necessary for it to be financially successful, so it absolutely depends on the funding, which I hope will come through.
I hope, too, that the Government will be creative in looking at ways that more venues can reopen and at how other countries are able to bring venues back into use. Some are coming back—the Assembly Hall theatre in my constituency is staging shows again—but an accomplished musician in my constituency told me that across Germany, many more venues are coming back into use. Let us look at what they are doing. If we can safely copy their practice—perhaps including the availability of rapid testing in other countries—we should apply that.
For all the size of the fund available, I am worried that not all of it will reach through the institutions to the people who are employed in the sector, especially those who operate on a freelance basis, whether they are actors or singers on the stage, performers in orchestras, or people such as directors, designers, choreographers and technicians. Many people in this sector work as freelancers, and it is vital that they are supported alongside the institutions. Being an orchestral musician is not a job that can be picked up and put down; it is a lifetime’s dedication—it is a vocation—and that needs to be recognised in the support that is available.
I hope that the constraints and specific circumstances that are particular to this sector will be recognised, as my hon. Friend Giles Watling said. It is a sector that injects life and vitality into all our communities and the whole country.