Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 4:06 pm, 8th October 2020

The cultural and creative industries are central to our economy and communities in Dulwich and West Norwood. I am proud of our local institutions, including the South London Theatre; the Dulwich Picture Gallery; the Black Cultural Archives; Brixton House theatre, which we are proud to have poached from my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi and which is due to open shortly in beautiful new premises; three Picturehouse cinemas, including the iconic Ritzy cinema; and a wealth of grassroots music venues.

Many of my constituents work in big cultural institutions in central London as musicians, actors, dancers, set designers, costume makers, lighting or sound technicians, graphic designers and many other roles. Six months on from the start of lockdown, many cultural venues are still unable to reopen on a basis that is safe and economically viable, and those that have reopened are operating with a devastating loss of income, to maintain social distancing on their premises. The Government must provide support to recognise the additional challenges with which our precious cultural sector is confronted. The support provided to date is not adequate to the task.

Workers in the cultural sector are highly skilled. Many have trained for years to perfect their craft, but that capacity will be lost without more support. We have already seen millions of freelance workers cut adrift by the Government. Many have been enormously creative. Musicians have been teaching via Zoom. Performances have gone online. Costume designers have been making masks and scrubs. Those efforts, however, cannot possibly provide an income to sustain people for the long term.

The Chancellor has denied that he told musicians that they should retrain, but that was exactly the implication that could be drawn from his remarks because he did not have anything else to offer them. I want to raise my concerns about the lack of support for grassroots music venues, such as Off The Cuff, Hootananny and Effra Social in my constituency. The music industry, like football, is a pyramid. Superstars do not emerge from nowhere, fully formed, at Wembley Arena or the O2. Emerging acts need venues in which to develop and grow. Grassroots music venues make that opportunity available to a wide range of performers. Without them, the sector as a whole will be poorer. Yet, despite extensive representations to the Secretary of State, only 135 venues have benefited from any support so far, and 400 are at imminent risk of permanent closure.

I will highlight very briefly the devastating impact that the imminent closure tomorrow of three Picturehouse cinemas in my constituency will have, and 100 jobs are at risk as a consequence. Will the Minister intervene with Cineworld, which is not the most scrupulous employer in the country and ask that it work harder to keep its arthouse cinemas open, which have much more flexibility and are not dependent on Bond? Those jobs can be saved if the Government show more leadership.

Our cultural sector is vital to the UK economy, but more than that, it is how we express who we are, articulate our values, process traumatic experiences and celebrate life in our communities in all our diversity. If the Government allow that sector to perish, we will all be poorer.