Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Conservative, Newbury 4:15 pm, 8th October 2020

I start by thanking the Minister and the Department for the engagement and careful consideration they have shown to a number of industries in my constituency. I start with the racing industry in Lambourn, which is not just a major employer —although it does employ more than 1,000 people—and a major source of revenue for our local economy, but something of which we are very proud. It is a core part of our identity. When the lockdown hit, it had very serious consequences, because the horses cannot just be dumped in a field. They are essentially equine athletes who need to be trained and cared for, and that involves high costs and staff retention.

The package of financial support was a lifeline, and so was the support given to get racing going behind closed doors in July, and the industry is grateful for that, but the situation is dire. My remarks that follow are not intended to be a criticism, but a fair reflection of the challenges that face not only racing, but some of the arts venues in my constituency, including the Watermill Theatre in Newbury and the Corn Exchange.

The first great challenge such organisations face is reopening. I will focus on racing for a moment. The industry believes that it could make racecourses secure by limiting numbers, conducting the entire exercise outside and constructing barriers. It could get racing going safely, if only it was permitted to do so. That is not just a top-line concern but one that reverberates around the entire ecosystem of photographers, hospitality and bookmakers.

In that sense of talking about an ecosystem, I would also like to address the challenges of the live events sector. I had a very constructive roundtable with some in my constituency today who provide services to music and arts events, and they make the point that they are viable, in that they would have demand if they could open the doors. They believe that they could do so in a secure way, and they underscore the need for planning. They genuinely do not know what the Government anticipate, what happens next year with a vaccine or without a vaccine, or what happens in a best-case scenario or a worst-case scenario. When they reopen, they will get orders, but it will be two to three months before they actually deliver the service, and they ask for consideration of that.

On the issue of collateral damage, my constituency’s much-loved local newspaper, the Newbury Weekly News, has been more important than ever in providing a service to people during the crisis, yet its revenues have taken an unprecedented hit because of the loss of advertising. Without direct financial support from the Department, I am genuinely concerned about its survival.