Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:41 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 4:41 pm, 8th October 2020

I thank Members from across the Chamber for a really strong and powerful debate about all the sectors covered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—sectors that touch every aspect of our lives, every day of the week. As we have heard, they have been hit horribly hard by covid. I thank all the trade unions in the sector who are fighting so hard for their members and their livelihoods, along with the ExcludedUK campaign and the trade bodies and associations and advocacy groups. Their tireless work and expertise have also informed a lot of today’s debate so powerfully. Finally, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to the debate; the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Julian Knight; and my neighbour, my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, for securing the debate.

We have heard a lot of consensus during today’s debate. I think upwards of 35 Members have spoken—too many to refer to individually. I would particularly like to thank colleagues on the Opposition Benches for their contributions.

We have heard that the majority of the DCMS sector is in complete despair. The impact of covid has been exceptionally hard on culture, sport, tourism and the charitable sector. It has hit advertising, which supports much of our broadcast and print media, and we have heard about funding cuts to the BBC, which have meant the loss of 450 jobs in local news. While digital has boomed, especially for those big global tech companies, those across the country with slow broadband, or who have not had access to skills to benefit from digital, are excluded further; and as in so many areas, the pandemic is exposing all too clearly the deep-bedded fault lines in our society.

We appreciate that the Government have tried to help the sector but, as we have consistently said, that help has been limited in DCMS, the bulk of it being too slow. The following hard truth for the Government also needs to be said: if we had a properly functioning test, trace and isolate system, much of the sector would be flourishing right now. We know that, because that is what is happening in other countries—just look at Germany, with its creative industries back on track, and Denmark’s sporting sectors. So that is what is holding us back.

In arts and culture, experienced, skilled and talented live performers, and the people who create, produce and make those economically successful events happen, are being treated by the Treasury as though their jobs were mere hobbies. As we have heard today from across the House, many have had no support since the pandemic hit. People and businesses across the sector constantly tell me that they do not believe the Government understand how the ecology of the sector fits together.

We have had the terrible news this week of the 5,500 job losses at Cineworld, and earlier today, 1,300 job losses at the National Trust were announced. It did not take a crystal ball to work out, at the beginning of this pandemic, that much of the sector would be the first to close and the last to reopen. We had hoped that the Chancellor’s winter economic plan would correct some of these failures, but instead we were left disappointed because, as I am sure the Minister understands, you cannot work a third of your hours if your workplace is shut. I know that the Minister will cite the £1.57 billion cultural recovery package, which is obviously welcome, but 97% of that figure has not even reached anybody yet, nearly 100 days on from when it was announced. The focus of the fund is buildings and institutions, not people. Of course buildings are important, but the people who create what is inside those buildings need urgent help—and it is really urgent, as ONS figures suggest that a quarter of a million people in the creative arts sector will lose their jobs within weeks.

The creative industries and sport will be vital to our national recovery, to the public’s health and wellbeing and to our economic recovery. These are not things that are nice to have if we have spare money; as we have heard, they have been and can be economically successful, and powerful drivers of future jobs growth and regeneration.

We have heard lots of contributions about sport. Just like the creative industries, I am hearing from sports stakeholders that they feel the Government do not understand how their sector works. I have been contacted overnight by various clubs, talking about what they feel is the illogical nature of today’s announcement about a socially distanced event at the O2. It is great to hear about an indoor event, but sports clubs cannot understand why we cannot have some fans back in stadiums, given that stadiums are outdoors. They need clarity and clear communication from the Government on this issue.

Let me turn to tourism. We have heard about the challenges facing our town centres and seaside towns. These are not new, but the pandemic—added to 10 years of a lack of investment—has accelerated the problems and inequalities faced by these areas. The tourism industry projects a drop in income of almost £70 billion this year, and fears there will be a loss of almost 1 million jobs. The unemployment crisis facing this and other sectors is set to wreak devastation throughout the country, but especially in areas where tourism and the interlinked hospitality sector are the main employers.

At the very moment when our society is crying out for help, those who provide it in the charitable sector are also struggling. Some £12.4 billion has been lost from the sector and 60,000 jobs hang in the balance. The #NeverMoreNeeded campaign has highlighted this exact issue—that charities have supported us, but now feel abandoned.

The message to the Government from across the House in this debate is very clear. Much of the sector risks decimation. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West described a cultural climate emergency and employment extinction. We cannot just help the Crown jewels—as the Government like to call them—because there will not be any jewels if we cut the pipeline of talent that creates them. We cannot simply support buildings and not support those who work in them.

We have a Chancellor who, on 24 September, dismissed these skilled specialist jobs—which have created so much value and wealth for the country, and are the envy of the world—as unviable.