May I begin by congratulating the Government on the truly remarkable success of the vaccination roll-out and the extraordinary progress made so far? More than 20 million vaccines have now been delivered, with 27,000 of my constituents receiving their first jab. It is, of course, imperative that we maintain this progress and continue to drive down infection rates so that we can meet the key tests set out in the Prime Minister’s road map.
The road map is rightly cautious and led by data rather than dates. We are leading the world by providing a pathway out of restrictions. For businesses in my constituency, this provides an opportunity to look towards operating close to normal this summer. Until businesses in Blackpool can reopen, the financial support provided so far simply must continue. As a Government, we have stood by businesses throughout this pandemic, and it is vital that businesses are provided with the right conditions to prosper when they can reopen. I have been told by so many businesses how crucial the VAT reduction has been. By extending it for a further 12 months, we will give them the breathing space to drive forward the economy and protect livelihoods long after the furlough scheme has ended. The same can also be said for extending the current business rates freeze.
The overall package of support for businesses from the Treasury has been truly remarkable. In particular, the £1.6 billion investment in UK culture through the culture recovery fund has gone a long way towards securing the future of significant venues in Blackpool, such as the Tower Circus and the Grand Theatre, which will of course be delighted to hear that significant additional support for the arts and culture sectors will be included in tomorrow’s Budget.
Not only do Blackpool’s historic visitor attractions employ hundreds of local people directly, but they entice holidaymakers to Blackpool, to the benefit of all businesses. For example, the winter gardens, a beneficiary of the culture recovery fund, attracts 1.1 million unique visitors per year, who spend money throughout Blackpool, thereby supporting other outlets.
It is fantastic that a second round of culture recovery grants are currently being administered; hopefully, this will include other local venues, such as the world-famous cabaret bar Funny Girls. Blackpool is of course renowned for its LGBT entertainment venues, and in that regard it would be remiss of me not to mention Basil Newby, who opened some of Blackpool’s first gay venues 40 years ago and whose bars and clubs have been a mainstay of the LGBT community ever since. At the end of LGBT History Month, his contribution to the community deserves particular recognition, and I look forward to joining him in May when Funny Girls reopens.