I begin by paying tribute to the arts and culture sector, which has been so deeply affected by the fall-out from the pandemic but has never given up. I also pay tribute to those in my own constituency, the home of the west end and theatreland—renowned museums, art galleries, music venues, individuals such as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Nica Burns, the Society of London Theatre, and so many more who have never accepted defeat and have carried on seeking solutions so that they can open safely.
The arts provide huge benefits to the UK’s economy, providing billions of pounds to the Exchequer. I pay tribute to Ministers at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who have appreciated how strongly the arts contribute to the economy. They have had unwavering support for the arts, lobbying the Treasury for financial support, as we saw in the £1.57 billion culture recovery fund and now, today, the £408 million in grants announced to help with reopening.
It is now about how we reopen. We now have dates in the road map, which is great, but we do need to address the issues regarding social distancing outlined in paragraph 145 of the road map. LW Theatres is moving ahead with its own research and development on making its venues covid-secure but is finding roadblocks. Currently, Health and Safety Executive policy does not allow for any spraying or misting with disinfectant or cleaning products, which is an excellent solution for indoor venues that can be used across the country. I would like the Government to put pressure on the HSE and persuade it to update its policies so that we can allow that to happen.
Many in the arts are waiting to hear from the Chancellor when he unveils his Budget tomorrow. They are hoping for good news on ongoing support for business rates and VAT on tickets, theatre tax relief being extended to digital performances without a physical audience, and an ongoing review of the self-employed support that is so needed for freelancers within the creative industries. I know how badly affected the excluded have been, and we need to address their ongoing concerns.
There is a light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel. Now is the time to work together on how we can reopen safely. I urge the Government to undertake a major marketing campaign to promote confidence in people to return and enjoy everything our wonderful arts have to offer.