Covid-19: Cultural and Entertainment Sectors

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:51 pm on 2nd March 2021.

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Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:51 pm, 2nd March 2021

It is great to see my hon. Friend Jo Stevens back in her place.

In the brief time that I have, I want to focus on the night-time economy and on what we need to do so to support night-time venues; most have not been able to operate at all for almost a year, and I would argue that they have gone under the Government’s radar. As welcome as the culture recovery fund was, it has had a limited impact, particularly on nightclubs. Nightlife and music venues are the beating heart of our town and city centres, and support so many other businesses in their ecosystems and supply chains. I worked in the music business, and nightclubs in particular, for more than 20 years. I also worked at festivals, and add my voice to the festival industry’s plea for an insurance safety net scheme for large events. If there is one single measure that can help to allow a summer of culture and creativity, it is that one.

I have seen close up the joy and sense of community that nightclubs and music venues bring. I have also seen the massive £66 billion contribution of the night-time industry to our economy. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the night time economy, and just before Christmas we launched an inquiry to look at the effects of the pandemic on night-time industries. Remarkably, we received over 20,000 responses from businesses, employees, freelance workers, customers, industry organisations and local authorities. We found that, without urgent Government support, night-life businesses could well be lost.

We are at a critical point. Lots of venues have just about survived, but they are racking up debts on costs like rent and utilities, and just need some help to get them through until they can fully reopen. I fervently hope that tomorrow we will see an extension of business support, including business rates relief and VAT reduction. We need some sector-specific grants until businesses can fully reopen. We also need a solution for the amassed commercial debt, whether that is a shared burden approach to debt, as we have seen in other countries, or a long-term restructuring so that debt does not need to be paid off until businesses are able to do so in the long term. Of course, we also need furlough extension and help for those excluded individuals.

The Government have set out the road map to reopening, which the night-time venues have cautiously welcomed. But it is one thing to be able to open and another to be able to do so at a capacity that makes it viable, so it is really important that the Government consult and engage quickly with the sector on testing, capacity restrictions and whatever other mitigations can allow venues to reopen. The events research programme also has to be carried out in close partnership with the brilliant, creative people in the industry.

It feels like the end is in sight, but this is a really important moment. We have a crucial job just to get our businesses through the next few months until they are able to reopen. We cannot let these vital businesses and venues fold; we cannot jeopardise our wider economic recovery that they are so important to; and we cannot have our towns and city centres becoming ghost towns.