May I also welcome back my hon. Friend Jo Stevens? I also put on record my immense gratitude to my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin and my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend Alison McGovern, for their tireless campaigning on this issue over many years.
For 10 long years, the Conservative party have taken a wrecking ball to the very foundations of our cultural industries. Ten years of cuts to arts funding and school budgets have decimated the sector. The prestige venues that only the rich can afford may have been preserved, but, thanks to the remorseless advance of property developers, countless grassroots music venues have had to shut up shop. Future generations of talent have nowhere to flourish. Now, the Government’s failure to give the cultural industries the support they need risks condemning huge swathes of the sector to oblivion.
Although the £1.5 billion culture recovery fund was welcome, it has rescued buildings, not livelihoods. Fifty-five thousand jobs have already been lost, and too many creative freelancers—including over a third of all musicians—have been allowed to fall through the gaps of the Government’s financial support schemes, with many leaving the industry for good. The Government’s failure to guarantee creative workers visa-free access to Europe risks depriving thousands of people of a vital part of their income when the pandemic is over.
The failure by the Government to step up and meet this challenge has had a devastating impact on my constituency. The hard work and determination of council leader Janette Williamson and Labour councillors saved the historic Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, but countless other venues have been forced to close their doors forever, and many others remain at risk.
I thank the all-party parliamentary group for the night time economy for giving me access to the response of my constituents to its important inquiry on the impact of covid-19, which testified to a deep-rooted anger at the Government’s chaotic handling of the pandemic and a widespread sense of fear that many venues in my constituency will not survive the next few months. The proprietors of Gallaghers Traditional Pub, which regularly hosts live music, are right to feel “angry and let down”.
There needs to be change when the Chancellor unveils the Budget tomorrow. It is a final chance to save a vital part of our country’s cultural fabric and, with that, a major sector of our economy. Instead of half measures, we need a bold and ambitious strategy that gives the sector confidence in its future and its ability to thrive when we win the war on covid. An extension to the furlough scheme, the cut in VAT and business rates relief will be essential to safeguarding jobs in the sector, but I also call on the Chancellor to recognise the specific challenges facing our country’s cultural industries and at long last introduce bespoke support for a sector that provides not just jobs but enjoyment for millions of people.