I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to advocate on behalf of the arts and entertainment sector in Northern Ireland which, in common with those elsewhere, has been profoundly disrupted by covid and has a long path back to normality and recovery. Typically, a venue needs to fit in 50% to 70% of capacity for a show to be viable, and that is unlikely to be safe for some time to come, so the sector is not going to be able to throw open the doors and bounce back to normal any time soon.
I welcome the additional funding throughout the year, but that and future funding will have to be underpinned by timely decisions and flexibility by the Northern Ireland Executive. The current emergency funding is being undermined by the structures of accounting periods, with groups getting very welcome cash injections but windows of just a couple of months in which to spend them. This means we require flexibility around existing and future funding and, going forward, a multi-annual framework that will address the chronic underfunding of arts in Northern Ireland which, at just £5.31 per head, compares unfavourably with Wales, at £10.03, or the equivalent of £12.79 in the Republic of Ireland.
We need a recovery strategy that acknowledges the value of the arts to the economy and its full ecosystem, as well as the intrinsic value of the arts, and that understands that future sector-wide reconstruction and redeployment would be far costlier than a rescue package and managed recovery right now. People who are being forced out of work in the arts because of these challenging years have skills that it will not be easy to replace.
I have spoken before about the gaps in the support for the self-employed and about how the sector is based on collaboration and short-term projects so is almost casualised by definition. I welcome hints that furlough will be extended in the Budget tomorrow, but I urge the Chancellor to ensure that the self-employed in the sector—including part-timers, PAYE freelancers and others—for whom solutions have been identified are addressed.
I welcome the calls from other Members about theatre tax relief, which is a tool to help people who are producing this year. I hope it is extended to digital—the safe platform that many are able to access this year. I support calls for mobility for artists around Europe. The devastating consequences of that issue are being masked by covid.
Seo Seachtáin na Gaeilge in Éireann, ó thuaidh agus ó theas. Seo seans againn ár dteanga agus ár gcultúir agus ár n-ealaoín a cheilúradh agus thig le gach duine sult a bhaint as—finally, it is Irish Language Week in Ireland, north and south, which is an opportunity to celebrate the value of language to culture and the arts in a way that can be enjoyed by everybody. Go raibh maith agat.