Covid-19: Cultural and Entertainment Sectors

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 2nd March 2021.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South 5:44 pm, 2nd March 2021

In the past year, we have seen many hundreds of thousands of people out of work, with many of them no longer having jobs to return to. We have seen 123,000 people tragically die due to covid-19. While today we are debating the economic impacts of the virus, we cannot forget that lockdowns and social distancing were the correct thing to do to prevent this tragic death toll from being even higher. Over the coming months, we need to continue to protect lives, but it is not a zero-sum game where we need to abandon public health precautions in order to reopen the economy. We need an approach that protects livelihoods while also saving lives.

The need for support to protect livelihoods is particularly acute in the cultural and entertainment industries, which have had to close their doors for much of the past year. Even the most optimistic plans for reopening mean that they will not be back at full capacity until towards the end of this year or later. In the absence of support, many organisations have turned to the internet to keep working. Livestream performances, ranging from classical music to opera and plays, have been an invaluable lifeline not only to performers but to people staying at home during lockdown.

Bizarrely, orchestras putting on livestream performances are not eligible for the tax relief they would receive if they had attendees in person. The Government’s guidance on orchestra tax relief says that it can only be claimed if there are some attendees in person, but that is clearly impossible at a time when audiences cannot attend. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will address that in the Budget, to ensure that orchestras get the financial support they need when they livestream without an audience present in person? While I am talking about live music, we cannot let Chris Green get away with claiming the best brass band in the world, when we have the award-winning Eccles Borough Band and the Cadishead Public Band.

In the Budget tomorrow, we need support for the people who work in the cultural industries. I have heard from many of my constituents who work in MediaCity in Salford and have found themselves excluded from the Government’s financial support so far. The nature of their work means that many of them are on a mix of self-employed work and short-term pay-as-you-earn contracts, and they do not get support through the self-employment income support scheme. Unless they were under contract at the end of March last year, they did not get furlough support. A year into this crisis, they still have not had any support, and it is worse for people at the start of their careers, when they have not had time to build up any reserves.

Can the Minister tell us whether the Budget tomorrow will finally contain support for those people who have been excluded so far, so that they can get through the remaining months of this pandemic without facing further financial hardship? The Minister may say that he cannot reveal measures ahead of the Budget, but that rule seems to have been comprehensively abandoned.