Covid-19: Cultural and Entertainment Sectors

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 2nd March 2021.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) 6:25 pm, 2nd March 2021

The arts and culture sector has been devastated by covid and, throughout the pandemic, it has been an afterthought, yet it is crucial to the UK’s recovery not just for its economic contribution, but for its importance to all our mental health. In my Bath constituency, arts and culture are an integral part of our local economy, contributing to the huge attraction that the city offers to visitors from around the world.

Of course, I recognise that the Government have done something. The culture recovery fund was a source of relief and I am very pleased for the Roman baths, Bath Abbey and Cleveland pools, which got welcome funding, some of which will go towards meeting the loss of revenue. However, the reality for many other venues and organisations is that this fund came too late and was spread too thinly. The Government certainly do not understand the need of the creative workforce, many of whom are freelancers. They have not been eligible for the self-employed income support scheme and feel abandoned. In tomorrow’s Budget, the Chancellor must look at adopting general support packages to give targeted support to those working in the creative sectors.

Live music has been particularly hard hit. Venues have not been able to open for any meaningful length of time throughout last year and the beginning of this year and could now be months behind the rest of the country. Venues such as The Bell in Bath are looking for innovative ways to maintain social distancing and will be live-streaming gigs online and to other parts of the building, and I congratulate it on its efforts. The music industry will need support from Government to see it through until 21 June and I urge Ministers to support a Government-backed insurance scheme that will provide much needed confidence for the sector.

Museums and galleries will have to wait until May before they can open again. Public Health England states that there is no evidence that they are sites of transmission. Art galleries such as the Holburne Museum in Bath have shown that it would be possible to open safely, and it makes no sense that they are not treated the same as the retail sector, which will be able to open five weeks earlier. At a time when museums are suffering from months without visitors, reduced staff and budgets, the Government’s road map is leaving them very vulnerable and reinforces the sense that other industries are being treated differently. I ask the Government to look again at their plans to allow museums and galleries to reopen as part of step 2.

The arts and culture is vital not only for our economy, but for our wellbeing. Its damage is damage to all of us.