There are many reasons why Southend should become a city, and I very much look forward to the announcement of the city status competition—bring it on. I have mentioned the great Dame Vera Lynn on a number of occasions in this House. On
Southend is home to lots of people working in west end theatres, both as actors and behind the scenes. They have been struggling as the majority of theatres have been closed for almost a year. I would welcome support to ensure that theatres can reopen safely and viably.
I am pleased that four businesses in my constituency have benefited from the culture recovery fund: Veritas Entertainment, In the Park Concert, Metal Culture and Old Empire. Two of my constituents in the events industry, one a freelancer and another a director of an events and consultancy business, have received no financial support since the pandemic began in this country a year ago, so I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister: what is being done to help the many individuals such as those? I have also signed a cross-party letter to the Chancellor asking him to include Government-backed insurance for live events in his Budget tomorrow. I hope that he takes note of that letter and acts appropriately.
The Music Man Project is an inspirational local charity for people with learning difficulties. They have performed at the Royal Albert Hall and the London Palladium and fronted the National Lottery advertising campaign. They will be going to Broadway. The charity would welcome clarity on when it will be allowed to operate in full again.
Southend has a number of excellent festivals and events, including the Leigh Folk Festival, Chalkwell Fair, the Carnival and, at Christmas, the Leigh Lights. Sadly, these all had to be cancelled or moved online last year, which had a knock-on impact on many local businesses. I welcome the announcement that large events will be allowed to take place again this year. The Leigh Regatta, an annual community and charity event organised by the Sea Scouts and the Leigh Lions, raises money for local charities. It was very sad that it was cancelled last year, with a huge loss of income to the charities. More help is needed.
In my constituency there are many wonderful choirs that have struggled to keep going during lockdown. They have used many ingenious methods to keep rehearsing, but they have lost more than a year’s revenue from concerts. Again, help is needed.
Finally, many showmen have suffered a catastrophic loss of earnings during the last year, and now stand to lose out over Easter and the spring Bank Holiday. Many showpeople have not been able to apply for grants or funding as they do not have a business address. They have found local councils apparently difficult to deal with because of what they claim is the vague nature of the Government guidelines on funding. So I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister, a fellow Essex Member, to do all he possibly can to support this wonderful sector.