Covid-19: Cultural and Entertainment Sectors

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 2nd March 2021.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 6:44 pm, 2nd March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, who said a great deal in such a short time. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

If there is one person who truly appreciates the creative industries in this country, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I know that he has not created employment support schemes that are remotely suitable for the creative industries, and I know that the Tory post-Brexit agreement really screws creative professionals and their ability to get work, but he does love his videographer, and his Instagram account is testament to his adoration of professional photographers. His Twitter feed tells the world how much he appreciates his stylist, and I heard that his Pinterest is extensive. Good luck to him, I say. Some people want substance from their policies, but it is absolutely clear that the Tory party would prefer a shiny veneer.

This debate comes the day before the Budget, which will be a fiscal event that should announce a much-needed, overdue continuation of business support and help for families through this unprecedented time. That should be a given; it should have been done by now. Today’s Budget trail, which coincidentally came out the same day as this cross-party general debate, tells us that the Government have found some more cash for the culture recovery fund. Support is welcome, but as Member after Member has said, that funding saves buildings, not jobs. It is a year since many freelancers have had any income at all. As Members have said, freelancers have been able to apply for some of the funding in Wales and Scotland. Can the Minister say what consideration he has given to a similar approach in England?

What is really lacking is a plan for how our country will earn a living after all we have been through. We need businesses that are fast-growing and offer good-quality jobs, and for that we need the creative and cultural sectors, because they are big and growing. As a whole, DCMS businesses, excluding tourism, contributed £224 billion to the UK in 2018—12% of the economy. Creative businesses exported £36 billion-worth worldwide, and in gross were up 7.5% on the previous year, meaning that growth in the sector is five times that of the British economy as a whole. Important as they are, manufacturing flatlined, and financial services actually fell. Creative businesses are a growing part of our economy.

Tomorrow should be about the future and how we will create the framework to make sure the UK can start growing again. That is why the economic story of creative industries is so important. We have heard from colleagues from right across the country—from Cardiff, Belfast, Barking, Clacton, Coventry, Sheffield, Hull, Batley, Blaydon, Sunderland, Warley, Manchester, Salford, Pontypridd and many more. It is clear from all those contributions that the role of the creative industries and their ability to make life good is not a phenomenon unique to London and the south-east, as the cultural and economic dominance of those areas suggests. We want a plan for the growth of creativity that serves the whole of the UK.

Recent bids to the Government ahead of the spending review showed that West Yorkshire, the west midlands, Liverpool city region and Manchester city region all have cultural plans for their economies, but they are being ignored by the Government, and it is hard to see why. It is not that we want to move cultural and creative economies from London to elsewhere; rather, we want to enable growth where local leaders are clearly crying out for it. The potential is there; we just need to make the most of it.

The glaringly obvious plan that would serve our country so well has been ignored. Too often, the pandemic response has been made up of piecemeal, last-minute decisions. This week is a case in point. People still do not know how long they will be furloughed for and for how long they can be. The industry faces a VAT cliff edge, and freelancers are still uncertain about whether the Budget will finally offer them some much-needed support after a year of hardship.

The truth is that, from listening to the Secretary of State, it was clear from the very beginning that there was no plan to rebalance our economy in the way that city region leaders would like. The Secretary of State gave the game away. All their hotch-potch announcements were aimed at one thing: saving the Crown jewels, as the Secretary of State himself said. It does not matter if someone runs a creative business in Newcastle or Bristol. Unless they run a well-endowed cultural institution that happens to be a short walk from this building, they are nobody’s priority, and it shows. The Government have had a year to finesse their policy responses. Membership organisations and trade unions such as the Musicians’ Union, Equity and the Writers’ Guild all stand ready to help, but too often are ignored.

We heard from Members across the House that every opportunity for creative workers is essential, but the Government actively took away opportunities and made matters worse when they failed on their promises to ensure that creative workers would not face unnecessary bureaucracy and barriers to touring in Europe. We heard throughout the debate that that is an essential step. The Government say they want to fix the post-Brexit situation. They simply must make it happen and we have seen too little progress.

That leads me to my final question for Ministers on the gap between reality and what they say. The question I really want to ask the Secretary of State and the Minister here today is this: what do they think their Department is for anymore? When it comes to financial support for creatives, their only job is passing on messages from the Treasury. When it comes to touring after Brexit, the Minister’s job is to pass messages on from the Home Office. When it comes to covid, they just pass messages on from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, or maybe it is now the recently ennobled Brexit negotiator—who really knows? The fact is that the DCMS has been reduced to the Government’s equivalent of a voicemail service—they just pass on the message. Let us be honest: too often DCMS Ministers are just not in charge of anything.

There is one final point I really want to make. The Government’s road map for unlocking our freedoms gives a series of “not before” dates that help us to plan for the best-case scenario. We all want to be back in theatres, to be part of a crowd again. Many of us long for the day when we can walk down the road to a football stadium and feel the electricity of that first tackle flying in. We long for the chance to hear a singer lift up their microphone and pierce the atmosphere with a ringing sound. Before the pandemic, I thought I was getting old. Now, if somebody, for example my hon. Friend Jeff Smith, offered me the chance to go for an evening out, you would never get me off the dancefloor. The pandemic has robbed us of not just a fast-growing industry but, as I have said, everything that makes life good. All the things that make life enjoyable are gone, so when we get them back—when we get galleries, festivals, music and art back—I truly hope that the country we choose to build from this point can include everyone in the happiness of creativity, and can give everyone that sense of something beyond the daily grind. I hope the lives we have lived during this covid pandemic make us all the more joyful at having culture back in our life.