Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

– in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 10th March 2021.

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[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Impact of COVID-19 on DCMS sectors: First Report, HC 291; Third Special Report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors: Government Response to Committee’s Third Report of Session 2019–21, HC 885.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the year ending with 31 March 2021, for expenditure by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport:

(1) further resources, not exceeding £2,092,692,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1227,

(2) further resources, not exceeding £524,913,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £2,246,268,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(David Duguid.)

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The debate will be led by Julian Knight, but I remind hon. Members that, immediately after Julian Knight, a four-minute time limit will be in effect. A countdown clock will be visible on the screens of hon. Members participating virtually and a clock will obviously be on the screens in the Chamber.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation 2:43 pm, 10th March 2021

This pandemic has highlighted just how widespread the responsibilities of the Department are: from our rich coastal communities that rely on tourism, to the world-renowned theatres, galleries and museums of our cities, our festivals and music events. They are all significant drivers not just of tourism spending, but of domestic spending. DCMS also has oversight of the charity sector, which has been ravaged by this pandemic.

Across the DCMS space, this has been the hardest hit of any sector in the economy. It was among the first to close and is likely to be the last to reopen. Covid is almost designed to damage the sector because it relies on the close interaction of people.

Many DCMS businesses are incredibly complex and, in the past, have not relied heavily on Government support; they have just got on making money and employing millions of people. This means, though, that the Treasury is perhaps less familiar with the intricacies of their work than with other more regulated businesses and industries such as financial services. It also means, to be frank, that there is less knowledge about how best to support them as we recover.

Before the pandemic, Britain’s DCMS sectors were some of the fastest growing, with the creative industries growing at three times the rate of the UK economy as a whole. The creative industries alone contributed over £115 billion to the UK in 2019. That is equivalent to £315 million almost every day, which is a phenomenal contribution. We have world leadership in many of the sectors, including games, music—we have 9% of global music sales—and, as I will return to shortly, festivals and live music events. Covid-19 has meant that most of those sectors have been shuttered for almost a year, with several months yet before they are able to reopen under the Government’s road map. The Prime Minister’s road map set out dates that can now be the target for entertainers, producers, technical staff and audiences alike to get their shows back on the road, so to speak.

The DCMS sectors are estimated to account for over a fifth of the UK economy. Without the growth from those sectors, the UK economy would have been in recession for three of the last four years; yet DCMS spends less than 1% of total Government spending. Although it has some very fine Ministers and officials, it is still seen as somewhat of a Cinderella Department within Westminster. That should not be the case, because those sectors are crucial to our aspirations for global Britain.

Approximately one third of our creatives have been unable to access any Government support during the pandemic, apart from universal credit. It has been difficult for them to meet the rules of the Treasury support schemes due to the fact that they may not have enough evidence of past income to prove what they need. Those excluded are still excluded, and I have to say that many of them are in a very desperate state indeed today.

The culture recovery fund, which the Minister will no doubt refer to, was incredibly welcome, with its £1.57 billion for the arts, but that money was less than half what the sector said that it needed. The second tranche of money is coming to the end of its allocation while thousands of creative businesses remain unable to operate, whereas the tranche of money announced in December still has not been fully distributed. There are question marks over the pattern of distribution, which my Committee will raise with the Arts Council on 12 April. There is a feeling that perhaps those with the sharpest elbows—those with the biggest names—have benefited the most.

I am hopeful, though, that the welcome extra £300 million of investment into the culture recovery fund that was announced in the Budget will mean, effectively, that some of the harder-to-reach community organisations that may not have benefited from the first tranche of cash will be able to benefit in the months ahead. They will help to rebuild our cultural recovery from the ground floor up. It is, however, probably still not enough to see our world-leading arts through the pandemic and post-pandemic period. It is therefore vital that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport gets the recovery right, and continues to provide sector-specific tailored support to those industries, which must be given the support and certainty to reopen as it becomes safe to do so.

There are questions to be asked about the support that those sectors are getting from DCMS, and how best it ought to be directed. For many months the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been arguing for a number of measures, be it an extension of VAT relief so that companies are in a position to sell tickets and benefit from it, to the expansion of reinsurance schemes to cover live events, live performances and the music festival season.

It was a relief to see in the Budget last week that the Chancellor listened, and that an extension of the VAT cut has been announced. Undoubtedly, that will be the push needed over the summer for many of our hospitality and tourism businesses, which have suffered so greatly, but for cultural events and exhibitions alike that may not be enough. To benefit from the reduced rate, they must be able to sell tickets and, up to this point, events have not been happening.

For live events truly to survive this season, the reassurance of a Government-backed insurance scheme is key. It is estimated that a £650 million insurance scheme for live events would allow more than £2 billion of activity to go ahead. That is thousands of jobs across the country— 975 festivals. I know that everyone thinks of them as basically a bunch of kids in a muddy field in Glastonbury, but that is an outlier; we are talking about festivals of small, medium and large scale in all our constituencies across the country. We all know people who appreciate these cultural events—the way they feed into our cultural bloodstream and their vital importance to our way of life.

While there is any possibility of events being cancelled, the industry relies on Government-backed insurance. There is market failure; no one in the private sector is covering covid. The industry cannot survive without a second summer season in a row. It must be said that the live events sector, in which we are world leaders, is near vanishing point. I was pleased to see the extension of the film and TV production restart scheme, giving producers the confidence to return to production, yet the same confidence is key for live events to be able to survive.

At this juncture, I want to flag to the House an important matter that is increasingly coming to my attention. The uncertainty surrounding the live events sector and the increasing desperation of consumers to enjoy themselves once again is leading to the potential for real consumer detriment, with the sale of tickets for events that will not take place or have no possibility of taking place at full capacity.

I am increasingly getting reports of individuals who say that they are hosting a festival but have no permission to do so yet, yet they are selling tickets on the promise of live entertainment in the future. Even if they later have to cancel that festival, there is every chance that they will still make some money, because many people may not ask for their money back as a refund. I alert the House that, without the surety of an insurance scheme and getting everything in black and white, there is an opportunity for potentially less scrupulous individuals to make money out of our hopes and ambitions for a great summer.

That is without even looking into the tremendous knock-on effects on the local economies of places that play host to live events. As I referenced earlier, Glastonbury generates over £100 million for the south-west, but more generally, in all our constituencies, for every £10 spent on a live music ticket, £17 is spent in the local economy. Essentially, without the creative industries and live events, there will be no economic recovery from the pandemic.

The UK is poised to host COP26 later this year. The world will be watching on as we host that great event. It is key that we get the pilots up and running. The National Exhibition Centre, one of the largest organisers and hosts of events in the country, tells me that without the pilots—without ways of testing covid-security, access into events and the way they are organised, and without trying to get individuals re-involved in the supply chain—there is every chance that COP26 will be like the austerity games, the Olympic games post the second world war; they will not be the jamboree that the Prime Minister hopes for, because we do not have the wherewithal. We are losing muscle from these sectors, and we need to replenish it in short order. I therefore urge the Government to get a handle on this and to ensure that the pilots go ahead as quickly as possible—a date of May is mentioned to me as essential—to ensure success at the back end of the year.

The cultural and creative sectors are one of the UK’s greatest exports, but they do vital work in our communities too. Even among those institutions that will survive the pandemic, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, there is likely to be a reduction in outreach programmes. Similarly, with another significant underspend in the National Citizen Service, poor and minority ethnic children, already worst affected by the prolonged closure of schools, will be those worst affected by a lack of outreach programmes and access.

Social mobility stands to suffer significantly as the arts and performance struggle. In normal times, Britain’s cultural and creative sectors are world-beating, thriving growth sectors; without significant support in the recovery, the damage of covid-19 will scar these industries for years to come.

Finally, I wish to touch on EU visas. Creatives and those in all the parts of the sectors covered by DCMS, including the games industry, performance, music, theatre and cultural events, are frankly bemused at the current arrangement—or lack thereof—with our partners in the EU. In effect, the industry has had a no-deal Brexit. Many Members represent fishing constituencies and we have spent a lot of time and bandwidth talking about that; however, we did not settle the issue of access for our creative people, in respect of whom we had an economic advantage over the EU and with the EU prior to departure. That is a major oversight.

We now face the prospect of having to go to each country in turn to negotiate visa arrangements individually. As yet, we do not know precisely what our asks are, which I find quite incredible considering our huge balance of trade surplus in the creative sectors. We really must ensure that individuals are able to travel as freely as possible and to take their equipment with them through cabotage. After all, the sector is all about people. It is about some of our most creative people—people who represent Britain on the world stage and make our lives better. Although the Government have offered a lot of support over the past 12 months—I acknowledge that—we cannot take our eye off the ball now. More work needs to be done and we all need to put our shoulders to the wheel.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West 2:56 pm, 10th March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee, Julian Knight. Although we are on different political sides, those of us who serve on the Committee are in complete agreement on these issues.

Last week, when we debated the cultural and entertainment sectors, I made a few points on which I thought the Government could act in the Budget. The first related to the plight of freelance musicians, artists and others who have been excluded from the Chancellor’s criteria for support. I pointed out that in Wales some funds have been set aside for support, but that what we really needed was cross-UK action from the Chancellor. The Chancellor has done the very minimum in his Budget, by simply recognising that it has been so long for some of the excluded—that is, the newer self-employed—that they have now become eligible for the self-employment income support scheme. He has done nothing to support those excluded by his arbitrary criteria. He has decided that they are to be treated as second-class citizens. It is deliberate and unjust, and it will not be forgotten by musicians, artists and others who have been snubbed.

My second point was on the need to help to restart the live music sector with, as the Select Committee Chair said, a Government-backed insurance scheme. Our Committee wrote to the Chancellor to call for such a scheme and the response from the Government was a classic example of blinkered Treasury thinking. The insurance market cannot provide the cover needed for festivals because of covid uncertainty. The Government say that they have an irreversible plan for reopening; were they to underwrite a scheme, that would show confidence in not only live music but their own pronouncements. If their own words turned out to be true, they would never have to pay out anything.

Other countries have taken similar action, with much lower vaccine roll-out rates, and of course it is being done for film and television. For the want of a tent peg, many festivals will have to be collapsed this summer. That is the Chancellor’s second failure of policy and action. As the Select Committee Chair pointed out, there are now opportunities for the scammers and outlaw companies such as Viagogo to take advantage by once again ripping off people who want to buy tickets for events that might never happen and might never exist.

Thirdly, the Chancellor should have announced a scheme to ensure that musicians and artists could resume touring in EU countries. I note the launch of the “Carry on Touring” campaign’s website today. On social media today I saw the case of someone called Ed Lyon, a classical musician who has just spent six weeks and £945 to obtain a work permit for Belgium. Previously, in normal times, he could have just hopped on a train. The Chancellor is utterly complacent about the loss of export earnings to UK that this continuing fiasco will bring. Lord Frost is now his Cabinet colleague. Why has he not been told to do the job that he so abjectly failed to do in December when he delivered a no-deal Brexit for artists, musicians and their ancillary support industries?

This Budget, despite some investment, did not do nearly enough to save jobs and support growth in the creative industries—the sectors with the fastest growth potential. It has left freelance workers out in the cold, it has thrown a summer of music into a muddy field of uncertainty and it has closed the gate on touring for our creative artists and musicians. Far from doing “whatever it takes”, it has taken away the opportunity to create.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 3:00 pm, 10th March 2021

The Government have provided substantial support for the cultural, sporting and creative sectors since the start of the covid pandemic. This has been welcome but also essential, as many organisations within these sectors rely on revenue from tickets and events to survive. Through no fault of their own, they have been required to close, and the cultural recovery fund, in addition to the funding to support sports and TV and film production, has helped many important bodies to keep going that otherwise might have closed for good.

However, we now need to focus on the road ahead, through to the lifting of the covid social contact restrictions on 21 June and beyond. The coronavirus has challenged the whole of our society, but it has also exposed further weaknesses in sectors that in some cases we already knew about. The point has been well made about the need for pandemic insurance for the events industry. Events and live performances have already become incredibly important to the music sector, because the remuneration that artists get from on-demand streaming services is relatively low, but these events will not take place unless an insurance scheme can be put in place.

This is not just about events that could be held this summer; it needs to be done on an ongoing basis. It could be some time before the industry has any certainty, because new variants of covid might require further restrictions on the capacity of audiences and therefore restrict the viability of the event itself. Just as, several years ago, the Government partnered with the insurance industry to create Flood Re to minimise the risk of flood insurance and reduce the costs, we need a similar scheme to help to make insuring live events viable and reduce the cost to people putting on those events.

In football, the lack of a strong national governing body for the sport that is able to ensure fair dealing in financial matters has been badly exposed. Many football clubs were in great distress before the pandemic struck. Clubs in the championship division of the English football league were routinely spending more than they earned each year on players’ salaries alone, and were running a financially unsustainable model. There has been no real recognition of the impact of the covid restrictions on professional football. The money within the game has not been enough to solve all the problems, and the support that has been given is minimal. Many clubs continue to rack up large debts. At the moment, a lot of the football league is being run on unpaid taxes. It is believed that the amount of unpaid taxes owed to HMRC by football clubs could be in the hundreds of millions of pounds. We need a proper financial regulator for football to ensure that clubs are run on a sustainable basis for the long term, but in the short term we may need to look at how some sort of financial assistance can be given to those most in distress. Clubs outside the premier league are largely community assets, and they need to be run in a sustainable way.

I want to make two other points briefly. The last 12 months have exposed just how influential disinformation and hate speech on social media can be, particularly in relation to anti-vaccine campaigns to undermine confidence in the vaccine and spread conspiracy theories about the pandemic. It makes the bringing forward of the online harms Bill this year so important for the Department, and we must also ensure that there are proper resources for Ofcom, as the regulator, to ensure that there can be proper auditing and inspection of the way social media companies respond to campaigns of disinformation and hate speech, and other speech that can cause harm through social media networks. We have been talking about this for many years and I am glad that the Bill is coming, but it is also an imperative.

Finally, the pandemic has also had a big impact on the advertising industry and broadcasting revenues from advertising, just as other media have struggled with revenue from advertising. There is no guarantee that this money will bounce back, particularly as audiences are increasingly diverting their attention to online services—social media to receive news and on-demand platforms to view content. Increasingly, many people spend time not watching broadcast material at all, but playing games and doing other things online. This potentially undermines the public service broadcasting model in this country. I welcome the fact that we have the PSB review, but we need to understand that the long-term impacts of rising production costs for television due to the impact of Netflix and Amazon Prime and of declining advertising revenues because of switching audience attention are fundamentally changing the market, and if we have media that—

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitutional Affairs) 3:05 pm, 10th March 2021

Madam Deputy Speaker, first, can I refer you to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I do not think that my continuing association with the live entertainment industry represents any conflict of interest; rather, it gives me an insight into the trauma that this industry has faced during the pandemic.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am speaking to you from the great city of Edinburgh, whose name is synonymous with cultural creativity, and has been since the days of the Scottish enlightenment. In the modern era, the city has become host to the world’s pre-eminent arts festivals, and every August more than 2 million people congregate on the streets of Scotland’s capital to celebrate, participate and perform—every August until last August. The Edinburgh festivals, and the fringe in particular, are not only the largest platform in the world for Scottish talent, but the largest platform anywhere in the world for English talent, which is a reason by itself for DCMS to be extremely concerned about its future.

As we debate this matter this week, people are meeting in Edinburgh and beyond—venues and producers are meeting with city and national Government—to see whether it will be possible for the 2021 festivals to go ahead. They are grappling with a terrible dilemma. How on the one hand do we respect, maintain and protect public health in a situation where the virus is still transmitting in the community, while at the same time trying to stage events that, by their very nature, are about bringing people together and causing human interaction? We do not yet know what is going to happen in 2021, but we do know that most of the activity will be outdoors, and it will be considerably smaller and shorter-lasting than before.

We must see this not as a return to normal, but as one step towards a recovery that will take several years. That means that we need to press for a commitment from this Government in the medium term—not just for months, but for years. It would be churlish not to recognise the great efforts that have been made by the UK and Scottish Governments towards the sector, and that is widely acknowledged, but just because it has been good, that does not mean it cannot be better, and there are three things that the DCMS really ought to consider doing as a matter of priority.

The first thing is insurance. It is almost impossible now to get insurance against the cancellation of a live event because of covid-19. The Government should step in and either provide a scheme directly or underwrite one if they do want these events to go ahead, because producers simply cannot take the risk of committing vast sums of money to pre-production and planning.

Secondly, we need to continue business support not just for one year, but through at least until 2024. That means the Government must make funds available directly through funding in England and through consequential funding to the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The third thing we need DCMS to do is to be much more of a champion for this sector. We have heard already how this Department is very much the Cinderella of Government Departments. That has to stop, and we need people who will stand up for the sector and advocate for what is necessary. That applies in particular in relation to the Treasury, which is responsible for most of the direct wage support. We need to try to get through the tin ear of the Treasury and make sure that it responds to the very great gaps in support that particularly afflict this sector more than others. If we do that, then when we come back in a year’s time, we may still have a sector to be proud of. If we do not, it may be very much in jeopardy.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Conservative, Kingswood 3:09 pm, 10th March 2021

I want to begin by putting on record my thanks to the Department for its efforts during the pandemic. From my personal experience as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for museums, I know that the Minister for Digital and Culture, my hon. Friend Caroline Dinenage, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, and, indeed, the Secretary of State have made themselves readily available to discuss issues and concerns in the sector. I know that the National Museum Directors’ Council has felt able to raise issues and has found the Department to be a listening one.

The pandemic has meant that the Department has gone from being one of the Departments with the smallest budgets in Whitehall to effectively a delivery agency to keep our wonderful and important cultural institutions afloat. Without the culture recovery fund and other funds that the Department has allocated, I fear for the sustainability of our museums and vital cultural attractions. Clearly, there are issues about when museums, in particular, can open, and I urge that they are given the earliest opportunity to do so, as they have proven that they can be covid secure. However, I welcome the extension of the culture recovery fund to September, which will be a lifeline for organisations.

Financial support does not equal instant recovery. Restrictions will continue on income-generating activities for museums, and the lack of international tourism will affect museums well into 2022 if not into 2023. That will be the case, as has been mentioned, for all cultural events. Continued support from the Department will be needed to avoid closures and job losses.

If the Department is looking for additional policy ideas to enhance its already impressive levels of support, I want to put several on record. First, a sunset clause is approaching in April 2022 for the museums and galleries exhibition tax relief, which has been a huge enabler for the sector. I urge the Department gently to persuade the Treasury to extend the relief permanently. There is also the need to address underlying issues that were already in existence before the pandemic began, particularly the need for capital investment in museums that are in need of repair so that they can maintain their estates. The backlog is substantial. I request that the Department confirm as soon as possible when museums will receive money promised in the museums maintenance, estate and development fund, and whether this vital fund will continue into the next three years, as was originally planned before the pandemic began. It is vital that it does.

It is a truism that our past points the direction to our future, and this is equally true when it comes to recovering from the pandemic. We cannot afford to lose our unique and wonderful cultural heritage, which needs our help now. In return, it will be there for us in the future, both as institutions that can help level up local communities and as something that can assist our educational recovery. These are internationally renowned cultural centres that I believe we have a duty of care to protect and preserve for future generations.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 3:12 pm, 10th March 2021

Let me thank and congratulate the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan for how they have jointly championed the sector on a cross-party basis. They have raised the issues of the lack of support for freelancers, the touring threat as a result of Brexit, and insurance. I fully support them in that. I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to sit down with Equity, the trade union, to discuss a number of the issues, as the union has been developing solutions to them.

I am also a member of the PCS trade union parliamentary group. PCS represents members working in museums, the royal palaces, galleries and historical sites, and is now yet again faced with large numbers of job threats.

The Government have brought forward financial support, as we have heard, with £1.5 billion and an additional £400 million in the Budget, but as the Chair of the Select Committee has said, that is less than half what is needed. It is taking too long to arrive and too long to distribute, and as a result we heard this week that six out of 10 museums are fearful for their future. Charlotte Higgins, the chief culture writer for The Guardian, summed it up exactly right:

“the government has not exactly abandoned the arts so much as behaved in a hesitant, inconsistent and basically incompetent manner easily recognisable from its approach to Covid-19 as a whole.”

What we need now is a longer-term strategy, as a number of Members have said, because I am fearful.

Let us take the example of the National Gallery. PCS represents members there, and some of the services have been privatised. Securitas, the private company that provides security and front-of-house services at the National Gallery, has announced a 20% cut in staffing. Compulsory redundancies are not being ruled out, and this is an institution that has received Government support. That comes on top of redundancies that took place in 2019, when there was a restructuring. It is proposing the temporary closure of some of the rooms and putting an emphasis on paid exhibitions rather than free access. There is a view that when these cuts are rolled out, they will put the safety of the collection and visitors at risk.

What has also angered staff is that, as a result of the privatisation, it is the lowest-paid staff who are being laid off or having their pay cut, as well as a higher proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff. In addition, the National Gallery spending several million pounds on extensive refurbishment of the front entrance to the building is not going down well with staff or supporters. It has to be remembered that those staff who have been privatised receive only a quarter of what they would have received in redundancy pay if they were employed by the gallery. The union will oppose those cuts and seek to negotiate them—of course it will—but this emphasises the need for a longer-term strategy.

We have all acknowledged in the debate so far that the recovery in this sector will take longer than originally expected—it will take the next few years, if not longer—so there needs to be a longer-term plan. We urge the Secretary of State to bring together all the stakeholders in this sector with the trade unions and management of the galleries, museums and sites to ensure that we discuss what is really needed, plan the investment that is needed and its roll-out and distribution, and ensure that it goes as rapidly as possible to secure this sector, which does not just bring income to this country but improves the quality of all our lives.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury 3:17 pm, 10th March 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. To keep close to the subject matter and the departmental responsibilities, with apologies to culture, I will briefly touch on one digital issue, one media issue and one sport issue, each pertinent and potent to my constituents.

I turn first to digital and, in particular, broadband and mobile coverage. I welcome the Government’s up-front commitment to the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband across the country, not least the £5 billion pledged in the Conservative manifesto and set aside to cover at least 85% of the country by 2025. I remind the House that 1 gigabit is 1,000 megabits and—given the 12 megabits per second that me, my wife and my four children have been living with over the last year—that is a huge difference, not least for many in my rural communities, with the burgeoning economic, social and health benefits that have been amplified by covid.

For Eddisbury, which ranks 599th out of 650 constituencies for superfast broadband coverage and where 12% of residents receive downloads of less than 10 megabits per second, this is an ever more vital and significant infrastructure project and one that will be truly transformative. However, it is fair to say that there is some nervousness about the speed of delivery, borne out by looking through the spending review of 2020, the recent Budget and the supplementary estimates. Only £1.2 billion of the gigabit programme’s £5 billion budget is now allocated to subsidise its roll-out over the next four years, and there is an £83.6 million reduction for the rural gigabit connectivity in capital departmental expenditure limits. It is also the case that the rural gigabit voucher scheme is set to close on 31 March this year, although I understand that a new scheme from April is in the offing; perhaps the Minister would kindly confirm so in closing the debate.

It is clear to me from previous debates we have had in the House and discussions with the excellent Digital Minister, my hon. Friend Matt Warman, that the absolute necessity—ratcheted up and accelerated by covid—of a complete national gigabit infrastructure capability remains a real and pressing priority for both Government and industry. Any reaffirmation of that by the Minister at the Dispatch Box today, together with a renewed commitment to work alongside the telecoms industry to help remove any barriers preventing progress at pace, would be extremely helpful.

Secondly, on media and the BBC licence fee, the BBC announced in June 2019 that free licences for all over-75s would end from 1 June 2020, but implementation was delayed to 1 August last year thanks to the pandemic. In Eddisbury, over 5,700 households are affected; and nationally one in seven elderly households —or 814 in my constituency—have yet to make the necessary arrangements, meaning that they all remain at risk of sanctions. Clearly that is an absurd state of affairs, whereby if the new system does not resolve itself, it will accidentally criminalise a significant number of elderly people for literally doing nothing. Despite a strong case made by Lord Botham and others for the decriminalisation of such circumstances, it is a step that the Government are yet to take. I am sure they will return to it sooner rather than later.

Finally, I welcome the Government’s strong support for grassroots sport set out in the £300 million sport winter survival package. That has helped keep many community clubs afloat, but it is also a chance to build back better. To that end, I know the Minister is aware and very interested in advanced plans to build and open the first ever women’s and girls’ national football centre of excellence in Winsford to rival St George’s Park and help grow our grassroots sport for the generations to come. I hope support for that laudable project will feature, perhaps not in this estimates day, but in future ones.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:21 pm, 10th March 2021

Good afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the outset, as chairman of the gaps in support all-party parliamentary group, may I say how grateful I am to the Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for his support and help over the past weeks and months.

As others have pointed out, investing in culture will be part of the key to recovery in all other sectors. It is part of the way we live our lives in this country. As the Chairman of the Select Committee pointed out, live events were among the first to shut down because of the pandemic, and they will also sadly be the last to reopen.

Recently I have referred to the particular needs of our highland games. I and my party are calling for the Government to extend the 5% VAT cut to tickets for live events for up to three years. That is because so far live events, such as the highland games, have simply not been able to profit in any way from the VAT cut, because they have not been selling any tickets whatever. I hope that that will be looked upon with some favour and considered by the Government. That would be very helpful.

Sadly, I have learned today of the cancellation of yet another highland games. The Inverness highland games are not going to be held. It is worth pointing out that these events make a huge contribution to the Scottish economy. One of the downsides of my having become an MP is that I can no longer get away with masquerading as a French or German tourist and getting a free glass of Glenmorangie whisky in the tent at the Tain highland gathering, which is there for foreign visitors only. My face has become too well known. It does raise this point, which is that 25% of the people attending highland games all over Scotland are from countries outwith the UK. One can imagine the amount of money they bring into the UK. They make a very important contribution.

Changing tack to PAYE freelancers and the excluded, I welcome—it would be churlish not to—the culture recovery fund. That has been a good thing, but the reality is, as others have pointed out, that most freelancers have not worked at all in the cultural industry since March last year, so they have not benefited from the fund. As has been mentioned, Equity, the actors’ union, has a view on that. It says:

“40% of Equity members have not received a penny from the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme”,

and that is despite those same people being unable to claim through the job retention scheme.

As chair of the gaps in support APPG, I endorse Equity’s proposals that seek to support these people. One thing we could do is allow freelancers to make a claim based on total income—both trading and non-trading profits—to eliminate the 50:50 exclusion. Equally, I endorse the APPG’s proposal to implement an urgent stopgap grant of £7,500, or £2,500 for three months, under the self-employment income support scheme, to pay PAYE freelancers who have been excluded from Government support.

The fact is that, as has already been said, there is a question mark over the future of the Edinburgh festival, and I have long advocated some sort of Government support for insurance cover. It could be done—insurance cover for terrorism is already done—and I do hope that the Government will look favourably on that. At the end of the day, the Edinburgh festival fringe brings in £500 million in direct spending and a further £560 million in indirect spending to the Scottish economy, so what I say—I think we are all singing off the same sheet this afternoon—is that on the happy day that we get through the pandemic, let us celebrate, but let us also make sure that we have a culture industry that can help us celebrate.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 3:25 pm, 10th March 2021

I want to concentrate my remarks on the media industry, which was in crisis well before the pandemic hit. The fallout from covid-19 will only worsen the situation, unless adequate support and funding is secured. As it stands, sector-specific support for journalists and, in particular, freelancers is seriously lacking. The enormous power of the tech giants has destroyed the long-established news business model. In response, the National Union of Journalists has put together a news recovery plan, which consists of a raft of measures and interventions to ensure a pluralistic, diverse and vibrant news ecosystem. It sets out specific proposals for a levy on the tech giants based on the huge profits of these companies, which have increased vastly during the pandemic. That would fund public interest journalism.

I strongly encourage the Minister to engage with the National Union of Journalists on the proposals in its recovery plan, to ensure a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. The failure to tax excess profits of tech giants will directly impact professional journalism and result in the loss of uniquely valuable regional current affairs programmes such as the BBC’s “Inside Out” programme, broadcast in constituencies such as mine. To make matters worse, the poor funding settlement arising from the last royal charter review of the BBC is resulting in a loss of 550 jobs from BBC News. The BBC is the heart of the creative economy, and supports employment in the wider sector. Indeed, every £1 spent by the BBC generates an additional £2 in the wider economy.

In addition, the impact of the Government’s failure to honour their manifesto commitment to protect free TV licences for the over-75s has not only had a direct impact on the lives of tens of thousands of elderly and vulnerable people, but has had serious consequences for BBC budgets. The pandemic has further exposed the precarious nature of freelance work and the relative lack of protection for freelance journalists. Once again, I draw the Minister’s attention to the NUJ’s freelance charter, which sets out 10 specific proposals to secure a fair deal for freelancers. These include trade union collective bargaining to improve terms and conditions for freelance journalists and equalising rights with full-time employees, including sick pay, maternity pay, paternity and parental leave, unemployment benefits, and full access to benefits and social securities.

In conclusion, I urge Ministers to work constructively with the National Union of Journalists to ensure that those who are currently excluded have access to the support they need. I also echo the comments of other right hon. and hon. Members by praising and thanking the Chair of the Select Committee, Julian Knight, and his colleague, my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, who have been extremely helpful in their listening to the concerns of Members, and proffering advice and making representations to Ministers.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton 3:29 pm, 10th March 2021

This debate is very important, because the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is going to play a crucial and central role in our recovery from the pandemic.

Historically, the core funding for DCMS is humble compared to that for many other Departments. According to my very rough calculations, for every £1 that DCMS got for core funding in 2020-21, the Department of Health and Social Care received £64, and that is quite right. The same budget for health grows by some £8 billion a year, while DCMS only gets a £100 million annual uplift, and that is also quite right. We are all acutely aware of the importance of a robust and well-funded NHS, especially at a time like this, but we must remember where that money comes from, and DCMS is one of the biggest economic contributors. A well-funded NHS would be an impossibility without those contributions.

Of course, DCMS includes the creative industries, which contributed over £115 billion to the UK’s economy in 2019. That is equivalent to £315 million every day, or over £13.1 million an hour. As my hon. Friend Julian Knight told us last week, the UK would have been in recession for each of the last three years if it had not been for the creative industries, so DCMS and all its sectors are vital, and we need to ensure that the Department has all that it needs to help those important industries back on their feet after the pandemic.

A major part of the creative industries is, of course, the performing arts—in all its guises. It is not only cash that this sector brings in; it is also an extraordinarily formidable example of soft power. To put it simply, this country is a world leader in music, theatre, television, film and fashion. We promote the UK across the globe; we promote British values and sell British goods off the back of our cultural offer. We ignore it at our peril.

We are world leaders in sport. Cricket, football, yachting—all these and many more reach every corner of the world, and they need support. As I said in the recent debate on the cultural and economic sectors, the creative industries are facing total disaster during the pandemic and will need that support. That is the challenge that DCMS now faces. To elucidate this point further, last year Oxford Economics predicted a £77 billion turnover loss over the course of 2020 compared to 2019; that is minus 31%. Moreover, the industries are projecting a drop in employment of 122,000, despite the job retention scheme, and a further 287,000 job losses among self-employed workers compared to 2019 levels. This is potentially catastrophic, not only for the country as a whole, but for each and every one of those individuals losing a job. Although I have no doubt that the Department’s budget has been set in a way that reflects the challenge, I hope that the Ministers and the Chancellor will stand ready to provide further finance if it is needed.

But it is not all about finance; it is about underwriting insurance to give confidence to producers and organisers. That has been spoken about a good deal today, and it is terribly important. It is also about freedom of movement for musicians, actors and all their kit. There are easy wins here, and not necessarily with any financial strings attached. The Government should grasp this opportunity to demonstrate their serious support for the sector.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for theatre and vice-chair of the Royal Theatrical Fund, I know how hard this particular part of our cultural offer has been hit and how many are suffering at the moment, so let us support it and put it back where it belongs: leading the world and promoting the UK. Although I am happy to support these estimates, this funding must be a floor, not a ceiling, when it comes to helping the creative industries and the other DCMS sectors to recover, which will help the UK recover.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak 3:33 pm, 10th March 2021

It is time to think about how our sports and creative industries can help our post-pandemic recovery. Like other areas, the west midlands has been hammered by the pandemic. Our theatres, entertainment complexes and hospitality venues are on the verge of collapse. But Birmingham and west midlands residents are resilient people. That is why we are busy preparing for the Commonwealth games, hosting more than 70 teams from all around the Commonwealth, with a potential £1 billion boost to the local economy.

We are also developing the creative content hub at the Bond in Birmingham to enhance our film production facilities and digital games industry. But as many as 70% of the people who work in the creative industries are freelancers—the very people the Chancellor has consistently ignored throughout this crisis. The west midlands’ creative sector is braced for the loss of over 50,000 jobs in the aftermath of covid, so we will need more assistance.

It is not enough to be told that the culture recovery fund has been a success. Of course I welcome it, but there is little point in maintaining buildings if we lose the people who work in them. Ministers have to listen. They have to consider backing an insurance scheme to protect live music events, as others have said. They have to consider urgent action to address the barriers to creative workers travelling to Europe. We need opportunities for young people to break into the sector. How about apprenticeships in the creative industries and Government-supported scholarships for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are leaving care?

I welcome the funding the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund have allocated to support the wider cultural festival that will accompany the Commonwealth games. Birmingham Council is allocating £2 million to be shared across the city, so that ordinary Brummies can be part of the event. Would it not be a good idea if the Government were to build on such initiatives by establishing a sports legacy fund, to ensure that more young people are able to enjoy healthy sporting activities? With concern rising about mental health and an epidemic of knife crime, there has never been a better time to involve our youth in sport and cultural pursuits, but we are moving in the wrong direction. As the YMCA reports, budgets have suffered a cumulative cut of 60%, and 763 youth centres have closed. What has happened to the Government’s promise of a £500 million youth investment fund?

I hope we will see more support for initiatives such as community radio. Hope Radio, based in my constituency, is a not-for-profit organisation set up to help to reach the vulnerable and isolated. It gives out valuable and useful local information, and tackles some of the vaccine myths. I should point that that one in five people in the west midlands have no access to the internet, so community radio is vital. I hope the Government will continue to support FM licences for the station and perhaps give it a bit of funding.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire 3:37 pm, 10th March 2021

There are many important aspects to cover in this debate, including sport, the creative and performing arts, events, heritage and more, as the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Julian Knight, said, but in the four minutes I have available, I will talk about one: tourism.

Tourism is very important for my constituency, two thirds of which lies within the South Downs national park and which contains important heritage sites including Jane Austen’s house, the Watercress line and Gilbert White’s house, but it matters to all of us nationally, accounting for close to a tenth of the economy and jobs and being an important driver of export earnings. It is also one of the sectors that has been hit hardest by covid. I welcome all the support that has been set out by others, but now is the time to think boldly about the future and how we build back better.

We have been gifted a beautiful country, incredible cultural assets, and of course the English language, but we need to do more with them. There are multiple aspects to that work. There is a long tradition of building too much capacity at the top of the cycle and too little at the bottom. I would love to hear an update from the Government on plans for 130,000 more hotel rooms, as well as the plans for aviation capacity as markets recover. I would love to hear a national yield management plan that brings together leisure travel and travel for education purposes, business conferences and events, getting more from our cultural assets, extending the season and building shoulder periods.

Secondly, on skills and productivity, I very much welcome the focus in the sector deal on productivity and in particular the development of two T-levels—that central reform of technical and vocational education—in catering and in cultural, heritage and visitor attractions.

But today I want to talk mostly about marketing. I was so pleased to hear of the independent destination management organisation review. Many DMOs have been very hard hit by the pandemic, and those immediate problems must be addressed in this review, but I hope it goes much further. DMOs are, in the best cases, co-operating. They are also generally overlapping and sometimes actually competing with one another. We need to streamline the DMO network and the interaction of all parts of the public sector that have a role in promoting and facilitating tourism.

I very much welcome the success of the GREAT campaign, which has given a consistent message that we project across the world, but there is an issue about the volume of marketing. In a recent Select Committee meeting, we heard from VisitBritain that Australia spends more in China than we do internationally. We are outspent massively in key volume markets and we are not represented at all in some important developing markets. As we start to come out of this pandemic, source markets are going to be more competitive than ever. The term “investment” gets a bit over-used these days, but this really is about investment, with tangible, bankable and quite speedy returns to create jobs and support building back better. I therefore urge the Government to think further and think bigger about how they can invest in the growth of this powerhouse sector.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester 3:41 pm, 10th March 2021

I want to talk about the festival industry. The risks to events taking place this year revolve around uncertainty, even with the road map, a lack of working capital, and the ongoing absence of—much mentioned this afternoon—the insurance solution. Why does this matter? Well, it is a massive, successful, vibrant industry. There are an estimated 975 festivals in the UK each year. The sector generates £1.75 billion for the UK economy every year and supports some 85,000 jobs. According to UK Music, over 5 million people—our constituents—attended a festival in 2019, including me: Boomtown in my own constituency. As important as all the figures are, though, festivals are just good fun—remember when that was allowed?

So the Government’s road map was very welcome to our festival sector. As soon as we nearly had a vaccine, the industry was calling for a clear timeline outlining “no earlier than” dates, and step 4 clearly gives that to us. To be clear, festivals do not work with social distancing; it is just not possible. There is also the risk that they can safely go ahead this summer but the sector is not given enough time to prepare. The planning cycle is a critical factor. Festivals need an average lead time of six to eight months. The majority will make a call on their summer events in the first three months of this year, so right now is the moment. We have seen some take the plunge, such as Reading, Leeds and Boomtown, and others such as Glastonbury—with the heaviest of hearts, and breaking mine—call theirs off for a second year.

Let me touch on lack of working capital. Festivals clearly need the working capital to stage their event. It is true that some festival businesses have been helped by the excellent culture recovery fund, with very high stabilisation figures among recipients meaning that they will have sufficient funds to stage their events this year if they are allowed, but it is equally true, as shown by surveys among members of the Association of Independent Festivals, that 100% of those who applied to the fund and were not offered a grant do not have sufficient funds to stage their events. I say to the Minister that for round 2 of the CRF—I understand that we expect grants to be announced this month—we need the eligibility of festivals to be strongly recognised again and we need to help those who missed out in round 1. For many festivals without sufficient audience loyalty and brand equity to return beyond this year, if that happens, mothballing the event companies that they rely on for another year effectively means shutting down their operations, with a very real risk that they will not return.

A Government-backed insurance scheme is essential to the festival industry. I appreciate that insurance alone is not the sole barrier to kick-starting festivals, but organisers cannot enter into the usual planning for 2021 without an insurance solution. It is the key that unlocks this process. It is unfortunate that we have not yet managed to persuade the Government of the case for this. It is almost too late now for 2021, but I would like the Minister to make reference to the issue when he winds up.

This matters for all the reasons that I have touched on, but it matters right now when events, short of insurance, short of certainty and short of cash flow, are selling tickets to young people desperate for something to look forward to. We cannot have events—sometimes without a licence in place or even having contacted the safety advisory group of the respective local authority—selling tickets, often at £100-plus, on the promise of hope alone. That will do the vast majority of the industry no favours whatever, but in many ways it is a symptom of the situation that we are in.

Let us stick to the road map. Let us focus on the data and reward vaccine success with some fun this summer. With a fair wind, we may even—I know you look forward to this, Madam Deputy Speaker—see the return of Crouchfest. To borrow a phrase, that really would be back stronger.

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 3:45 pm, 10th March 2021

I am delighted to take part in this debate and to highlight the importance of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport investments in Stoke-on-Trent Central, supporting local organisations as we move to the covid-19 recovery phase. As many colleagues want to speak in this debate, I will keep my comments brief.

The culture recovery fund has already provided a lifeline for many local organisations and I will mention just a few. The Sugarmill, a small grassroots music venue, benefited from a £240,000 grant to keep it afloat. Such venues are the R&D arm of the music industry, giving those at the beginning of their careers the chance to be heard. From Coldplay to Kasabian, this Stoke venue has featured future stars.

The Clay Foundation delivers the British Ceramics Biennial festival and provides supported workshops across the city in care homes and schools. During lockdown it supplied packs of clay and tools to enable the young and the elderly to engage in creative activities which helped their wellbeing.

VAST Services received funding to look after the Dudson Museum on behalf of the family trust. This gave it the opportunity to develop digital tools, including a virtual tour on its website, and look at future income generation for this valued local heritage asset.

B-arts used the funding to sustain 80 freelance artists, commissioning work to keep people’s spirits up, sharing lived experience as well as delivering kits and worksheets to families, in addition to food from its waste food café during lockdown.

The Spode Museum Trust had no income during lock-down and the £20,000 DCMS grant brought the charity time to reflect while looking after the wellbeing of staff, volunteers and trustees. It looked at its audience and user markets, and used a kickstart grant to develop its website and start digitising artefacts. Online sales have provided new income and a deal with Portmeirion saw the Spode pattern produced on bone china, in the home of bone china, for the first time in many years.

Few cities are named after what they do. The Potteries are world leaders in ceramics and ceramic manufacturing, and Stoke-on-Trent has been at the heart of research and innovation for almost 300 years. The Spode site in my constituency is significant not as an historical relic, but as the focus for many creative businesses, charities, researchers, artists and innovators. The Spode works is the physical manifestation of what Stoke-on-Trent means: celebrating where we came from, talking about now and always looking forward; a place where we can stand on the past to get a better view of the future, and where arts and science are equally valued.

The common theme of these DCMS-funded projects is future-proofing our city by encouraging innovation and supporting creativity. Future funding will help to attract private investment and encourage talent and new opportunities, hopefully backed by levelling-up funding. It will enable the rebirth of this major symbol of Stoke-on-Trent’s past as a beacon for its future.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner 3:49 pm, 10th March 2021

I commence my remarks by praising the work that the BBC has done to support families and ensure that children have access to good-quality, advertising-free content during covid. All Members who are parents of young children will have appreciated the value of that, and many of us will have heard from our constituents that, at a time when access to good-quality learning, either online or through the television, radio and other forms of media, has sometimes been hard to come by, the BBC has done an absolutely fantastic job. At a time when there is often controversy about the BBC’s political news coverage, we need to recognise that benefit; a vast part of the corporation’s work is enormously valuable in supporting children and families, and it will be incredibly important not just during lockdown and covid but as we move towards education catch-up.

The second big positive is the investment that has ensured that local arts can continue to thrive. I have the privilege of representing Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, an outer London constituency, which, as well as having access to the west end—a national asset—has a number of thriving local arts centres, including Harrow Arts Centre, which benefited from direct funding, and the Compass theatre and Winston Churchill theatre and hall, which have benefited from the support of the local authority. The ability of these local arts venues not only to nurture talent, to be part of what is a great British economic success story, but to give people access to culture and the arts on their doorstep is incredibly important. The support that has been put in place by the Minister and the Department has been enormously valued by constituents. As we look towards recovery and opening up again, many artistes and organisations are delighted at the prospect of throwing their doors open again, putting on shows and exhibitions that have had to be deferred, and welcoming my constituents once more.

I will finish with a comment about youth work. The Department currently holds responsibility for the youth investment fund. Having spent many of my years as the councillor responsible for children and young people in the London borough of Hillingdon, which serves about two thirds of my constituency, I am very aware of the enrichment of young people’s lives that has been brought about by youth centres, the youth workers that local authorities employ, and those who come from organisations such as churches, charities and the uniformed sector, including the Scouts and the Guides. This creates amazing opportunities for young people that contribute to their later employability and enrich their lives and raise aspiration and opportunity. When we talk about levelling up, those things will be incredibly important.

As we look forward in this estimates day debate, I encourage the Minister to consider how we will ensure that those resources are properly applied. I ask that we give appropriate consideration to how we use the resources contained in that fund to support excellent frontline youth work, to enable local authorities to do the job that they do extremely well in supporting and engaging young people, and that we make sure that those resources are deployed in the light of local circumstances, so that those who know their communities best can ensure that they add the maximum value to the lives of young people in our areas.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North 3:52 pm, 10th March 2021

The spending of DCMS has provided vital financial support to cultural and sporting facilities throughout the pandemic, and the Chancellor’s recent Budget announcements will continue to support the sector in recovery and offer new opportunities and hope to communities such as mine in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington. The Met theatre, the East Lancs railway and the Lancashire Fusiliers museum have all received Government support, allowing them to continue their fantastic work, improving the social and economic life of Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington.

The announcement of a further £300 million to extend the culture recovery fund is most welcome and will allow cultural assets to be at the centre of the recovery from covid-19. This is the crucial point: sport, culture and heritage must be at the centre of our social and economic recovery. I speak as chair of the northern culture all-party group, and every city and town in my region has its own unique cultural offer. To take advantage of that, we need further national, regional and local investment.

I was therefore delighted with the Chancellor’s announcement of the £150 million community ownership fund. In Ramsbottom, the Co-op theatre has recently been listed by the Secretary of State. Built in the 1870s, it is one of only five in the country and still has its original interior fittings. That heritage asset has sat dormant for decades, but now, hopefully, through the efforts of local campaigners, a potential source of funding could safeguard the theatre for everyone. This Government investment would add a further layer to the deep cultural offer within Ramsbottom, which could help transform the town as we come out of restrictions, creating jobs, bringing visitors and investment to the area and improving life chances and opportunities. I hope that this type of national funding model in important community assets will be at the heart of DCMS funding going forward.

The DCMS should also take every opportunity to invest and harness the power of sport, both at grassroots and professional levels, so I welcome the sports recovery package announced in the Budget. The people of Bury, through no fault of their own, lost their professional football club, and its historic home Gigg Lane is currently dormant. Gigg Lane has, for more than 100 years, provided jobs, supported economic activity in the town and been central to Bury’s identity, and its sporting and cultural offer.

I am delighted that the Government have announced, through the community ownership fund, a means by which the site can be potentially bought for everyone in Bury. DCMS spending going forward must continue to support cultural assets, but be innovative in providing moneys for projects that unite communities. It should never be underestimated how central to the cultural, social and economic recovery of my town a thriving community-owned Gigg Lane would be. This would be the definition of building back better and levelling up.

DCMS has provided funding to enable the UK and Ireland to bid for the 2030 World cup. If successful, I truly hope that Gigg Lane will be in a position to host a match. What a cultural and sporting success story that would be both nationally and locally, and it would be testament to the moneys that this Government are investing now in the cultural and sporting sectors.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 3:56 pm, 10th March 2021

It is a privilege to speak in today’s debate, and I thank the Government for the support that they continue to give to our cultural and entertainment sector.

I am incredibly proud of Darlington’s amazing cultural sector and my constituents who work in it. From our rich railway heritage to our vibrant artistic community, we have it all. Indeed, we look forward to showing this to the team at Her Majesty’s Treasury.

Since Locomotion No. 1 first travelled across Skerne Bridge in 1825, an event commemorated on our nation’s £5 note, Darlington has been a busy, lively town that is recognised for its unique and distinctive cultural heritage. Today, we are home to a vibrant community of artistic excellence at sites such as the Forum Music Centre and the Hippodrome, which were awarded £106,000 and £1,000,000 respectively through the culture recovery fund. Darlington is also a safe home for culture, and, in 2020, was the first in the north-east to be awarded a purple flag, an international accreditation for excellence within the night-time economy—an accreditation that was renewed for 2021.

Sadly, Darlington’s cultural sector has been badly affected, with venues unable to operate for much of the past year, which is why I welcome the phenomenal support that has been provided by the DCMS to help protect Darlington’s cultural sector.

Throughout the pandemic, culture venues have been able to access unprecedented support through the coronavirus job retention scheme, self-employment income support scheme, Government-guaranteed business loans, lockdown grants and discretionary grants. These schemes have supported businesses and protected thousands of jobs. They are in addition to the Government’s tailored support package that made £1.57 billion available through the culture recovery fund—the single largest support package for the arts in our country’s history, accessed by 3,000 organisations and directly supporting 75,000 jobs.

Last week, the Chancellor increased the support available to the culture and arts, making a further £700 million available to combat the ongoing effects of coronavirus and to support our incredible arts, cultural and sporting sector as they reopen over the coming months. This means that the departmental expenditure limit for 2020-21 that we are debating today stands at a phenomenal £4.8 billion, which I and indeed the cultural sector of Darlington warmly welcome. I am proud to be supporting the Government today.

Perhaps the greatest support that we can now give the cultural sector is a clear reassurance that the recently announced road map is irreversible and that, from later this month, we can begin to unlock, I look forward to seeing Darlington’s cultural sector reopen and our theatres, museums and cinemas begin to fill up once again.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset 3:59 pm, 10th March 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I would like to thank the Minister and his colleagues very much for all the hard work they have been putting in so far.

It is brilliant news that the Government have allocated £5 billion to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I am particularly pleased that we will be able to see firm action to deal with some of the many difficulties we have had with broadband connectivity in rural Britain, particularly in rural West Dorset. The average download speed in West Dorset is 42.5 megabits per second, which is a little under half of the UK average. I could quote many statistics like that, but I know full well that the Minister and his colleagues have heard from me frequently about this issue, in order that we make more progress. We are dealing with a legacy of many larger businesses in this sector taking the commercial opportunity of focusing on the highest yielding areas and therefore focusing on urban areas. In many cases, that has meant a loss to those living in not just rural areas, but very rural areas, who are often in that 1%, 2% or 3% of the population who really struggle to get decent broadband.

I am working with and supporting Dorset Council very much with its broadband fibre spine programme. We need £6.5 million to deliver that. Dorset Council works hard and saves hard, which is why we are in a position locally in Dorset to fund two thirds of that. Today, I am making a plea to the Minister and his colleagues: please help us find the remaining third. It is 0.05% of that £5 billion budget. It is £2.54 million, which we in Dorset would hugely appreciate, because that will give us the turbocharge we need to get our local businesses on track, and make sure that we in rural Dorset recover properly and fully from coronavirus, which is what we need. I very much encourage the Minister to do this. I stand ready, with my colleagues in rural Dorset, to support him in whatever way we can. A few months ago, I described his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Matt Warman, as the knight in shining armour that we are waiting for in Dorset. I very much hope that today’s Minister will be able to join the cavalry and make sure that we get that £2.5 million to sort out Dorset fibre broadband.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South 4:02 pm, 10th March 2021

This estimates day debate is looking at the spending of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is often referred to as the “Ministry for Fun”. For people who make their living in these sectors, creating fun is a very serious business. Annually, the sector accounts for about £115 billion of revenue. The creative industries encompass the best and brightest of UK businesses, and these figures paint a very vibrant picture of creativity and talent in our country. This is a powerful export sector; the UK is highly regarded around the world and these businesses will play a key role in lifting the mood of the nation to aid the recovery.

Speaking from my experience as the chair of the all-party group on media, I am particularly grateful to the Secretary of State, the Minister for Media and Data, my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale, and the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, who is in his place, for willingly engaging and responding when I have raised issues with them over the past 12 months.

I wish to touch on digital, on media and on sport, and on how they impact my constituency. Let me start by welcoming the £16 million loan that has been provided to support rugby league, as 2021 is a particularly important year for the sport. This autumn, the UK will be hosting the rugby league world cup and towns such as Warrington will play host to international teams, giving fans a chance to back their national team. The financial benefits that the tournament will bring to the north will trickle into the wider community, helping hotels, restaurants and taxi firms in Warrington to recover. They are already starting to take bookings. I urge the Minister to continue to engage with the sport’s governing body.

There is no doubt that the Government have provided substantial support to TV production to allow the sector to restart making the TV shows that we all love to watch. The Government have also stepped in to support commercial radio and the newspaper sector with enhanced advertising campaigns, but there are other commercial sectors, particularly struggling cinemas for example. They will be some of the last businesses to reopen, and they have also lost the revenues from the pre-film ads.

In the ad creative production sector, the writers, producers and artists who appear in commercials have all been affected. I heard today from the Advertising Association that different sectors from the advertising world have had a 20% to 40% fall in their annual turnover. Local advertising revenues have been particularly badly hit, given the nature of that type of advertising and the fundamental change that is happening in the sector.

I will add a word of caution on the future impact of proposed legislation on products in the high in fat, salt and sugar sector, and the pace of implementation of legislation. I encourage Ministers to engage more with the sector, because the opportunity to use the media to change behaviour through positive campaigns is a better way of tackling obesity than just implementing a ban on advertising, which ultimately producers will seek to find a way round.

Better digital connectivity is fundamental for our economic growth and levelling up. I have been working with local residents and Openreach to develop a community fibre partnership, which will bring better broadband to around 100 homes in Higher Walton. I am keen to get new fibre cables in the ground in the coming weeks, so will the Minister confirm that the current scheme, which is due to finish at the end of March and which supports rural roll-out of fibre broadband, will be replaced so that the efforts can continue, because I have more projects to complete?

It is businesses in the digital, culture, media and sport sector that will help to drive our post-pandemic recovery. I encourage the Chancellor and the Secretary of State to continue to give the sector the serious support that it needs and deserves.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 4:06 pm, 10th March 2021

On 26 March, with my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke and the family, I will launch the campaign for a memorial to commemorate the wonderful Dame Vera Lynn together with Sir Paul McCartney, Katherine Jenkins and Sir Tim Rice. Funding will be by public subscription and donations, and it is planned that the memorial will be sited on the white cliffs of Dover.

There are some wonderful local charities that perform a vital service for our communities that deserve financial support, such as Age UK and the Music Man project in my constituency. I am, however, disappointed that the Chancellor’s Budget did not offer specific assistance to the sector, and I encourage the Department, which works closely with the Charity Commission, to resolve that. I thank the Minister for the support that he gave recently to the Showmen’s Guild and fairgrounds generally. I urge him to keep that up. Also, could he support our wonderful zoos and all the people involved in animal welfare and rescue generally?

I raised the issue of support for the events and creative industries only last week, but it is becoming increasingly relevant since the Chancellor’s Budget. There are still individuals, businesses, limited company directors and freelancers who are excluded and need financial support. Businesses in Southend look forward to welcoming tourists back to our town this summer. I very much welcome the decision to extend the VAT cut for the tourism and hospitality sector, and I hope that the Government will continue to support those businesses as they prepare to reopen.

Working from home has really highlighted to me how poor the internet is in my constituency. In our manifesto, we pledged for full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband for every home and business across the United Kingdom by 2025, so when will that come to Southend West? After the dreadful year that we had, the nation needs cheering up, and the best way that we can do that is to organise the city status competition and make Southend a city, so can we please get on with the announcement? I am very pleased that the Government are providing a further £300 million for the culture recovery fund. There are a number of fantastic cultural organisations in Southend, which I hope will benefit from this extension.

Oh dear. Southend United are not having a brilliant time at the moment; we languish at 23rd in the league, although—fingers crossed—I hope we beat Stevenage at the weekend. I hope that Southend West gets its fair share of the £300 million recovery package for professional sport and £25 million for grassroots football. I was one of the original pioneers of the national lottery, but we are always in the bottom 10 or 20, and last year we received only £59,000. That is ridiculous. Some £200 million was awarded; we are not getting our fair share in Southend West. The BBC continues to pay its stars—I use the term loosely—vast sums of money at a time when so many of my constituents are struggling with pay freezes or having lost their jobs. That is unacceptable. I urge the Department to bear that in mind when it comes to the next charter renewal.

Finally, Her Majesty the Queen is having a tough time at the moment. She has served her country so well for 70 years, and a statue would be a fitting tribute to our great monarch. Her grace, compassion and dedication to duty during her reign has made this country the envy of the world. Thank goodness we have a monarch rather than a president.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 4:11 pm, 10th March 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. The work of DCMS is wide-ranging, and I am conscious of the considerable support that it has given by way of covid recovery funding—both its first tranche and the money announced in the Budget—to a wide range of sectors. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I want to start by talking about the theatre and performing arts sector—not for the first time, and I make no apology for that. Not only do they contribute so much to our economy, but they also, of course, enrich our lives and entertain as well as broaden and inform. The work that has been done is significant, and I pay particular tribute to the money—some £435,500—that was made available to the Churchill theatre in my constituency, which has been valuable in keeping that much-loved and long-established institution going.

I am also conscious of the need for small-scale grants, and I pay tribute as well to Bromley Little theatre, which has just received a grant from the Theatres Trust to improve its ventilation so that it is able to open, in due course, in covid-compliant fashion. It is a community theatre run by volunteers, and it is amazing the way its members have kept online content, recorded in a socially distant fashion, up on its website to keep its enthusiastic audiences engaged with live theatre and the magic and value that that brings us. They deserve not only our thanks and praise but our practical support.

But of course there are still issues that need to be addressed. I have a significant number of constituents who work in the performing arts and related sectors, be they actors in the west end, sound technicians, set designers or theatre producers. As the Minister knows, many of them are freelancers—they are overwhelmingly self-employed—and, frankly, many have fallen through gaps in the support that is available.

I will cite just one example—a constituent of mine who has been a successful freelance theatre production manager for 30 years. Because his salary was over £50,000 on a self-employed basis, he has not been getting any support, whereas if he were salaried, he would be in a very different and more advantageous position. He does not have the option of being salaried; that is not the nature of the work that people in the creative sector do. I am not convinced that the Treasury understands that. The consequence is that this dedicated and successful professional has earned some £4,000 in the last year. It is not possible to expect people to carry on with their overheads in that situation, so I hope that we will look again at the way that this is dealt with.

I hope, too, that we can look at greater transparency in the way in which grants are awarded. They are very welcome, but I have an example of a business in my constituency that was rejected on diversity and cultural significance grounds by a panel, but no reasoning was given for the panel’s decision, and there is no means of appeal. One then comes across other businesses of exactly the same kind that have been successful. If we are going to continue with the support—and I very much welcome the fact that we are—it is all the more important that there is proper transparency.

Finally, I am using my internet connection to speak from Chislehurst, but the reality is that many parts of my constituency have a remarkably poor internet connection. Only 4.7% of my constituency has gigabit availability—the London average is 21%—but it is within 10 miles of London. Rolling out broadband has to be made a reality right across the country, including the suburbs.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 4:15 pm, 10th March 2021

I thank Julian Knight for securing the debate and Members across the House for their contributions so far. How we have all missed culture and sport, which are the very heartbeat of our national life and which have been put on ice by this grim pandemic. I know that other Members ache, like me, to hear the roar of a crowd at a gig, to sit lost in music at a concert, to explore again their favourite museums and galleries and, of course, to celebrate Scotland’s victory on 18 June over England in the Euros group stage.

Cheering alone will not heal the deep wounds inflicted on the sector by both covid and Brexit. The damage that has been done is deep. Research by Oxford Economics estimates that covid has led to a £74 billion revenue drop in this sector alone, and the Creative Industries Federation has warned that one fifth of the creative sector—that is more than 400,000 people—either have lost or are in immediate danger of losing their jobs. Few enter the arts because they want to be rich. They do it for love, but even for those who had solid careers before the pandemic, there have been sleepless nights wondering how the next bill will be paid.

The Department’s brief is broad, but as a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I have heard the evidence in recent months, and some key themes have emerged. Festivals—one of the UK’s most thriving sectors—are in crisis. Until the pandemic, festivals brought over £1 billion into our economy. They not only showcase domestic talent and make these islands a cultural beacon in the summer, but they employ half a million people. Scotland, as my hon. Friend Tommy Sheppard so eloquently highlighted, plays host to the largest arts festival in the world: the Edinburgh festival.

However, when the industry begged the UK Government to underwrite the insurance needed to plan gigs, concerts and festivals, it was denied. That was a key factor in the cancellation of Glastonbury festival, among others. Some festivals are going ahead this summer, but many festivals that could have gone ahead are not doing so. They could not take the risk without insurance, and they could not get insurance because of the pandemic. They needed Government intervention, but the UK Government turned their back.

Artists and musicians do not ask for much from Government, but they do expect that the Government will not work actively against them. Many will now be forced to change career, causing irreparable damage to the sector. That applies in particular to freelancers, who have slipped through the net, unable to fit the criteria for support. Equity, the actors’ union, has found that 40% of its members have received no help of any kind from the self-employment income support scheme.

The cultural sector has suffered the harshest economic blow from this pandemic, second only to those working in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Luckily for those living in Scotland, the Scottish Government at Holyrood have been able to pledge £30 million to mitigate the financial challenges for those who are unable to access the UK Government’s self-employment income support scheme, and in the current financial year they have committed to spending £177 million on investing in a diverse culture sector in Scotland—small comfort for those living in England, I know.

For many in the industry, there lies another long-term threat. I know that my friends on the Labour Benches are hesitant when it comes to talking about Brexit these days, and I understand why—after all, they voted for the disastrous Tory Brexit deal. However, Brexit’s impact on the sector will be not a one-off blow like the pandemic; rather, it will be a slow rot of our cultural institutions. It will come in the form of reduced funding for the arts; fewer opportunities to live, travel, work and learn in Europe; and a seeping insular mentality that is the very antithesis of cultural co-operation.

“Taking back control” was the Brexiteers’ cynical catchphrase; well, we have seen how much control the UK Government offer to artists. Last spring they could tour throughout Europe visa-free, but then the UK Government’s crack negotiating team got to work, and now orchestras, groups and soloists will have to pay €600 per member per night to play in Spain, and €500 in Italy—the price of a visa. Many have written to me to tell me that they have never earned that amount for a one-night gig, so they cannot afford to fork out a fortune for a visa.

When she appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently, the Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage seemed blithely unaware of any of the detail—the Marie Antoinette of Brexit—although she was able to tell us that no negotiations are going on with any of the EU countries to rescue artists from this mess. She did, however, promise that she was “straining every sinew”—doing what was not entirely clear. The DCMS seems to be the most toothless Department in Government, utterly incapable of scoring any victories against No. 10 philistinism on the European front. It is high time that those strained sinews delivered. We need urgent bilateral talks with European Governments to allow touring to resume there and artists to tour here as well. Those artists are the lifeblood of festivals.

Scotland voted to remain in Europe by a huge margin, and with independence we will rejoin, but until then we want to remain in cross-border cultural initiatives such as Creative Europe and Erasmus. Northern Ireland, protected by the Republic of Ireland, will remain in Erasmus; Scotland, undermined by Westminster, will not. Look at what we will lose. Creative Europe has been a critical funding stream for arts and culture organisations across these islands. Its media and culture programmes provided more than €100 million of direct funding to the UK over the past seven years. Erasmus has been a truly remarkable gift—what student would not want to be able to travel freely and study in 27 other countries? Now, our young people cannot access the scheme to travel throughout the EU and EU students cannot travel here—yet more Brexit insularity. Of course, mid oven-ready turkey roast, the Prime Minister promised us that there would be “no threat” to the UK’s participation in the Erasmus scheme. He guaranteed that we would remain in it. If only he had put it on the side of a bus, we would all be safe, all would have been well and the promise would have been honoured.

When she appeared before the DCMS Committee, I asked the Minister for Digital and Culture whether she would do her utmost to support Scotland’s continued participation in Erasmus and deliver for Scotland what the Dáil in Ireland has delivered for Northern Ireland. Her answer? She said, “I really cannot comment”. If we are to be dragged out of these cross-border cultural initiatives against our will, the very least that the UK Government can do is to provide adequate alternatives. Intercultural relations and student exchanges are about much more than money, and the role of the arts and culture in securing and maintaining the long peace in Europe is significant and irrefutable.

We are here today to talk about money, yet we have heard nothing from DCMS of what will replace Creative Europe’s culture programme. The Department’s screen fund is worth only half its European predecessor. It is clear that the screen industry is being short-changed by Brexit. What about the UK’s promised replacement for Erasmus, the Turing scheme? As the Member who introduced the Turing Bill—the Sexual Offences (Pardons Etc.) Bill—with promised Government backing, only to see Tory Ministers filibuster it, I am surprised that the Prime Minister has the gall to use Alan Turing’s name, but then I could say, “I am surprised that the Prime Minister has the gall” and apply it to countless situations. Let us just say that the Turing scheme would be better called the “mirage” scheme: it is scarcely visible on the horizon and I am not convinced that we will ever get there.

We all know that the work of this Department extends beyond culture and sport, with digital being an important factor in our increasingly online world. We know that the gigabit roll-out is not the only building work the Prime Minister is undertaking, but, sadly, Tory donors will not be paying for this one. The pandemic has shown how essential good broadband is for so many people across the country. The 2019 Tory manifesto managed to shave eight years from the previous gigabit commitment of Mrs May, promising the electorate the utterly undeliverable. They later reduced the target from 100% full fibre to 85% with gigabit capable broadband, adding digital infrastructure to the long list of over-promising and under-delivering by the Government.

This has been a uniquely challenging year for all sectors within the Department. The actions needed for recovery are clear, and I would urge the Minister to heed them.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 4:25 pm, 10th March 2021

I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in the debate so far, particularly my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, my right hon. Friend John McDonnell, and my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame Morris) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). Let me praise the Chair of the Select Committee, Julian Knight—he is a Chester lad, of course—for his introduction, which I thought touched on so many of the issues.

We have heard from Members across the House that the creative, culture and tourist industries have been some of the worst hit by the pandemic. Tourism and the rich cultural scene that Britain has to offer will be a crucial part not only of our economic recovery, but of the recovery of our mental health and wellbeing, yet the Government have still failed to meet their promise to do “whatever it takes” to support these sectors fully. Throughout the pandemic, this Government have been the masters of self-promotion, with grand announcements that in reality fall short of the supply needed or of what was initially promised. Too often the funds allocated have not reached the businesses or people that need them the most. The Chair of the Select Committee hinted that his Committee might be looking at that in future.

There are some aspects of the Government’s support schemes that we welcomed. For example, we welcomed efforts to support the print media through Government advertising, even if the adverts themselves were too party political, often featuring pictures of the Chancellor —no surprise there—and even if not enough effort was made to get the financial support through to smaller, local and independent news outlets. Similarly, we welcomed support for the commercial radio stations during the pandemic, which also saw advertising revenues collapse. Again, more of that money might have gone to the genuine independent local stations, but we will not be too critical.

We know, for example, that the Government’s insurance support scheme has assisted film and TV production to get back under way, and we welcome that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West talked about insurance for live music, and he was echoed by the hon. Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Winchester (Steve Brine), who talked about festivals. Again, I pay tribute to the Minister for Media and Data, who is not in his place today, for his work, both when he was out of government and now back in office, on journalistic freedom and the protection of journalists. It is just a shame that the Prime Minister and other Ministers have spoken so disparagingly of journalists in recent weeks.

Of course, we welcome the culture recovery fund as far as it goes, with the usual criticism that by and large it supports buildings, not people. Did you notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, how last week’s CRF announcement, preceding the Budget of course—let us face it, most of the Budget preceded the actual Budget announcement—included a whole host of endorsements from leading institutions in the cultural sector? Surely each one was entirely spontaneous! Surely they were not all co-ordinated by Tory Ministers! It was almost as if these institutions had been lined up and told to sign off and provide a supportive quote in order to get the CRF money from the Government and the Chancellor, because for him it is all in the presentation.

Talking of presentation, last week my hon. Friend Alison McGovern remarked on the Chancellor’s commitments to the creative sector in a notable contribution reflecting on his talents for self-promotion, and who could blame the Chancellor for wanting to hide reality behind flash presentation when that reality is a miserable, below-inflation, 1% pay rise for NHS nurses? Today, we can add another artistic string to the Chancellor’s bow—acting. His Oscar-winning performance clapping for the NHS outside 11 Downing Street may have hoodwinked many at the time, but the reality is now out in the open. It was all for show, and no BAFTA-winning acting performance will cover up such a level of misdirection and misappropriation. People are seeing through it.

Of course, the extension to the culture recovery fund is welcome. However, we must remember that these sectors are not just heritage buildings and historic theatres; behind each building, there are hundreds of jobs that need saving, and some of these individuals have not seen any income since the beginning of the pandemic. I spoke recently to one BAFTA-winning filmmaker who, in her own words, was ready to “throw in the towel” and leave the sector because of a lack of income.

Almost a year on from the beginning of the first national lockdown, and even with the Government’s slight adjustment from the Budget last week, millions of self-employed people across the country remain excluded from any Government support schemes. A big number of them work within the creative sectors. That is a whole year without the work that they love; a year of uncertainty and struggles with mental health; a year of not knowing what, or when, their next job is going to be; and a year of being ignored by the Government. Hon. Members across the House have referred to this in today’s debate, including the Chair of the Select Committee, Sir Robert Neill.

I commend the freelancers’ charter and the news recovery plan, both produced by the National Union of Journalists, and ask that Ministers take on board what the NUJ has proposed; my hon. Friend the Member for Easington made reference to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West talked about the importance of supporting freelance musicians, and my right hon. Friend John McDonnell referred to the work that Equity has done on supporting actors in getting back to work.

Britain has some of the best culture and tourism that the world has to offer. We need the creative and cultural sector to recover and grow our economy. As a whole, DCMS businesses, excluding tourism, contributed £224 billion to the UK in 2018. A s Giles Watling said, we would not have an NHS without our cultural funds, which make up 12% of the economy. Creative businesses’ exports are worth £36 billion worldwide, up 7.5% on the previous year, meaning that growth is five times that of the British economy as a whole. More importantly, after we have been starved of so much of what the creative industries have to offer for over a year, the creative sector will be a big part of the recovery of the nation’s wellbeing.

There is nothing in these estimates to make up for the terrible Brexit deal that the Government have imposed on the cultural sectors. I am going to have to contradict my good friend, the spokesman for the SNP, John Nicolson: I am quite happy to talk about the Government’s failures on their own Brexit deal. With that disastrous deal, the Government have all but curtailed touring in the EU by UK performers and artists and their support crews, and likewise for EU artists and performers who want to come here, as the Chair of the Select Committee referred to. It reduces our artists’ opportunity to work and earn abroad, and it also reduces the chance to promote British artistic values and achievement abroad, but it seems this Government care nothing for promoting Britain and British culture abroad. As is always the case with the Government, it is hard-line, crackpot Brexit ideology first, everything else second, regardless of the human and economic cost—mislead the British public and try, as usual, to blame the EU for everything. The British public are starting to see through their failings and half-truths as the reality of the hard Brexit—or, as some hon. Members suggested, no-deal Brexit—in the creative sectors starts to bite. As the pandemic eases, that awful reality will become only more evident.

The Minister has been personally supportive when he has engaged with me on sporting matters relating to my constituency. Other hon. Members have also said that they have been able to engage with him, and I pay tribute to him for that. Of course, we are still waiting for the much-promised fan-led review of football, and we want to see the national plan for wellbeing, including participation in sport. As we come out of the pandemic, we need to fast-track measures to get people involved in grassroots sport for their physical and mental health, as my hon. Friend Steve McCabe has referred to.

On digital, we know that the Government are lagging behind in their efforts to roll out fibre broadband. Ofcom has reported that adults are spending an average of four hours a day online, the highest number on record, and the number of adults using video calling software has doubled—don’t we all know it, Madam Deputy Speaker? Hon. Members from across the House have talked about the lack of decent broadband in their areas: Chris Loder, whose constituency is in a rural area, Sir David Amess, and my next-door neighbour Edward Timpson, who knows rural Cheshire very well, have all mentioned this issue.

The shift online has emphasised the digital divide that exists in our country, which is not just geographic. There are 1.9 million households with no access to the internet, and tens of millions more reliant on pay-as-you-go services to make calls and access healthcare, education and benefits online. This divide has led to children having to do their homework in fast food restaurants in order to access wi-fi, and parents having to choose between buying data or food. Meanwhile, we await the Government’s online safety Bill, which still will not tackle the dominance of big tech companies. We have seen the Secretary of State being pushed around by Sir Nick Clegg and Facebook, refusing to include a firm commitment to director-level responsibility in the online safety Bill and then, like a playground weakling, only piling in against big tech when most of the hard work to challenge the power of online media had already been done by Australia. There is still no commitment to work with Governments across the world to rein in this antidemocratic transnational force, which also damages our domestic media, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington suggested.

Charities have suffered greatly during the pandemic. The charity deficit for this financial year is expected to exceed £10 billion, with the sector predicting 60,000 job losses. Despite a funding package announced last April, many in the sector are still struggling, with the second lockdown likely to hit fundraising opportunities. Charities deliver so many of our public services and they must be supported while restrictions continue, but it seems that the only interest that the Government have in our charitable sector is as a mechanism for the Prime Minister getting somebody else to pay for his new kitchen and wallpaper.

Talking of charities, let us not forget Age Concern’s advice about loneliness being exacerbated by the Government’s decision to remove the free TV licence for the over-75s. The Government are still hiding behind the BBC, too craven and dishonest to stand up and justify their own policy. But they are responsible for removing the TV licences, not the BBC. I had hoped that there would be something in the Budget and in these estimates to make good this Tory betrayal of pensioners, but sadly not.

Throughout the pandemic, there seems to be a clear pattern emerging of big announcements and promises of funding that for one reason or another does not reach the businesses or the people that need it. Making announcements is not enough to save the cultural and creative businesses, especially the many self-employed and freelance people who work in our cultural economy, as hon. Members across the House have mentioned in the debate.

Although the extensions and promises of funding are welcome, the Government must look at this again to ensure that DCMS businesses and people in those sectors are properly supported. Without them, our recovery from the pandemic will be very bleak. People want life after the pandemic, and that life is provided by the creative and cultural sector. Let us hope that it is still there to breathe life back into our society when we put the pandemic behind us.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 4:36 pm, 10th March 2021

It is a pleasure to respond on the Government’s behalf to this important debate, which comes at the end of a hugely challenging year for all the sectors mentioned today.

I thank my hon. Friend Julian Knight for securing the debate, and pay tribute to him and the members of the Select Committee, from all parties, for conducting the review that forms the basis of the debate and provides such informed evidence and recommendations. I appreciate, even if I do not completely agree with, the comments made by Christian Matheson, with whom I spent many years on the Select Committee. I have many fond memories of that, and I absolutely understand the passion Committee members have for these sectors, which is shared across the House. We have seen that today.

The passion shown today is a demonstration of how important the digital, culture, media and sports sectors are, not just for our economy and our heritage, but for our wellbeing as a nation. At a time of incredible hardship for many, so often a book, music, a sports game or a TV programme has provided some welcome respite from the destruction and disruption caused by the pandemic. We have heard passionate speeches today from hon. Members on both sides of the House highlighting what we already know: that as well as making a huge economic contribution, DCMS sectors enrich our lives and make them more fulfilling. In many ways, they make life worth living, and we should never forget that.

Many Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Clacton (Giles Watling) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter), have highlighted the vast contribution DCMS sectors make to the economy, with £116 billion from the creative industries, £75 billion from tourism and £151 billion from digital, and the millions of jobs sustained by those sectors. Before I discuss the sector-specific support, I will touch on the pan-economic and multi-sector schemes that have illustrated the Government’s resolve to do whatever it takes to see organisations and businesses through the pandemic.

As many hon. Members have highlighted, the Chancellor, in his Budget speech last week, announced the extension of the furlough scheme until the end of September, which is hugely welcomed across our DCMS sectors and will help to not only secure jobs but enable planning and reopening. Our sectors have many self-employed people and freelancers, as many hon. Members have mentioned today. I am keenly aware of the financial need in which many have found themselves. The Chancellor extended the self-employment income support scheme, and an additional 600,000 people can now access this support, on top of the 67% of the self-employed who have already received assistance. More than 70,000 freelancers in the arts and entertainment sector have received money via this scheme. In addition, Arts Council England has awarded £51 million to thousands of individuals needing support.

Let me turn to other measures. There is obviously the new recovery loan scheme to replace the existing schemes, and the Budget included an enhanced support package for leisure and hospitality businesses that must remain closed until step 3, with restart grants worth up to £18,000 per premises. The Chancellor also announced that the business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England has been extended by an additional three months, and the Government have extended the temporary 5% reduced rate of VAT on hospitality and tourism. This VAT cut alone is forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to be worth about £4.7 billion for hospitality, tourism and visitor attractions.

Many Members, including my hon. Friend Sir David Amess, my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds, the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), and many others, have mentioned tourism. The tourism sector has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. It has therefore, quite rightly, particularly benefited from the pan-economy measures such as the furlough scheme and loan scheme, as well as being targeted for grant support, business rates relief, VAT reduction and so on—and justifiably so, as tourism is a major UK industry.

Inbound tourism is one of our biggest export earners, contributing over £75 billion in GVA to the economy and sustaining millions of jobs. Over the last year, we estimate that over £25 billion has been spent on supporting tourism, hospitality and leisure through a combination of grants, loans and tax breaks. This level of investment demonstrates the huge value that these sectors provide—not only to our economy, but to our quality of life.

As Tourism Minister, I am keenly aware just how much people are looking forward to taking a holiday and visiting some of our world-class and world-famous visitor attractions—including myself. By “including myself”, I mean that I look forward to visiting the attractions, rather than that I am a world-class visitor attraction, as much as I would appreciate that! In the spring, we will go further by publishing a tourism recovery plan that sets out our ambitious vision for the sector. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire, and we will work with colleagues across the House.

In have spoken about the £65 billion of measures announced on top of the £353 billion announced last week. Let me now focus on some sector-specific measures. Many hon. Members have mentioned the culture recovery fund, and I appreciate that many Opposition Members have welcomed that. Over £1 billion of culture recovery fund money has already been allocated to over 3,800 arts, heritage and cultural organisations up and down the country, helping to support 75,000 jobs. That is important.

We have heard a little bit of a tone today that it is all about protecting buildings; far from it. The money is being spent to sustain jobs and to help, in many areas, quite niche skills that are otherwise in danger of disappearing. My hon. Friends the Members for Clacton, for Darlington (Peter Gibson), for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), my right hon. Friend Chris Skidmore and others have highlighted this. For example, £170 million has been awarded to over 690 music organisations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South mentioned, more than 200 independent cinemas have received money, from Penrith to Penzance. Many museums have also received money.

Although the exact scope for the CRF extension is yet to be announced, as with the original fund, the money will go to heritage and cultural organisations that require support to transition back to operating fully. It is absolutely the intention that entities that perhaps have not received money so far should and could be eligible for further CRF money.

Many hon. Members have mentioned film and TV. As a result of Government support—most notably, the £500 million film and tv restart scheme—this sector has bounced back, with a production spend this quarter of £2.8 billion, which is the second highest on record. The Chancellor announced an extension of this scheme to 31 December 2021.

Many hon. Members also mentioned visiting a museum, watching a play, listening to live music and, indeed, going to a live event, which we are all looking forward to doing again. With regard to the events industry, including the music events industry, we are in regular dialogue with the sector and all stakeholders. We are looking to resume these events as part of step 4 of the road map. As set out in the road map, the events research programme will explore when and how music festivals and other events can return without social distancing and restrictive capacity capped. Subject to the outcome of that work, and other reviews, we hope to set out how festivals and other large events can safely go ahead with appropriate mitigations in place. I know that this is a particular passion of my hon. Friend Steve Brine and many others.

A related issue was then raised by many hon. Members about insurance. We are very aware of the concerns that have been raised about the challenges of securing indemnity cover for live events, and my officials have been working closely with the affected sectors to understand all barriers to reopening, including, of course, challenges around indemnity cover and insurance. The bar for considering Government intervention is extremely high, especially in the light of other support measures, including the extension of the furlough scheme and other business support. None the less, I certainly hear what hon. Members are saying today and so do others.

Sport was mentioned by many hon. Members, including, as always, my hon. Friends the Members for Bury North (James Daly), for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) and for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). We know that sport and physical activity are crucial to our mental and physical health. That is why we have continued to make sure that people can exercise throughout the national restrictions and that grassroots and children’s sport are absolutely at the front of the queue when easing begins later this month. As well as ensuring that restrictions allow for people to take regular exercise, central to our efforts to help sport has been the £300 million sports winter survival package, which was extended in an additional announcement just last week. That is on top of £220 million funding provided by Sport England, which, again, has been widely distributed.

Hon. Members mentioned many more topics today, but I am afraid that time does not permit me to answer all of them, much as I would love to. None the less, I really appreciate the volume and variety of comments today. Broadband was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Chris Loder), for Eddisbury and others. I can assure Members of this House that they are, indeed, doughty campaigners for their constituents who constantly lobby not only the knight in shining armour, as I think the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Matt Warman was called, but many others. The Government want to become a world leader in connectivity and increase the UK’s productivity and competitiveness by doing so. We have set ambitious targets for gigabit-capable broadband, and, of course, we will continue with other measures.

Superfast broadband coverage has already reached 97%—one of the highest numbers in Europe. By the end of 2021, we expect that more than half the country will be connected to gigabit-capable networks. By 2025, the Government are targeting a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage, but will seek to accelerate that further and get as close to 100% as possible.

Touring was mentioned by many colleagues. It is important to say that British artists can still tour and perform in the EU, but we pushed for more ambitious arrangements for artists to be able to work across Europe. Our proposals would have allowed artists to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily without needing work permits, but these were developed in consultation with the UK’s creative industries and were rejected by the EU. We are now working urgently across Government and in collaboration with the creative industries, including through a new working group, to help address these issues so that touring in Europe can resume as soon as possible.

In conclusion, I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that I cannot wait to have our theatres, our sports, our events, our festivals—quite frankly, life as we knew it—back; as soon as possible. As the Chancellor told the House last week, the Government stand ready to do whatever it takes to help the country and our economy to recover from the disruption of coronavirus.

The Select Committee’s report was a welcome and constructive contribution to that debate. Indeed, this debate has also been extremely constructive. We will continue to use the data and information provided by stakeholders and many of us to shape our approach to providing assistance to the hugely important DCMS sectors and to help them plan for reopening as soon as it is safe to do so, which, thankfully, will be very soon.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation 4:49 pm, 10th March 2021

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. We have seen, writ large, the vital role that DCMS sectors play in all our constituencies the length and breadth of the country. I thank the Minister for his warm words, and for his ongoing commitment and that of his fellow Ministers and their advisers. I wish, however, that there was Treasury representation right now on the Treasury Bench, because, as we all know, and as has been highlighted by my Committee, DCMS is the most beholden of all Departments to the Treasury.

Obviously, the cultural recovery fund is very welcome, but the time for backslapping has now stopped—we need to refocus. Insurance will allow our live events to trade, not aid. The Minister made reference to the film and TV recovery plan and the insurance there, which, for me, is an example of why this is needed. We need pilots up and running for live events in double-quick time, and we need a root-and-branch review of tourism, as outlined, but with proper investment to follow. We need to get on and negotiate with our partners across the EU on EU visa arrangements and access for our creative industries. There is really no time to lose.

Above all else today, we need to understand a very simple thing: the DCMS sectors, and those who work within them, are not mendicants, forever holding out their hands; they are entrepreneurial and they are actually what we do best.

Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I will briefly suspend the House for three minutes in order that arrangements can be made for the next debate.

Sitting suspended.