Covid-19: Economy - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:09 pm on 4th June 2020.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:09 pm, 4th June 2020

My Lords, like others, I want to highlight the plight of the live performing arts. In doing so, I declare my interest as deputy chair of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

As some parts of the creative industries prepare to come tentatively back to life—film and television and some museums and galleries—organisations whose income depends entirely on audiences being physically present in their theatres or concert halls are facing the reality of being unable to resume anything approaching normal levels of activity before next spring. Most have found ingenious ways of presenting their work online and many are contributing significantly to home-schooling resources.

Sadly, however, all this rich creativity does not pay the bills; only audiences buying tickets for live events do that, and there is no economically viable way to practice social distancing inside a live performance venue. As has already been said, some important organisations, such as the Nuffield theatre in Southampton, have already gone into administration. Many others may follow, as the furlough scheme and other government support is withdrawn.

It would be easy to imagine that, while sad, these potential losses are not economically significant. That would be a mistake. Figures for 2018 from UK Theatre show that audiences totalled 34 million that year and that ticket sales were £1.28 billion, and that is before all the ancillary businesses that depend on theatre, such as hotels and restaurants, et cetera, are counted in. For example, the RSC is the second-largest employer in Stratford-upon-Avon and is worth tens of millions of pounds every year to the local economy. Its current absence is keenly felt. UK theatre is also a hugely important export and contributor to UK soft power. Will the Minister impress upon his colleagues this sector’s urgent need for targeted help before it is too late?

This is personal for me: theatre and music have been my entire professional life. I cannot be dispassionate, and none of us should be. As the song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.