Cultural Attractions: Contribution to Local Economy — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 2:30 pm, 6th October 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the contribution of theatres, live music venues and other cultural attractions to the local economy.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and I am delighted to have been able to secure this, my first lead Westminster Hall debate, on such an important topic. As the covid pandemic continues to threaten people’s health and livelihoods, hon. Members across the House have rightly been highlighting sectors of the economy that remain at particular risk. I applied for this debate to highlight one such sector—arts and culture. In March, theatres closed their doors. Gig venues and clubs across the country turned off their sound systems, and museums and galleries turned off the lights. Some have reopened, with social distancing measures and other restrictions in place. Many in my own constituency, including the commercial theatres, remain unable to reopen because of the simple fact that it is not financially viable to operate within current restrictions. I hope that over the course of the debate, other hon. Members and I will be able to convince the Government and the public of the reasons why those businesses are vital to our communities and worthy of ongoing support.

I am keen for other hon. Members to play their part in the debate, as I am acutely aware that when I speak on these issues, representing the Cities of London and Westminster, I am often—and easily—accused of being London-centric. I hope, however, that through our contributions we will be able to show that the arts and cultural sector contributes massively to local economies up and down the country. I am incredibly proud of the vibrant arts and culture offer in my constituency, from theatreland to iconic live music venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, the 100 Club and Heaven, as well as the Barbican centre, the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum.

I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I reel off some statistics to support the argument that arts and culture are vital to the economy. In 2019, 18,000 performances across west end theatres attracted more than 15 million audience members, providing a gross revenue of £800 million. In 2018, the gross value added of arts, museums and galleries in the west end alone was more than £1 billion. It is estimated that across London there are 97,000 jobs in music, performance and visual arts, and more than 17,000 in museums, galleries and libraries. VisitBritain research suggests that a quarter of tourists who come to London come specifically for its cultural offer. Those statistics show, I hope, the direct impact of the arts and culture in supporting the wider local economy. Modelling shows that for every £1 spent in theatres, for example, £5 is spent in the wider local economy—in bars, restaurants and shops.

Theatres, live music and cultural venues play a vital role in the ecosystem of the west end, and it is the same across the UK. Figures provided by UK Music suggest that every £10 spent on a ticket for a live music venue is worth £17 to the local economy. One Ed Sheeran gig in Ipswich last year brought in £58 for every £1 spent by the council to put on the concert. The net value to the local economy was more than £9 million.

What impact has covid-19 had, and what impact will it continue to have? The Heart of London Business Alliance, a business improvement district in my constituency, is about to publish a report on the economic benefits of the west end and the heart of London arts and cultural sector for the wider economy, and the case for covid-19 support. It has been kind enough to provide me with an advance copy. The report models four scenarios and the predicted impact for the economic output of arts and culture in the west end. Scenario one is repeated lockdowns, scenario two is strict rules and social distancing in place, scenario three is seasonal covid with occasional softer social distancing remaining, and finally, scenario four, which is a return to normality—something I think we all wish for. For the arts and culture sector, scenarios one and two are modelled to have very similar outcomes. Employment in the sector in the west end would fall by 95% by 2024. Even in the best circumstances of a return to normality, the arts and culture sector is projected to produce 10% less in 2024 than in 2019. Those models make for challenging reading and I strongly encourage the Minister and her officials to read the report in detail.

Venues in my constituency have worked incredibly hard to find solutions to open under current social distancing measures. The Barbican centre in the City of London has been trialling a new approach to concerts with the Live from the Barbican series, involving 300 socially- distanced audience members in the hall alongside a pay-per-view live stream that enables audiences to watch from wherever they want. I am delighted to report that those concerts have sold out, with encouraging interest and early sales for live streaming.

In the west end, Andrew Lloyd Webber has undertaken heroic action to introduce measures to prove that theatres can be socially distancing-friendly at a capacity that works for safety and for his theatres’ commercial viability. What can we do in this place and what can the Government do to support the sector in the return to normality scenario?

I pledge huge gratitude to the Culture Secretary and his team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, including my hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture, who is responding to this debate. I know they have worked tirelessly since lockdown to support the arts and culture sector. I recognise their huge achievement in securing £1.5 billion in support for the arts. However, there is more to be done if we are to secure our arts and culture sector once we have beaten this dreadful virus.

I encourage the Government to continue funding jobs in sectors that remain unable to recover because of restrictions that are in place. As those businesses remain closed through no fault of their own, they will likely lose all access to current support measures when the furlough scheme ends. The sector has been hugely grateful for the support so far, but that support needs to continue. I ask the Minister to persuade the Treasury once again to reassess the support it offers the self-employed, as many in the sector are freelance and work in a mixture of self-employed and employed roles, depending on their contract and the employer. Too many have gone without any support at all. Current Government support has been more focused on salaried staff, and there is a worry that freelancers will drop out of their profession, leading to a shortage of expertise when we are back up and running.

I think all of us in this hall accept that theatres, live music and cultural venues need clear signposting as to when they will be able to open. Theatre productions, for example, have lead times often in excess of six months before opening, so require as much notice as possible. I urge the Government to extend the 5% VAT reduction for at least three years, in line with recommendations from the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support the introduction of a Government-backed insurance scheme for live music, theatre and performance to allow venues, producers and creators to proceed with developing projects in confidence that, should they not be able to do so, the Government will support them. We have launched a similar and very successful scheme for the film industry and, knowing how much it costs to put on a commercial theatre production, such an insurance scheme would prove beneficial for the whole industry. With that, I thank hon. Members for joining me to take part in the debate and I look forward to hearing their contributions and the Minister’s reply.