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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:39 pm on 6th October 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton 2:39 pm, 6th October 2020

As always, it is an honour to appear under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. This is an important discussion and I thank my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken for securing the debate. Theatres, live music and cultural venues are an essential part of what we are as an island nation. It is what sells Britain plc to the rest of the world and I have been heavily involved in it for years.

According to the Creative Industries Council, our industry is estimated to generate £48 billion in turnover and to support nearly 400,000 jobs. The building blocks of this national contribution are, of course, individual local economies. In Clacton, our local economy is hugely dependent on tourism; it represents some 17.4% of all employment in the area. We have wonderful venues, such as the Prince’s theatre, the West Cliff theatre and my own Frinton summer theatre, which I used to run years ago. We also have 19th-century Martello towers, our two famous piers, the beautiful Walton backwaters, the sunshine coast and amazing beaches, all of which bring many people to our wonderful coastal area. Those people take advantage of our tourism offer and they come to our cultural centres.

Tourism in Tendring is worth some £392 million, and for a district such as Clacton that is vital. Without strong tourism in Clacton, we would be in real trouble, but that is what we could face if we lose the venues and attractions that bring people to our area. Yes, we have the culture recovery fund to keep these establishments open, but we now need to create domestic demand. We need to get people from the UK to come to UK resorts and keep us going.

We need to find a way to bring people safely back to the theatre. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster mentioned Andrew Lloyd Webber. What a wonderful example—he fogs the Palladium, fills it with an alcohol gas and cleans everything up. The Palladium has self-cleaning handles. We must be creative; we are the creative industries, after all.

We need to get people back into theatres, but as my hon. Friend mentioned, that is also about the restaurants, the bars, the taxis and all the surrounding ecosystem. Those have to be supported too. Like the eat out to help out scheme, I envisage a voucher scheme that would help people to get back into the theatres, and I put that proposal to the Minister now. There must be some means whereby theatres, which would have to operate on a lower percentage in order to keep people safely spaced, could be helped to open with a voucher scheme. I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of man to come up with that. There could also be something to help with the food offer in our local restaurants around the theatres.

We need to begin to focus on returning people to these establishments in a safe way, because if we do not do that, when Government support for theatres ends we will be in real trouble. We have a global gold standard in our theatres and we must protect them. Finally, I have to say something about freelancers, such as actors and musicians. We must ensure that they are protected, so I say to the Minister, “Look after the freelancers too”.