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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:47 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of David Warburton David Warburton Conservative, Somerton and Frome 2:47 pm, 6th October 2020

In the early 1970s, when I was seven or eight, I was taken to a performance of Bach’s St John Passion because my mum was singing in it. It was electrifying and magical, and it changed the course of my life. Eight years later, Bob Dylan had a similar effect. That is because great music, art and live performances change lives. As Kevin Brennan rightly said, it is about not just the economic cost, but the social cost, particularly and ironically when, in a time of so much fear, uncertainty and loneliness, live performances and venues are so important to society.

Just outside my constituency sits the site of the Glastonbury festival—some of the far-flung campsites are in my patch—which brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year; supports gazillions of businesses such as pubs, hotels, restaurants, catering, transport, you name it; and brings in about £45 million a year to Somerset. Businesses are devastated. Many of them are really struggling because this year there was no Glastonbury festival.

This is not just about the big festivals, however; smaller venues are also affected. The Cheese & Grain in Frome is a member-owned social enterprise and registered charity that provides a huge boost to the cultural, economic and social life of Frome. It is now looking at making 40 of its 53 staff redundant and, having been closed for eight months, it may become insolvent. I know that the Chancellor is being held upside down so that people can steal money out of his pockets all the time, but if we do not help those businesses, they will go under and be devastated. I wrote to him and suggested a tourism and cultural resilience fund, with targeted support and grants to carry those businesses through the winter, and I urge the Minister and the Government to consider that carefully.

I have also said that the furlough scheme should be extended for businesses that are unable to open, and again, I hope that my words are being heard. In the west country, it is particularly important because the incidence of covid is very low, but the economic cost is very high. We must keep changing lives and supporting those whose businesses change lives.