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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:49 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 2:49 pm, 6th October 2020

It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and to take part in this debate instigated by my fellow west London MP, Nickie Aiken.

For one of the smallest London boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham packs a big punch creatively in the arts, theatre, live music and exhibitions. These institutions are the lifeblood of our cultural life, but also a main driver of the local economy. We have lost some iconic venues in the last few years, such as Hammersmith Palais and the Earls Court exhibition centre, but we have Olympia, which is undergoing a major renaissance, the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo and Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and three fantastic theatres—the Lyric, the Bush and the Riverside—all of which were thriving before covid hit and had new or substantially enlarged premises.

We have a lot of good smaller venues, such as Bush Hall, which has provided live music for 20 years. They are particularly vulnerable, because they do not have good income streams or reserves of finance, and many of them are in danger of closing down as we speak. The Lyric is consulting on losing about 20% of its staff. None of these theatres can stage productions, because on a 30% capacity they cannot make productions commercially viable.

They all do excellent community work, which does not appear to be reflected in the Government’s funding. Notably, the arts fund was directed to prioritise institutions of national or international significance, but that does not cover the whole body of good work that the institutions do. For example, there would have been 45,000 visitors to Christmas shows at the Lyric on Hammersmith Broadway. The Bush theatre is in one of the most deprived parts of my constituency and it drives a large part of the local economy. That is all suffering at the moment.

What do we need? We need a payment support scheme—either grants or loans, as applicable to the type of institution—to keep those institutions above the water line for the next year; it probably will be a year. We need support for freelancers—70% of people who work in this area are freelancers—and that has not been in place throughout the crisis. We need insurance, because without proper insurance schemes it will not be possible to put together productions and put them on at the risk of another lockdown. We need clarity, because it takes at least three months to put together such exhibitions or productions. We need the Government to say: “We will support you until lockdown has ended”. That is the only way we will achieve something. Without that, I fear for the cultural sector across my borough, which I care for deeply, and across the country. I hope the Minister will respond to this.