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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:56 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South 2:56 pm, 6th October 2020

I thank my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, a fellow former council leader, for securing the debate. When I was first elected as the Member for Northampton South, one of my hopes and aims was regeneration of the town centre, both physically and in what it had to offer those who seek a cultural experience. Northampton has a lot to offer, from the iconic Royal & Derngate theatre, which I have visited many times, to the host of historical, archaeological and artistic treasures found at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. We look forward to that development. There are also a large number of community-run drama projects, historical attractions and music venues that add to the cultural tapestry in Northampton.

I thank the Government for the £1.57 billion support package for the sector. Many businesses have been in touch thanking me for that support, but my worry, which is shared by many, is that a further support package will be needed to keep many of our local theatres and attractions open. As a vice-president of the Local Government Association, I know that local councils would like the Government to adopt a place-based approach to recovery by ensuring that councils are at the table for discussions, including at the new cultural renewal taskforce and the Tourism Industry Council. Councils are one of the biggest investors in cultural activity, spending around £1.1 billion a year, so they should be part of future discussions.

One often overlooked part of the culture and leisure sector is betting and gaming organisations. I have visited both Aspers and Grosvenor casinos in my constituency and, as the lockdown eased, I was invited to look at the covid-safe measures being implemented at considerable cost, including limits on capacity, perspex screens, hand sanitisers and social distancing. I was impressed by their efforts to comply with Government guidance, but the 10 pm curfew has put at even greater risk what has been, in these changed times, a precarious survival. I hope the Government will look at the 10 pm issue urgently. Otherwise, I am afraid that many casinos, including those in my constituency, will not survive. That is not to say I am a great fan of gambling; I just think it is better in a regulated environment for reasons of taxation and supporting the vulnerable.

I am grateful for the previous Government support, but, as we approach Christmas, the Government must look at how we can safely reopen this vibrant and vital sector, and focus on this. Although many economic sectors will suffer downturns and huge disruption as a result of the crisis, other distinct sectors either cannot operate at all, or cannot operate for practical purposes as a direct result of specific Government rules, sectorally or locally. They have an especial claim for direct compensation or support.