I totally endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. The scenes outside Parliament today were incredibly powerful; I was not able to be there in person, but I saw them online. They show the scale of devastation in the sector, but also those people’s wish to be able to perform and earn their livelihoods as they otherwise would.
We are well aware of the concerns that are affecting individual freelancers in Wales. The Welsh Government have announced a specific fund for freelancers; I am told that Arts Council England has been told that the money cannot be used to support individual freelancers in England, and I wonder if the Minister can explain why that is the case.
I am aware that over the past 24 hours, there have been some concerns and frustrations in my own constituency about being able to get funding from the freelancers’ scheme in Wales, which shows the huge demand and desperation that is affecting so many people. I want to reassure those who have raised concerns that I have been speaking to Ministers, as have others, and we have been assured that a second phase will be opening very soon, because the Welsh Government recognise that the demand is there. However, that scheme does not even operate in England. In Wales, a total fund of £53 million has been announced for the arts and culture sector; that is the most significant fund across the UK, and £7 million of it is ring-fenced for freelancers.
I will end by reflecting on a couple of the heart-rending messages I have received from constituents, showing the human cost of this crisis. One constituent, who is a friend and a musician, wrote to me saying, “I know many fully professional musicians who are in utter panic. It is their sole livelihood, and it is devastating to see them with distress etched on their faces.” He is thinking of leaving this country. We will lose this talent; it will go elsewhere. Another writes, “I am leaving the profession. There is no hope.”
We need to see better from the Chancellor and from Ministers. I was deeply concerned by the Chancellor’s comments today, when he said,
“It’s a very sad time…I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job”.
We all need to do better. We need to do better as a country, and we need to support these people through this crisis; otherwise, the cost will not only be to our economy but, crucially, to our country’s soul.