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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:03 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon 3:03 pm, 6th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Charles, and to see the Minister in her place. Like many others, I express my thanks for the package the Government have put in place for the arts sector, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken. She is right that as London MPs, we are extraordinarily proud of our city’s cultural offering and the economic benefit it gives to this nation. It would be remiss of me to not point out that this cultural offering is not just in central London. In Wimbledon, we have the New Wimbledon theatre, the home of panto; the Polka theatre, which is the best children’s theatre in the country; the Lantern arts centre, of which I am a patron; and many other small venues.

I will focus my remarks on the events industry. Back in March, I first mentioned in the House the problems that the supply chain into the hospitality industry and the live events industry was likely to have if support packages were not in place. The people who work in that industry—caterers, photographers, event planners, exhibition organisers, audio-visual engineers, musicians, actors, and more—simply have not been able to work at all, because events and exhibitions have all been stopped by the pandemic. I would suggest that it has affected this industry more than most others, and perhaps most of all. The Chancellor has put in place an extensive package, but there is a good case for looking at the industry.

In Wimbledon, as in so many parts of the country, we have extraordinary businesses—viable businesses—such as White Light and Oxygen Event Services. Only yesterday, the managing director of another events company—Nineteen Group—wrote to me saying that the sector does not want to go into hibernation; the exact opposite is true.

Like everybody, those businesses would like certainty. Like everybody, they want more help with money for jobs. I rarely agree with Andy Slaughter, but he is right to say that one of the things the Government could do would be to put in place a guarantee package that would allow the industry to start having some certainty for planning for events for when we finish covid, hopefully at some stage next year. At the moment that certainty is not there, and a Government guarantee would work.

I had a Zoom meeting with my constituents Mark and Judy Faithfull last week. They pointed out that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and other Government Departments have been involved in test events. There was a test business trade exhibition, a test trade event at the Hilton in Canary Wharf in September and a test banqueting event. The industry does not understand why other parts of Europe and the world are looking opening up test events. Will the Government look again at the test events they attended, which proved that such events could be covid-secure? Will they look to open those up, so that the industry can thrive?