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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:06 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West 3:06 pm, 6th October 2020

It is a pleasure, once again, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank Nickie Aiken for securing this important debate.

I am delighted that Coventry is set to become the UK city of culture in 2021. In the run-up to that event, however, our theatres, live music industry and other cultural attractions have been hard hit by the pandemic, with too little support promised far too later. Concerns raised by people in the arts and culture sector have been ignored by the Government. The arts and culture sector in Coventry enriches lives and employs hundreds of my constituents. Venues have rightly closed their doors to the public because of the pandemic but have, unforgivably, not been supported enough financially by the Government to ensure their viability once they open their doors again. Our theatres, live music venues and other cultural attractions play a big role in our local economy. Not only do they provide jobs to my constituents, but they ensure that other local businesses surrounding them benefit from increased footfall.

I want to pay tribute to community institutions such as Imagine theatre and Belgrade theatre, which have brought tears of laughter and joy to adults and children alike across Coventry. It is what they do best, but there is no such joy for them now. Without urgent care and consideration from the Government, my constituents might not have access to theatres to look forward to once the pandemic ends. Both of those prestigious theatres are confronted with potentially 22 months with no income whatever, with their productions postponed to 2021. They have no income, but the Government expect them to take back staff from 1 November through the job retention scheme.

Can the Minister tell me how the Government expect our theatre businesses to survive? The sector is facing mass redundancies, and many businesses will be bankrupt. How can we expect such industries to thrive post covid, or to be part of rebuilding our society, if the Government are not investing in them now to ensure the viability to safeguard jobs? If a better package is not delivered soon, up to 800 jobs could be lost from those two theatres in Coventry alone. That is 800 jobs too many.

We must do everything we can to support businesses in our arts and culture sector, both in Coventry and across Britain. Venues are a shining source of entertainment and culture, showcasing the very best of our country. The post-pandemic viability of the industry will depend on action—not taken later, not taken if or when it folds, but taken now. I am willing to work with partners, including the Government, to safeguard the sector.