It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank Nickie Aiken for securing this important debate.
The Minister will have heard me speak last week when I was very proud to have an Adjournment debate on grassroots arts and culture in my home town of Luton, which I am proud to represent. Our creative sector promotes community cohesion, develops social capital and fosters happier, healthier lives. As many others who have spoken have said, so much of our culture takes place in our town centres, and that is why it is so important that we must secure the vibrancy of our cultural sector once more. I am proud that Luton town centre has had its purple flag status since 2018, which means it is safe, diverse and enjoyable for a night out in arts and culture. Like others today, I was infuriated by the display by the Chancellor of apparent contempt for those working in the creative sector, saying that musicians and artists should get another job if they are struggling due to coronavirus. Yesterday, I was contacted by many local pubs and music venues who say that there is demand for live music and that they want to operate safely. We must try to do what we can to save them.
We all enjoy and consume arts every day, as they have numerous social and economic benefits. People working in the creative sector should not be left excluded and their role in society deemed unviable. Last week I was proud to take part in the WeMakeEvents demonstration outside Parliament, supported by BECTU and Equity, because the sector is so vibrant and important in all our lives. The sectors are viable. They will be important after the pandemic and will play a crucial part in building back better. They must receive support. We cannot afford the skills to be lost.
This weekend I had the best and the worst of it. The best was that I went back to the Hat Factory in Luton and watched live theatre. In a 100-seat theatre there were 21 of us. We were socially distanced and covid-secure, and it was great to see the staff so proud to open their venue again. The same weekend I had the worst of it with Cineworld announcing tens of thousands of jobs being lost, including those in the Cineworld in my town centre. That is terrible news, and I have already had constituents getting in touch because they have been laid off with such little notice.
I have mentioned before to the Minister that Luton is a brilliant case study of how embedding culture in a local area’s growth strategy could provide a basis for building back better. Last year, our programme of culture, “people, power, passion”, employed 84 artists and trained 13 young people from diverse backgrounds. That is something to be proud of in our town. I will make sure I write to the Minister to invite her to visit Luton and our cultural offer.