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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 3:24 pm, 6th October 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course—how remiss of me to forget ballet, particularly as my daughters are both dancers themselves. My hon. Friend made a very good point, and I hope that the Minister was listening to it.

In many of these sectors, the people who derive a livelihood from them, be they performers or staff who facilitate and assist the performers, are in severe financial peril. Of course, the Scottish Government have acted when the UK Government would not, or before the UK Government when they did. The Scottish Government were proactive and announced a £30-million creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund, and £10 million has been provided to protect vital performing arts venues, with an additional £59 million announced in August.

We need the UK Government to step up. One has just to look, as others have mentioned, at the announcement by Cineworld of 5,500 people losing their jobs as the chain mothballs itself until the spring. That decision just proves the utter inadequacy of the so-called job support scheme. The Chancellor says that the scheme exists to provide support for viable jobs, so does the Minister think that cinema and the jobs that support it are no longer viable? Of course they are. These are the sorts of jobs that any job support scheme worth its salt should be protecting.

There are also the 125,000 jobs supported by concerts in the audio-visual and events sector, with companies such as Adlib and FE Live in my constituency, without which concerts just could not be delivered.

While we are on the subject of supporting those who earn their livelihood from this sector, let us turn to the self-employed, whom many have mentioned and who constitute a large number of workers in the creative industry because of the preponderance of freelance actors, performers, technicians and so on. We have heard today from Members across the Chamber that the Chancellor’s support for the self-employed is simply not enough. Not only is the level of financial support not enough, but not enough people qualify for support. Whereas the UK Government have failed to help those people, the Scottish Government have provided £185 million of targeted support for SMEs and the self-employed, and £5 million for creative freelancers specifically. The Chancellor must rethink his approach or a great many people across the UK will face a long, difficult winter.

Creative industries in Scotland account for 70,000 workers and 15,000 businesses, and are estimated to support about £9 billion of activity within the wider Scottish economy, contributing £5.5 billion to Scotland’s GDP. Edinburgh of course, has its world-renowned festival and fringe. The fringe alone provides 3,000 jobs and £173 million to the Scottish economy. We absolutely recognise the vital role played by creative businesses, which employ tens of thousands in Scotland. As others have said, the UK Government’s focus on financial viability alone ignores industries’ true value. Local live music venues provide meeting places and community hubs, and cultural events such as the Edinburgh fringe elevate global awareness of Scottish and British arts and culture. Not only that, but they bring culture and entertainment from all over the world to our doorstep.

The cultural sector is vital for preserving our national heritage, and connecting people. Its preservation is more important than mere economics. However, of course, the vast majority of Scots’ cultural engagement and entertainment is found not at the Edinburgh festival but in communities, towns and cities the length of the country. Ninety-three per cent. of the grassroots venue network faces permanent closure, and 34% of musicians are considering abandoning the industry completely. Those are stark figures, so I am glad that the £2 million-plus grassroots music venue stabilisation fund was announced by the Scottish Government. One of the recipients of that lifeline grant was the Bungalow in Paisley, a well-known venue and community interest company, which, for the past 40 years or so, has put on its stage every musical genre of up-and-coming-talent, spanning punk to big band jazz. Bungalow co-director Tommy McGrory said:

“This money is our lifeline. Without this money, we would find ourselves in a very serious position. We have just been limping on.”

It must be said that the Scottish grassroots music fund is, in relative terms, six and a half times the size of the UK Government’s comparable scheme for England. They must do more for this vital sector.

I have, despite what my colleagues may think, relatively broad cultural taste, but, to be honest, it is grassroots venues, be they live music or stand-up comedy, that I really miss—even some that are outwith my constituency, such as the 180-year-old Gellions bar in Inverness, the city’s oldest venue, which has bands such as Schiehallion featuring among the 650 gigs played there in a normal year. Live music is critical to venues like the Bungalow and Gellions bar, and as long as clinical advice continues to ensure that no indoor live music or comedy can be performed, the venues and performers must be supported.

I mentioned in my opening remarks that Paisley was robbed of the city of culture award, and it should be warming up to embark on its 2021 programme with the ninth year of the Spree festival, an extremely popular and growing celebration of music, arts and comedy, which should have kicked off this very Thursday. Sadly, it is just another event that has been cancelled because of the pandemic. It is fair to say that the bid itself will leave a legacy in the town for years to come, with £22 million being spent on plans to preserve Paisley town hall’s place at the heart of life in the area and turn it into a landmark performance venue, and £42 million on the transformation of Paisley museum into an international-class destination telling the story of the town’s pattern, heritage and people. I very much look forward to those great venues reopening, but I sincerely hope that, when they do, Renfrewshire will not have lost many of its grassroots and small venues, for that would amount to a pyrrhic legacy.

The SNP Scottish Government have supported the Scottish creative industries, but would like to do more. To do so, they need the financial powers and funding. The UK Government have tools at their disposal. As others have mooted, they could extend the 5% cultural VAT rate on tickets, in line with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. They could also provide a Government-backed insurance scheme to provide the music industry with the necessary confidence to reopen. Whatever they choose to do to support reopening they need to act now to deliver fuller support for those vital businesses, so that the Scottish Government can use the consequentials to support the Scottish creative and cultural industry. The UK Government must act now, or the damage of collapsed businesses and lost talent may be irreparable.