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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:46 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State 3:46 pm, 6th October 2020

It is a great pleasure, Sir Charles, to serve under your fantastic stewardship, and to be back in Westminster Hall.

I will begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken on securing this really vital debate and on presenting her case so articulately. I also congratulate everyone else who has taken part. I feel like I have been on a whistle-stop tour up and down this country of some of the marvellous and magnificent arts and cultural venues that we have from Liverpool to Lowestoft, and from Clacton to Glasgow. We are world-renowned for our incredible arts and cultural sector, and we are very lucky to have great champions up and down our nations to support it here.

I thank Tracy Brabin for her contribution. I must put on the record the fact that she is always very pragmatic and supportive in the way in which she approaches her role, and she asks legitimate questions; I will try to answer most of those she asked, but if there are any that I do not manage to answer today, I will, of course, write to her with the answers. This is a terrible time and it is really important to work as constructively and co-operatively as we can to support this sector, which we care so passionately about.

It has been evidenced today by what people have said that our cultural and creative sectors are one of the UK’s greatest success stories; in this regard, I think that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster speaks on behalf of a London constituency, as did many other speakers, but up and down the country the attractions that we are discussing are the heart of an ecosystem.

My hon. Friend talked about the co-dependence of west end theatres and live music venues, museums and galleries, and the health of the hospitality sector, including hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, taxis and, of course, the night-time economy. That situation is reflected up and down the country, with a theatre or gallery offering a cultural heart to a community. Florence Eshalomi, who I think is no longer here in Westminster, said that in many cases cultural institutions were embedded in the heart of a community and driving economic prosperity in a range of other sectors that support or surround them.

Kevin Brennan very kindly invited me to articulate my commitment to those who work in this sector and of course I am very proud to do so, as I am committed to them. These are proper jobs; these are jobs that are vital. Indeed, the people doing these jobs can do something that very few other people in this world can do. They can not only entertain but educate, they can lift spirits, they can improve mental health and wellbeing, they can take us to places that we have never been to before and open our eyes to the world around us, and they can genuinely offer young people from some of the most difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds a glimmer of hope as to what they can be, where they can go and what the world can potentially offer them.

I recognise the devastating impact that covid-19 has had across the arts and culture sector, on businesses and their staff, on freelancers, on those who rely on the sector and on many other people who helped to make it such a success.

As many hon. Members have articulated, the Government stand with the culture sector. We are making the biggest ever one-off investment of £1.57 billion, with hundreds of millions in loans and grants due to be allocated in the days ahead. That is in addition to the £160 million emergency fund that Arts Council England made available at the outset of the pandemic to venues that were struggling over the summer.

I will leave Taiwo Owatemi to pick a fight with Gavin Newlands about which city was the most deserving of the city of culture. I am looking forward to coming to Coventry to celebrate with her in the year ahead. She said nothing had been done, but Coventry alone has had £2,123,690 in support from Arts Council England this year. Of that, over £730,000 was emergency funding for support through the covid crisis. That is before we have started finally allocating the rest of the culture recovery fund.

We are doing everything we can. The funds will be used to help support the performing arts, theatres, museums, heritage, galleries, independent cinemas and live music venues across the country, and we are determined that every region of the UK should benefit. It is also vital that the work of the Department is able to continue to support and celebrate people who are so vital to the cultural life of the nation and the communities that they work in. We want the money to go right across England. We want to ensure they get that funding, as well as the funding from the Barnett formula. That money will help the levelling-up agenda, and that is why we included the geographical balancing criteria in the fund. I am pleased that the first funds to be allocated went to grassroots live music through the emergency grassroots music venues fund, and to independent cinemas through the £30 million British Film Institute fund.

Of course, our world-beating cultural and creative industries are absolutely nothing without the people who work in them. Without such people, they are just buildings. We know the importance of protecting jobs and livelihoods in the creative arts sector. Through the furlough scheme we have protected 303,000 jobs, with claims totalling £1.47 billion. The self-employed income support scheme was taken up by 64% of eligible arts and entertainment workers, with grants totalling £153 million. The Chancellor has announced that the scheme will be extended. The universal credit system has been extended and made more generous, but we know that so many people are still falling through the gaps and are not being supported.

The situation is heartbreaking. My father has been in broadcasting for what feels like many hundreds of years, but I think it is about 55. He was a freelancer for all of my childhood. I know how stressful it is for a family—now more than ever. The one thing that such people want to do, more than anything, is to get back to work. The £1.57 billion culture recovery fund will help to do that. It will help to secure the future of the performing arts and live events sector, and it will help to protect jobs. However, the sector needs money in the meantime. That is why, to complement the Government funding, ACE has announced £95 million of additional support for individuals and freelancers. It is also opening another round of “Developing your Creative Practice”, which is an £18 million project to help individuals in the arts to develop new creative skills.

I understand that operating with reduced seating capacity is just not viable for some venues at the moment. I want to see such institutions reopen their doors as soon as it is safe for them do so, and we are working extensively with the sector on how to achieve that. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen asked about what sorts of committees and cultural hubs are working on this issue. We have various working groups that sit under the main cultural board. In some cases, the working groups have been meeting weekly since February, and they continue to do so. The work on this issue is by no means done, and it continues regularly.

Last week, I visited the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Lighthouse in Poole. It shows that the dedication and passion of such cultural institutions is bringing our arts back to life. The stage has been enlarged so that the whole orchestra can fit on it and play in a socially distanced way. By doing that, it has ensured that the orchestra’s weekly Wednesday night performances have now restarted, with a mixture of live—socially distanced—and livestreaming audiences, courtesy of the venue’s incredible first-class digital team. They have already sold 11,500 tickets for performances between now and Christmas. That is an absolute credit to their tenacity, talent and overwhelming determination to bring their magic back to the audiences who utterly depend on them. I give credit to them and to others up and down the country who are doing the same.

A number of west end theatres have made steps towards reopening: Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres, is planning to welcome audiences back with a combination of some previously running shows, as well as some new stuff. The National Theatre is preparing the Olivier auditorium for some socially distanced in-the-round performances.

We are aware that many in the sector would like greater clarity on the potential transition to stage 5, given the planning that they need to do to remobilise and the lead-in time required for programming, casting and rehearsing. We have always said that, of course, further openings will depend on the public health context. We have a venue-steering group, including representatives from leading sector organisations, as well as Public Health England and other experts, to develop an action plan for maximising activity under stage 4 and for how we proceed to stage 5, which is the silver bullet—opening everything up. DCMS will continue to work with the sector to establish an appropriate pilot process for testing and return to stage 5 activity when appropriate, and we are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on its Moonshot project.

Many hon. Members have asked me about an insurance scheme. We are aware that there are many calls for something similar to the one that we have produced for film and TV production. Of course, Members must understand that there is a high bar for intervention in the insurance market. The film and TV restart scheme that we introduced worked because it was the absolute last barrier. We were 100% clear that access to insurance was the final remaining obstacle to them being able to reopen. We are looking at that for theatres, but to intervene, I need evidence that insurance is the only obstacle to opening the doors again. I am really grateful for the evidence that has been provided and am keen for Members and their constituents to keep it coming. I know that DCMS and Treasury colleagues are working closely together and are monitoring the situation in the sector.

We want to see full audiences return as soon as possible, but we have always been clear that moving to stage 5 will ultimately be determined by the public health context. We are working at pace with the sector on innovative proposals for how full audiences can return when it is safe to do so. I really hope that hon. Members across the House are reassured that my ministerial colleagues and I are absolutely dedicated to doing everything that we can to support this incredibly important sector, which not only makes a difference to people’s lives but, in some cases, saves lives. We are acutely aware of the harm that covid-19 has done across the whole of the country, and we understand its significance to the people and organisations who make up our globally recognised sectors.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster and other hon. Members that we are doing everything that we can to help, so that when we emerge from the pandemic, our cultural organisations will once again be ready to welcome international tourists, visitors from across the UK and those who live and work here.