Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:18 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation 6:18 pm, 9th November 2020

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn on introducing this important debate—he is proving to be a considerable upgrade.

The National Exhibition Centre, on the edges of my constituency, is one of the most renowned venues in the west midlands and nationally, playing host to conferences and concerts alike. Last month, the NEC announced that it was cutting 450 jobs because of the ongoing uncertainty. That is the reality for so many events businesses in this country right now. Since March, concerts have become a distant memory. Sports clubs that would supplement their business by playing host to weddings found that even when they were briefly able to open in the late summer, their major source of income had been cut off. I know of one golf club that has lost almost half a million pounds in wedding business.

Nightclubs and jazz bars remain shuttered while the musicians, events staff, sound engineers and DJs who work so hard to bring us this top-notch entertainment are furloughed, made redundant or desperately trying to make up in other industries the money that they have lost. Frankly, there are not that many jobs going around if people are looking for alternative employment. Also, there are major blackspots when it comes to the self-employed—something that the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which I chair, has highlighted at length.

There are wider impacts, too. Would we have seen the likes of the much-missed Amy Winehouse had she not been able to perform those early gigs in north London? Emerging talent depends on live events and relies heavily on the income they provide to keep investing in their own talent.

The culture recovery fund is welcome money for the arts, and I recognise that the Government’s furlough scheme has been a lifeline for millions of jobs where businesses have been able to operate, but live events and their reliance on having large numbers of people in one place, often in an enclosed space, in order to make a profit, are inherently incompatible with restrictions for covid-19. The £1.57 billion does not even come close to touching the sides of the losses sustained this year, and it is to be divided between such a large number of diverse types of arts businesses, so live events need ongoing support to recognise their precarious position and clear timelines to allow them to prepare to reopen, such as “no earlier than” dates.

In normal times, those are profitable businesses, with events accounting for half of all inbound UK tourist spend, and for £70 billion in direct funding. My Committee has therefore called for bespoke sector-specific support. The Government have provided that for theatres and arts venues on the brink; they now need to do the same for live events.