Fairs and Showgrounds — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 1:30 pm, 17th December 2020

I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new call list system and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. Members must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall—I think everyone is here—and they are expected to remain for the wind-ups provided there is space in the room. Members are also asked to respect the one-way system around the room. Please exit by the door on the left. Members should sanitise their microphones using the cleaning materials provided before they use them and dispose of the cleaning materials as they leave the room.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the future of fairs and showgrounds.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate, which was sought by me and fellow friends and Members of the all-party parliamentary group on fairs and showgrounds. One of the great and unique privileges I have as MP for Glasgow East is representing the largest settlement of showpeople in the country. My own home in Carntyne overlooks the many yards that host caravans and fairground equipment. Indeed, the train journey from the city centre, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss, to Shettleston in my constituency largely passes the hundreds of showpeople families who live alongside the railway line.

I have learned a lot about the traditions and customs of showpeople from growing up in the east end and now being their Member of Parliament, such as how showpeople have long lineages in the community—many families have worked at the same fairs for generations—and identify as their own cultural group. In the 2021 census, showpeople will have the opportunity for the first time ever to identify as precisely that, and I am grateful to Kevin Foster who, when he was a Cabinet Office Minister, worked with me and the Showmen’s Guild to secure that. It is right that that option be available, because showpeople are unique.

Last week, I spoke to one woman whose children are the eighth generation to work as showpeople. This is a community with a rich history that deserves its recognition. I say all that because there is often a fundamental misunderstanding about showpeople, their history and their vital place in our communities. It is important throughout the debate that we remember we are discussing real people with families and lives; this is not about money and businesses.

In Glasgow East, showpeople are a huge and valued part of the constituency. They are small business owners who support the local economy, putting on seasonal fairs from summer fetes to Christmas markets, and often engage quietly in philanthropic work that is perhaps not celebrated enough. There are currently 340 operating members of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild, and they have families, numbering 5,000 across Scotland, with the majority of them split between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central.

Put simply, showpeople have been a rich part of Scotland’s tapestry for hundreds of years and have a proud history and heritage. Indeed, this year the historic Kirkcaldy Links market did not go ahead, for the first time in several hundred years. I am afraid it is a sobering fact that even the second world war could not stop the market, but it unfortunately fell to the pandemic. I was greatly concerned when most major fairs were understandably cancelled for 2020 at the outset of the pandemic, because that greatly impacted the livelihoods of all showpeople. At the heart of the issue is how the Government’s financial support packages during the pandemic have continually excluded showpeople, mostly owing to the manner in which showpeople live and operate, such as not having a static business or shop front.

The community provides so much not only to my constituency and all across Scotland, but across the British Isles. They deserve the same financial support that other industries have received during the pandemic. We should follow in the footsteps of other European countries, and Belgium in particular, where the Government put in place several support measures for showpeople, including a delay in, reduction of or exemption from social contributions to be paid in 2021, as well as a bonus of €4,000 and, after 21 days of non-activity, €160 a day. Alongside a financial support package, there should be 100% relief on licences for the year, similar to the 100% business rate relief for static businesses, to help showpeople and their businesses survive this tough time.

It is not just Belgium that has put its money where its mouth is. Following a rather epic lobbying effort on the part of myself, Richard Lyle MSP and Alex James Colquhoun of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild, I was delighted to see that a £1.5 million funding package was made available specifically for fairs and showgrounds in Scotland just last week. I would argue that it is time the UK Government looked to do likewise for guild members in England, who I know were looking on last week rather enviously.

Alongside the exclusion from the British Government’s support schemes, many showpeople have told me that there has been wild inconsistency in how local authorities have been treating fairs and showgrounds during the pandemic. Some local authorities have enacted strict bans, and others are being more lenient by allowing some fairs to go ahead. Put simply, there is a postcode lottery at local authority level, even though central Government guidance is crystal clear.

There are also inconsistencies in the regulations that fairs must adhere to in order to ensure that they are covid-secure—for example, there are different rules around mask wearing, social distancing and hand sanitising. Such inconsistencies have been exacerbated by different tiers with different rules, so there needs to be clear guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on which fairs can go ahead, with consistent regulations for fairs across the country. There is also a clear role for the Minister and his Department.

Many people have expressed to me concerns about local authorities cancelling 2021 fairs already, and I am afraid that guild members are right to feel that such decisions are a little premature and continue to put at risk their income for next year. Following last week’s news of the first vaccine roll-out, I think we would all agree that 2021 looks to be more hopeful for us all. However, I wonder whether more updated guidance could be dispersed to local authorities on the cancelling of fairs and shows for 2021.

Ultimately, this is all about security and certainty for a community who have experienced so much hardship this year. I am afraid that their concerns are not solely limited to the pandemic. The showpeople I have spoken to have raised the issue of red diesel. For many showpeople, their entire business, and often their sole revenue, involves the hire of mobile road-tow generators, all of which are engine-operated and run on red diesel. For many showpeople, red diesel is crucial to their business, and it is impossible for them to move towards using anything else at the time, as there is a lack of a commercially viable alternative. My understanding is that the change in tax relief on red diesel is expected to take effect from 2023, although some sectors, such as farming and fishing, will continue to be eligible for the duty. Many showpeople have described to me how the change will unfairly disadvantage them and their business, so I would be grateful if the Minister could reflect those concerns to his colleagues in Her Majesty’s Treasury.

Ultimately, this debate is hugely important in highlighting the cultural significance of showpeople, their history and their lineage, which spans many generations. The community have faced huge challenges as a result of the pandemic, and they now face financial hardship as a result of lost business. From uncertainty over their businesses and livelihoods, to insecurity over the future of fairs, it has been an incredibly tough year for them. I hope that the UK Government will express a genuine commitment to supporting showpeople and will consider the suggestions made by me and colleagues who speak in the debate. Ultimately, I hope that 2021 will be brighter for all of us, including showpeople, who just want to do what they do best: creating the fun of the fair.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The debate can last until 3 pm. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 2.27 pm, and the guideline limits will be 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Mr Linden will then have three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. There are five Back-Bench speakers, the first of whom is James Wild.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk 1:39 pm, 17th December 2020

Thank you, Mr Hollobone, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I congratulate David Linden on securing the debate. As a fellow member of the APPG on fairs and showgrounds, I am grateful for the great work that he and my hon. Friend Sir David Amess have done on this issue over so many years.

As a new MP, my interest in this subject comes from the King’s Lynn mart, which is the oldest fair in the country. Its traditional Valentine’s Day opening ceremony marks the first event in the travelling showman’s calendar. This year, I was delighted to attend the 816th mart and be part of the procession through the town, before taking part in some competitive dodgem driving and whizzing down the helter-skelter. Despite what is known locally as mart weather, the event was typically popular, with families coming along to enjoy the rides and attractions with great optimism about what was to come. A little more than a month later, however, we entered a national lockdown and everything changed.

I am speaking in this debate to represent, in particular, my constituent Colleen Roper. She is the sixth generation of a fairground family, and I encourage everyone to visit her fairground, Rainbow Park in Hunstanton. Along with five other female showmen, she formed the Future 4 Fairgrounds group. They did so as wives and mothers, proud of their heritage, but increasingly concerned about the impact on the future of their families and that of the 20,000 showmen across the United Kingdom. They want to celebrate their history, to highlight the present situation and to talk about the future for fairgrounds.

In that spirit, I will focus my remarks on three areas. First, as the hon. Member for Glasgow East touched on, there is a need for greater consistency between the national guidance and how local authorities are acting on the ground. The DCMS position is admirably clear, as my hon. Friend the Minister recently set out to me in a written answer:

“Funfairs and fairgrounds…will be permitted to reopen in all three tiers as they were prior to this period”,

the second “period of national restrictions”. The answer also talked about

“how Local Authorities should support event organisers to hold outdoor events safely.”

That is great, so what is the problem? As we heard, the organisers need to get permission from local authorities. Future 4 Fairgrounds told me this morning that it has continued to see cancellations of winter fairgrounds and, even worse, that fairgrounds have been stopped from operating shows that they had been told could go ahead. That has been an issue since 4 July, when covid-secure events were allowed to happen.

Fairgrounds spent considerable amounts of money and effort to be covid-secure, and it has been incredibly frustrating for them not be able to have their events while other events have gone ahead. We should not underestimate either the financial impact of that, or the mental health and wellbeing impact of having all those events cancelled. Will the Minister work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide more encouragement, or perhaps even give direction, to local authorities to tackle that inconsistency, so that funfairs and fairgrounds can safely reopen across the country?

Secondly, fairgrounds are an important part of our rich cultural heritage. This is a profession that dates back hundreds of years. Showmen are businessmen and women, but they are also a community. The King’s Lynn mart was granted its royal charter by Henry VIII, and many fairs across the country have been a staple of their communities for generations. In the 1860s, Frederick Savage of Lynn began supplying steam-powered fairgrounds rides, as is recorded in the Lynn museum—again, I encourage people to visit. In the words of his 1902 “Catalogue for Roundabouts”,

“we have patented and placed upon the market all the principal novelties that have delighted the many thousands of pleasure seekers at home and abroad.”

Fairgrounds are places where memories are made. Despite that, as Future 4 Fairgrounds has highlighted, travelling fairgrounds are not being given equal status with theatres, museums and other organisations in applying to the cultural recovery fund. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister, when he responds to the debate, addressed those concerns and gave an assurance that any future applications will be considered on equal terms.

Finally, this debate is about the future of fairgrounds. They do have a future and they must have a future, but showmen’s lives have been put on hold. For all the families in the showmen’s community, there is a need for greater certainty for the winter events and for next season. Discussions are ongoing about the Lynn mart next year—I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to join me at that excellent event. I hope that in 2021, once again, across the country, people will be able to enjoy a local fairground.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields 1:43 pm, 17th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank David Linden for securing the debate.

I come from the best seaside town there is: sunny South Shields. We have had a static fair, Ocean Beach Pleasure Park, since about 1945. Before that, travelling fairgrounds would visit us on a regular basis. Both have continued to exist as long as I can remember, and both, despite me often being sick on rides, have always brought a great big smile to my face. Showmen and women are generous and kind people who make a valued contribution to our local economy. The money they make, they spend locally, and the footfall they generate benefits us all too. It is no wonder that some families come to visit them time and again, because the travelling showmen and women become part of our community, and we become part of theirs.

Over this pandemic, I have spoken to many of my local showmen and women. Just recently, I met a hard-working group of women campaigning not just to save their livelihood, but to preserve their heritage and culture for their children and grandchildren. As James Wild said, the group is called Future 4 Fairgrounds. Those women told me, “This is not just a job. It’s a way of life and living. We are the fair and the fair is us.” It is deeply personal for them. They are mothers and wives who work day and night all over our country. They drive lorries, set up equipment and run businesses all year round. Fairs really are a family affair. It is a multimillion-pound business, which is about not just fairgrounds, but festivals, bonfire night, entertainment, Christmas light switch-ons, private events, weddings and much more.

Many showmen and women cannot help feeling that they are being discriminated against in the pandemic. From the evidence that I have seen, it appears that they are right to feel that way, because they are being discriminated against. What else could it be, when Government guidance said that, as of 4 July, travelling fairs could operate under all tiers, some with up to 2,000 people, yet time and again, after turning up and getting ready, overzealous local councils or public health teams have told them at the 11th hour to dramatically reduce their numbers or close down altogether? In some cases, the council has given them the green light, but the county council or parish council has come along and tried to override that decision. Yet funfairs have covid-secure measures in place and there is no concrete evidence to show that they contribute dramatically to the spread of the virus.

The final kick in the teeth is that when fairs have been told to close, nearby static fairs or theme parks have remained open, and markets have sprung up in their place. I cannot imagine how utterly soul-destroying it must be for them to travel for miles, unpack all their equipment, only to be told to pack it back up and then see another event, which is not as safe or secure, occupy the land and space that they were promised.

Fairs are limited in their ability to speak out, because they do not want to damage their existing relationships with local councils, or scupper their future events. Worse still, when they have been told that they cannot operate, the councils and public health teams have not been clear about why, so they are completely in the dark. They approach the next town or area not knowing whether the same thing will happen again.

I am unaware of any other sector where that level of inconsistency is being applied. Crystal-clear guidance is needed for councils to follow because, at the moment, it seems that they are picking out bits from the general guidance and making the wrong decisions. If there was ever a time that our nation’s spirits needed to be lifted by the fun of the fair, it is most definitely now. I hope that the Minister will at least commit to issuing clearer guidance.

Showmen and women have lost every season this year. They typically take only January as leave. The unique nature of their work, where some are self-employed and some have limited companies, and where many do not have premises, has meant that they are part of the 3 million excluded from Government schemes. The Chancellor and the Government deny that those 3 million people exist, but trust me, they do. If the party of business keeps burying its head, it will lead to the collapse of this industry and many others. A proper package of support is long overdue.

Some showmen and women were eligible for bounce back loans, which they have used to upkeep their equipment—maintenance, testing and insurance. As the Minister knows, however, those loans must be paid back. In short, the situation is unsustainable, with their debt increasing at a time when they do not know when they will be able to operate or have an income again. I sincerely do not want this part of our country’s heritage to disappear, so I hope that the Minister will be able to offer them something positive today, because right now it certainly is not fun, and it most definitely is not fair.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 1:49 pm, 17th December 2020

Thank you for allowing me to join this great debate, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate David Linden on securing the debate and on his previous speech in the main Chamber, which resonated hugely with every showman family in the country. There are hon. Members present from Scotland, North West Norfolk, South Shields, Sedgefield, Southend West, as well as the great city of Gloucester. That represents a strong interest across the British Isles and strong voices speaking up for the Showmen’s Guild, its members and their families. As the hon. Member for Glasgow East said, this is above all about families and lives. My hon. Friend James Wild made the point that we are all, in a sense, showmen. This is probably a good moment for me to declare an interest: I am an honorary member of the Showmen’s Guild—an honour given to me very kindly after some issues about education were resolved some years ago under the coalition Government.

We are all, in a sense, showmen, because we all have those early memories of candy floss, toffee apples and bumper cars. I remember my sisters on the horses on the merry-go-round. In today’s world, it is shooting down water slides, charging off into the sky on a rocket that hopefully comes back, the darts, the traditional air guns and the fluffy toys. All those things make up children’s memories in every generation, so in a sense we are all part of it.

In Gloucester and the western section of the Showmen’s Guild, we do not have fairs that have been going quite as long as the one in King’s Lynn, but the Barton Fayre on the Ham, for example, has been going for at least 130 years, and there are at least 60 families still living on Alney island and Pool meadow. They are invariably threatened every year by the possibility of flooding from the River Severn, of which the Minister will be very conscious, given his experience of that river. They all contribute hugely to the life of the city, just as they do to the lives of the towns and rural areas that other colleagues will refer to.

During the incredibly difficult time this year, the showmen were not just sitting at home grumbling because some of their fairs had been cancelled. They got up and used their skills in a whole number of other ways. Those who had the very long vehicles that take the big machinery to the fairs turned their skills to helping the supermarkets deliver food across the country, to ensure that those who are vulnerable and need protecting were fed.

As a society and a community, those are some of the most positive people we could ever hope to meet. They do not ask a great deal of Government. They are independent-minded. They want to be able to get on with life, solve their own problems and not fall back on the state the whole time. That is not their natural inclination at all, but at the moment, given this downfall of probably 80% of their normal income, they have turned to the Government for help, and there are one or two things that could be done.

First, the Government should signal to all local councils, and all MPs should make it clear in our communities, that it is possible to hold fairs; there is nothing in the law to prevent them. We should highlight that with sensible safety guidance and guidelines, these things can be done safely. That is really important.

The second thing is all about local councils and their ability to dispense cash grants to businesses in trouble. It is perfectly possible for every council to be able to consider applications from the showmen, just as they would consider applications from anybody else in their communities. I am calling on the individual businesses within the Showmen’s Guild in my city or elsewhere to apply to the council, and for the council to consider their cases really seriously. We do not want to find that those fairs, Christmas markets and the activities that the showmen have carried out for hundreds of years are suddenly no longer with us. That would be a huge sadness in every community group.

In our case, the fair did go ahead in the summer safely, but I was concerned to see that, elsewhere in the country, some of our colleagues in Parliament were questioning why the fairs were being held, calling for them not to happen and telling their councils that they disagreed with the decision. As a body, Parliament needs to be stronger in support of every community during their hour of need. It needs to support the showmen and the councils in making those brave decisions. We should remind our constituents that nobody has to go; these fairs are entirely voluntary events. Each family will make its own decision on its own bubble and safety assessment. That is a very important part of the individual responsibly for safety during this difficult time.

The Minister has been a good supporter of so many things during this difficult year. As he will know, the showmen are not just running fairs and Christmas markets, important though those two things are as the core of their activity. They also do other things. For example, all the catering at Kingsholm for Gloucester Rugby, at Twickenham, and possibly even at the Worcester Warriors, which is very close to my hon. Friend the Minister’s heart, is done by Showmen’s Guild members. Those activities have obviously also been hit this year. We are fortunate to have some spectators in Kingsholm, but nothing like the normal crowds that gather, as the Minister knows.

It has been a difficult year and we all want to support them. The structure of their businesses does not make it easy, as there are no business rates involved and the furlough scheme does not always apply, but we should think more widely because, of course, they are also employers of many young people—including at some point in the past, one of my sons—working for them in jobs that do not require huge skills but which give young people the opportunity to get their first work experience and learn the disciplines and customer service and so on that come with that. They are a key part of our society and our country. I look forward to hearing whether the Minister will agree with the two key points and about any further support he believes might be given.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 1:56 pm, 17th December 2020

I congratulate David Linden on securing this debate. It is not just the coronavirus pandemic that is causing such a tough time for fairs and showgrounds. There are many other factors.

One factor is certainly fashion. The APPG for these organisations used to be hugely important in the House of Commons, with a very large attendance and proceedings overseen by none other than the Speaker’s father, the noble Lord Hoyle. It was the thing to do to be at those events. Fashions have changed and there are many reasons for that. Of course, once America started to have Disney World and all those other things, people began to travel abroad, and when they came home to the rides that we provided, they thought it was not quite like that. They have had a very tough time.

Having seen the APPG wither away, it is marvellous that we now have strong voices from two parts of Glasgow, South Shields, Norfolk and Gloucester here—the hon. Members for Glasgow East (David Linden), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), and my hon. Friends the Members for North West Norfolk (James Wild) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham)—as well as my new colleague from the north of England, my hon. Friend Paul Howell. I am very heartened that things are going to change. Let us be frank with each other. If we want to get things done, Members of Parliament need to lobby Ministers—it does not matter who the Government are. If the Government of the day think that there are not too many Members of Parliament interested in this subject, they just shrug their shoulders and it does not count. I am hoping that our numbers will grow and grow and we will become the powerful force that we used to be.

I agree with all the comments made by my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. I am simply probably going to repeat them. The community of shows and travelling fairs is a large one with more than 25,000 showmen in the UK. Many of those businesses, as we have heard already, are run by families who have followed the way of life for many generations and contributed to the economy and community life.

During the pandemic, many showmen have given up their time and effort to become keyworkers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said, delivering food to supermarkets and vulnerable communities alike. Showmen have also wonderfully donated to NHS staff and hospitals all over the country, on top of their regular charitable work, which has raised significant sums of money for national and local charities.

The effects of the coronavirus restrictions hit the show and fairs community at the worst time possible. Having spent the winter repairing and maintaining rides, conducting safety checks and obtaining insurance and vehicle licences, they were forced to close down and miss all their peak months of operation, because let us be frank, that is usually Easter, Whitsun, summer and Christmas—as we know, there would have been something going on near Buckingham palace. It really has hit them at the worst time possible.

When businesses were allowed to open from 4 July, if covid-secure, show and fair operators spent thousands of pounds in order to ensure that their customers would be safe. Despite their efforts, as we have heard, councils throughout the country closed down the majority of fairs, although amusement parks and street markets were allowed to continue operating. That just is not right. For goodness’ sake, it all happens outside. It is unfair and it happened because there was not a strong enough voice in all parts of the House.

Councils were not given clear, specific guidance on the safety measures that fairs and shows needed to implement, and that led to confusion and the closure of all fairs. Many fairs that have been taking place for hundreds of years were forced to cancel—that is so sad—breaking a vital link to the surrounding community. Clear guidelines should be issued to councils to enable permission to be granted to fairs and shows in all areas of the United Kingdom. Those events, as the hon. Member for South Shields said, are part of the fabric of life in communities, and they bring in visitors to help the local economy, as well as being great fun.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said, we can all remember the excitement when a fair or circus came to our area as children. We used to get so excited when the fair arrived on Wanstead Flats. Why I got so excited I do not know—but I did. A visit to the funfair was a magical experience, with candyfloss, which of course is bad for the health, toffee apples, which are bad for the teeth, and rides on the helter-skelter, which I could do. As for all the things that go round and round, my wife, not I, used to take the children on those. The carousel was a wonderful thing to behold.

The sights, colours and music were unforgettable, and the day usually ended with a journey home carrying prizes from the shooting gallery or other games. In my day it was a goldfish in a bag and, of course, as I was a child, if I never got the table tennis ball into the goldfish bowl, when the chap was not looking one of my relatives would cheat for me and just plump it into the bowl. Of course, there cannot now be live animals at fairs, and I think people go home with an oversized cuddly toy—which no doubt we put into raffles in our constituencies.

My own children loved to visit Never Never Land in Southend, just by the pier, which was owned and run by my late friend Mike Dolby—although that was not a travelling fair. I thought that the hon. Member for South Shields said that she had the best seaside town. We will argue about that outside the Chamber; but we are going to become a city, so if hers is the best town we shall be the best city. The children used to love the fun and fantasy that was everywhere. We cannot allow future generations to miss out on those wonderful childhood experiences. Why should they not have those fantasies? It is wonderful for children, and everything should be done to preserve travelling fairs and shows, to make new memories for families all over the country.

As has been said, the culture recovery fund that was set up to assist museums, theatres and other cultural centres has not been extended to showmen and fair operators, and I want to know why from my hon. Friend the Minister. As a valued part of our national heritage, surely showmen should be able to apply for assistance and grants to help them survive until restrictions are eased. It seems very unfair that they are being forced to shut down but are not receiving the financial compensation that is available to other cultural sectors. I am not going to shut up until we get help for them.

Finally, I want to make the case for the continued use of red diesel by showmen. The Treasury is currently holding a consultation on the use and taxation of red diesel, with the aim of restricting it to agriculture only. I know the arguments that the Treasury advances on that, but red diesel is vital to the show community. Other forms of energy are not appropriate for running rides or powering caravans. Increasing the taxation on red diesel would put added pressure on to businesses already hard hit by the pandemic. Let us give fairs and showmen a great Christmas by announcing that we will give them more financial support.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield 2:04 pm, 17th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate David Linden on securing the debate.

Fairs and showgrounds have been part of British life for centuries, and year after year showmen bring their families to run fairs in our constituencies and cities. There are around 10 local fairgrounds in the Sedgefield constituency, including Sedgefield, Ferryhill, Thornley, Trimdon and Newton Aycliffe—though I have to say I probably went up to South Shields, to be honest. They entertain all our local families and help our local economy. They are the pinnacle of many civic calendars.

Sadly this year, due to coronavirus, many fairs and showgrounds will not be in our towns and cities this Christmas time. Because of their history and importance in British life, we should do everything that we can to ensure that fairs and showgrounds are financially supported and treated fairly. There are more than 20,000 showmen in the UK. They have been bringing joy to the British public for centuries. Being a showman is a family business. They are a professional community with a long-standing history, which equates to a multi-million pound industry that has been passed down in families for generations.

In my constituency of Sedgefield, I have one such family-run funfair called Turners—a business with over 200 years of history and nine generations of showmen. For the last 167 years, they have been at the Sedgefield show. Their sense of community was evident during the pandemic, when they were unable to operate their own business. Showmen became key workers, with many using their heavy goods vehicle licences to help to supply supermarkets. Others delivered fresh produce to local people. Showmen also donated supplies to NHS staff in hospitals across the country.

The timing of the pandemic, as has been said, was particularly damaging. Travelling fairgrounds spend much of the winter preparing for next year, and because customer safety is their highest priority that involves spending huge amounts of money over the winter period on maintaining rides, conducting safety tests, and so on—it has all been mentioned already. The majority of travelling fairgrounds had just begun operating at the time of the first lockdown, which meant that they were forced to close and missed many of their peak operating times, such as Easter and several bank holidays. The industry missed out on millions of pounds that represent a substantial and necessary part of their annual income.

All through the pandemic, the major scientists in Government have constantly reinforced the importance of being outdoors and doing outdoor activities to help people with their mental health. The Government have recognised the importance of travelling fairgrounds in helping with those issues by making them one of the industries that are allowed, with covid precautions, to operate in all tiers. The Government allowed all businesses to open from 4 July, if they were covid-secure.

Travelling fairgrounds across the country rose to the challenge, with each spending thousands to ensure that they were safe for their customers. That leads me to my main point: there is such inconsistency between local authorities. The Government gave local authorities the power to decide whether fairs could operate, but why would some overrule the experts and restrict fairgrounds from operating on their land—95% of travelling fairgrounds are on local authority land—when theme parks, amusement parks, car boot fairs, markets, playparks and so on can stay open?

In the north-east, since 4 July three fairgrounds have been allowed on council land. In the summer, one took place in Newton Aycliffe, but on private land. Turners did a survey after it had finished, asking the families coming out of the fair whether they would come again and whether they felt safe. Remember, as was said earlier, it is about personal choice. No one has to go to a fair if they do not want to, and do not feel safe. All of the 482 families surveyed said that they felt safe and would come again, with most families thanking the operators for the opportunity to come to some form of normality and entertainment with their children, helping their own mental wellbeing.

As I mentioned, many fairs spent thousands of pounds ensuring that they were covid-secure; yet, like Turners, many were denied by local authorities, which stated that they were not covid-secure even though they had taken all the necessary steps. That is not consistent, and is deeply frustrating for showmen. Across the country, industries such as pubs, amusement parks and markets were allowed to continue operating while travelling fairs were forced by local authorities to close their doors, despite spending thousands to ensure that they were covid-secure.

Some local authorities made their decisions without providing any legitimate reasons. Theme parks were allowed to open while travelling fairgrounds were denied the same opportunity. That is simply unfair. All travelling fairgrounds are asking for is a level playing field—which is usually where they park. In addition, the Government have failed to provide enough specific clear guidance to local authorities on what they need to do to safely reopen.

Before this debate, I was approached by Turners Funfairs as part of the Future 4 Fairgrounds campaign, which has recommended several actions: I hope that the Minister and the Government can take note and consider these recommendations. First, the Government must put an end to the current inconsistency, to ensure that local authorities allow fairgrounds to reopen safely after the industry has spent a huge amount of money on ensuring the safety of its customers. Secondly, the Government should publish clear guidance to prevent local authorities from discriminating against travelling fairgrounds, whether that guidance is about enabling sites to be used or about supporting them financially.

It is vital that we support our fairs and showgrounds. We must support them financially and—equally importantly—ensure that they are treated fairly and can operate across a level playing field. I hope that the Government will consider those recommendations, and step in to end this inconsistency and provide the clear guidance that is needed. As we exit the pandemic, we will need such events to show people that a happier time is returning, and we must act now to ensure that they have a future that we can all enjoy.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 2:10 pm, 17th December 2020

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone.

I thank all the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate; my hon. Friend David Linden, who diligently secured the debate; and the all-party parliamentary group on fairs and showgrounds, which works so hard in the background all year round. I also thank the showpeople themselves—those who have helped in their own local communities through the pandemic, as showpeople have often helped their own local communities—and the members of groups such as Future 4 Fairgrounds, for example Colleen, who I spoke to earlier. She described very well the situation that James Wild laid out and the difficulties that many fairgrounds are facing. I recommend that the Minister look at the Future 4 Fairgrounds video on Twitter, which shows very well indeed the situation that fairgrounds face.

This year, we have seen the loss of so many fairs throughout the summer and throughout the covid lockdowns, which goes from the cancellation of very small local events, such as fairs and gala days, to the cancellation of huge events that have a long history and pedigree. In my own constituency, there is the Glasgow Fair on Glasgow Green, which is a chartered fair; its roots date from 1190 and it took its current form as a funfair from the 1900s onwards. Travelling showpeople brought penny geggies and other rides to the people of Glasgow, so that they could enjoy the fair holidays.

There is also the Kirkcaldy Links Market, Europe’s longest street fair, which was established in 1304 and runs over the course of six days. However, it was also cancelled as a result of the covid lockdown. Glasgow’s Irn-Bru Carnival is held at the Scottish Event Campus in my constituency. Last year, it celebrated its 100th anniversary as a carnival. It is a brilliant event; I remember my dad taking me to it when I was small and I have taken my own kids to it as well. It has all the joys of the funfair rides, but inside in the warm, which, in Glasgow in winter, is really quite important, because nobody wants it to rain on their candyfloss; rain would not do it any good. To have people going in and enjoying the carousels, the gallopers and the bumper cars—it is a really sad thing that we have not been able to enjoy these things through the course of this year.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East mentioned, many of the showpeople in Glasgow live in our constituencies: in my constituency, showpeople live in Bridgeton and Dalmarnock; and showpeople also live throughout the east end, and in Govan and Scotstoun. In addition, showpeople live in the Cuningar Loop, in South Lanarkshire. The families who live on the sites in these areas have been there for generations. We can look through the names of the families who live there and know who is related; there are grandparents and great-grandparents on the same sites as their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all living very close together. This industry is very much a family industry and it deserves special recognition for that.

What has also been sad this year is not being able to engage with those families at the Scottish Showmen’s Guild annual luncheon, which is held in Glasgow every single year. Every year, I would go and meet those families, learn their stories, see who has had new grandchildren, and have a good chat about all the things that they are getting on with in their own areas. So, it has been very difficult this year for all of those people; I know that because I have been in touch with some of them.

As I think all Members have reflected today, this has been a very difficult and a very unusual year, and showpeople in particular have had their main source of income throughout the year taken away from them. They deserve to have financial support to see them through, because, as Mrs Lewell-Buck mentioned, many showpeople have now gone into debt as a result of this year; some of them through bounce back loans, which they have been able to access. Some of them have had no support; some of them have been able to access the self-employment support scheme; and a smaller number have been able to access schemes such as the furlough scheme. When we consider the issue of loans, we see that it is really a difficult situation. It is not as if the showpeople are going to get that money back; it is not a deferral of income, but a complete loss of a year’s income, which is difficult to make back. Unless we all go on twice as many sets of waltzers next year, it is going to be difficult for them to make that money back.

In many cases, their outgoings have not gone away. As Jennyfer Taylor, who wrote to me, pointed out, testing and maintenance of equipment still has to go on to meet the safety requirements and make sure that everything is in good working order: when the fairs come back, they want to be able to start right away. They need to have that certification in place.

Somebody else who was in touch with me raised the issue of asset finance for rides, because some extremely expensive rides have been brought in from other places. The showpeople have loans on them—some are paying thousands of pounds a month on rides that they cannot take out and use. I understand that some asset finance companies have been quite flexible with people, but not all of them. Anything that the Minister can do to encourage asset finance companies to be as generous to showpeople as they can would be welcome.

I have been to the manufacturing units down in Dalmarnock, where they produce and maintain some of the rides. It is incredibly impressive to watch them being built up from bare frames, welded together and electronic devices put on to them to make the rides that we would all recognise. That is testament to those whose engineering skills have been honed through generations of showpeople and passed down through those families. Often the rides themselves have been passed down as well, and people say, “That’s so-and-so’s gallopers; that’s so-and-so’s waltzers.” They know them very well and would recognise the rides if they saw them at other shows. People understand that the ones they recognise are part of the heritage.

As Richard Graham pointed out, many showpeople have diversified into other areas, such as the hot food vans we see at lots of events. The cancellation of music festivals and other events over the summer has stymied a huge amount of income that people who had diversified into those areas would have got. They may also have found it difficult to get support. It is not just candyfloss, toffee apples and popcorn, but hot food of various types—of great quality—that has not been able to be produced because the events that they service have not been there.

All hon. Members have spoken of the imbalance of funfairs at some fixed sites being able to open. Theme parks that are on a single site have been able to go ahead and continue, whereas travelling showpeople have not. There seems to be a real case of discrimination against travelling showpeople, who move around the country as part of their business and go to different towns and cities to set up their wonderful rides.

Despite being covid-compliant, rides have been refused, often at short notice. That is deeply unfair, because showpeople will have invested in taking the rides out and setting them up, ready to go. If there are hot food vans, they will have been buying in the food and the stock to sell, and then losing it at the last minute, with no compensation. We need to do anything we can to make that simpler for people so that they get the assurance of knowing that they are going get the rides open and that people will come through and enjoy them, buying the food and candyfloss.

I understand that the Scottish section of the Showmen’s Guild has worked closely with the Scottish Government to secure access to grants. I thank my colleagues in Scotland for doing that. The Minister must do all he can to make sure there is an equal scheme for those outside Scotland. Often, people who have rides in Scotland will go to the north-east of England with their rides, but people there cannot access the same support. If possible, there needs to be a scheme for England that people can access as well. I pay tribute to the chair of the Scottish section, Alex James Colquhoun, and all his colleagues, for helping to secure this. I know how hard they have worked on behalf of their members to make this happen.

Funfairs have a rich past and are a rich part of our heritage, with a special place in all our hearts. We can feel the warmth from everybody today about the experiences they have had. Sir David Amess mentioned that he does not go on the rides; I love going on the rides. I really enjoy it—more than my kids, actually. Any excuse to go on! We yearn for that normality, and yearn to go back to the joy and excitement that funfairs bring. We must support the showpeople, whose skills have been passed through the generations, to get through this time, so that funfairs can go on to have a strong and vibrant future for all of us.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:19 pm, 17th December 2020

It is always a pleasure to be chaired by you, Mr Hollobone. I thank David Linden for securing this vital debate on an important matter, as well as colleagues from across the House for their contributions.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East passionately showed his connection to and support for showpeople in his comprehensive speech. I was particularly grateful for his support for showpeople in Belgium, and thank him and Sir David Amess for highlighting the importance of red diesel.

I thank James Wild for showing his passion for the King’s Lynn mart, which, I must admit, I had not heard of before, and for his points about local authorities and the need for support from the coronavirus relief fund, which I will come to. My hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck gave a great exposition of the Ocean Beach Pleasure Park in her constituency, which I look forward to visiting when possible. She also raised the issue of the 3 million excluded, which affects showpeople and those who work in fairs and fairgrounds in particular, as well as the issue of the debts that showpeople have accrued.

Richard Graham, as an honourable member of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, is uniquely qualified to comment on and represent the concerns of showpeople, and I thank him for his speech. The hon. Member for Southend West mentioned the decline of the importance of fairs and fairgrounds to Parliament, and the falling away of the all-party parliamentary group, but I am sure that under his and other Back-Bench Members’ leaderships, we can return to the glory days of supporting showpeople. Paul Howell highlighted the outdoor nature of fairs and fairgrounds, and their benefits for people’s wellbeing during the pandemic. Alison Thewliss highlighted the specialist manufacturing sector. I will also mention that, as it is important to this debate.

This year, we have seen the Conservative Administration show disdain for workers’ industries across all sectors in the UK. Fairgrounds have been ignored entirely. From the Great British seaside to the commons of our towns and cities, fairgrounds present a unique source of fun to be enjoyed by friends and families alike. Many of us have really fond memories of going to fairs when growing up, particularly in small towns. It was one of our first experiences of being able to go to something independently of our parents, in our early teens. My memories are of going to the Becky fair with my mates and, more recently, of taking my own children to the Leeds Valentine’s fair.

Fairgrounds employ thousands of workers nationally, but with more than 90% of events cancelled this year the sector faces unprecedented hardship, even though fairgrounds have made huge efforts to become covid-secure. The fairs are real family businesses, as so many hon. Members have said, with generations of people owning and working on them. Most are represented by the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, which speaks for nearly all our travelling funfairs.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech, but I say gently to him that it is a bit unkind to say that the Government have done nothing at all for showpeople. The key element to all this is the local council. My council, Gloucester City Council, not only granted the Willie Wilson funfair its usual fair, but actually extended the amount of time it could open, so more people could benefit from it. It is really down to councils, and I hope that both Labour and Conservative councils will respond to our points about supporting showmen.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Local authorities cannot provide the financial support and grants that the Government can, but I will come to the point about the trading aspects of fairs and fairgrounds, which is hugely important, as he said.

I recently met representatives of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, and the stories that I heard were heartbreaking. As the Minister knows, and as we have shared during the debate, many of those family businesses, which underpin much of our cultural heritage, sit at the heart of communities and often raise huge amounts of money for charity and engage with social initiatives. During covid-19, many showpeople became key workers: many used their heavy goods vehicle licences to help to supply supermarkets across the country, while others delivered fresh produce to local people who were struggling in lockdown. Some even donated supplies to NHS staff and hospitals across the country.

Swathes of the hospitality sector have spent a great deal of time and resource refactoring their businesses to allow them to provide a safe environment for their patrons during the pandemic. Fairground businesses, as we know, are based outdoors in the open air, and are no different. People across the industry have gone to great lengths in that regard, but while businesses in other sectors have been given priority to operate, they have been stymied and blocked. The Government seem to have totally forgotten about the travelling fairgrounds, or are just passing on responsibility without sufficient guidance and support. Businesses are struggling without adequate support from Government, as the direct cash grants for closed businesses are worth—at most—half what they were during the first lockdown.

Meanwhile, the one-off additional restrictions grant for local areas is inadequate and fails to take into account the circumstances of various restrictions in different places. Operators alone have had access to piecemeal self-employment grants that completely overlook each fairground’s numerous additional workers. In my neighbouring constituency of Leeds Central, the Valentine’s fair employs more than 700 people. None has received any financial support or reassurance that they can return to work next year.

The industry has been denied access to the closed local restrictions support grant, and does not appear to be receiving funding from the open discretionary local restrictions support grant—in any case, those grants will be worth at most half. Fairgrounds also do not seem to be in receipt of support from the additional restrictions grant, which, again, is flawed in its design, failing to take into account the circumstances of various restrictions. Grants from those imperfect schemes would still be better than nothing to the fairground sector, which desperately wants to be able to protect jobs, protect the industry, and offer much needed support to both employers and employees, many of whom operate without rateable premises and often as sole traders. The winter months are a period of preparation for the new year in the fairground industry. With no clear plan for their return and no financial support, operators have been left mired in uncertainty. Many find themselves unable to even pay for services missed during peak times of operation.

The Government gave local authorities the power to close travelling fairgrounds while retaining power over theme parks, which are allowed to open while travelling fairgrounds are denied the same opportunity. The Government need to create a level playing field and take a stronger hand with local authorities, as the hon. Member for Gloucester intervened on me to say.

The fairground sector was already facing significant hurdles before the additional complications caused by covid-19. Travel ambiguity and rising costs, a direct result of Brexit, add additional unnecessary strain. Those factors, alongside the squeeze and the pandemic, have left many on the brink.

When I met the Showmen’s Guild, it noted that 40% of members have reported rising insurance fees. Last year alone, one ride saw an insurance cost rise from £177 to £532, which is another issue that the Minister needs to address. He also needs to consider the supply chain. Many manufacturing businesses with a unique set of skills, which the hon. Member for Glasgow Central raised, are worth £200 million to the national economy.

On support elsewhere in the UK, the Scottish Government have issued £1.5 million to Scottish showmen to compensate for their loss of income, which was mentioned by the hon. Members for Glasgow Central and for Glasgow East. The devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales are likewise offering specific tailored support. The industry is really struggling. The Minister knows that nearly a quarter of the cultural recovery fund is yet to be allocated, but travelling fairgrounds are currently excluded. Could they now be included, even at this late stage? I want to hear the Minister’s views on that.

Who could deny that fairs and fairgrounds are a part of our nation’s cultural heritage? Even Simon and Garfunkel knew of Scarborough fair, although it ceased to exist 200 years before they penned their classic song. I hope the Minister has urgent solutions, or it might be only in song that people know of our great fairs and travelling fairgrounds in future.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 2:28 pm, 17th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to respond on behalf of the Government to this important debate, which comes at the end of a hugely challenging year for the fairground and showmen’s sector. I thank David Linden for securing this debate. I know he has spoken regularly on behalf of the sector throughout this period. I thank all Members from across the House for their contributions today and for their involvement in the APPG. I note that my hon. Friend Sir David Amess called for more Members to join.

[Christina Rees in the Chair]

Many Members have sent me written questions and so on over the past few weeks, and I appreciate their doing so. The interest in the issue in this Chamber is a clear demonstration of how important fairs and showground events are both to the UK economy and to our cultural heritage. It is an indication of the importance of the community of showmen, their identity and their contribution to life in the UK. As the hon. Member for Glasgow East mentioned, their contribution, for example, to charities and to their local communities during this crisis has not gone without notice.

Although the tourism and cultural issues are generally devolved matters—the devolved Administrations are responsible for any targeted financial support in their respective nations—I am on good terms and consult frequently with my devolved counterparts. I meet them regularly and will continue to do so. We learn from each other.

Outdoor events, broadly defined, make a huge and valuable contribution to our tourism industry. According to the Events Industry Forum, they generate £30 billion a year and employ directly over 500,000 people in the UK, with people having made around 140 million visits to our outdoor events of all kinds in 2018. As was mentioned, and as the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain itself suggests, the fairground industry specifically generates more than £100 million in gross value added per year. That cannot be sniffed at.

The absence of such events for much of this year has shown how funfairs and showgrounds support many of our social celebrations, be they summer or winter festivals, or longstanding and much-loved local events, as was mentioned. The past nine months of the covid-19 pandemic have been an extreme challenge for all sectors and businesses. Showmen are no exception to that. We recognise the widespread impact that covid-19 has had not only on the successful operation of those businesses, but on the whole community and families who keep funfairs and fairgrounds going.

I would like to set out some of the support offered by the Government to date and then look to the future. In March, the first lockdown hit the visitor economy hard. It wiped out our usually bustling outdoor events calendar, marking a period of immense hardship for many events businesses and their families. However, the Government acted quickly to help businesses through that period with an unprecedented package of support, including self-employment schemes, as well as a variety of grants and loan schemes, as was acknowledged by colleagues today, although I recognise that not everyone in every sector is always eligible for all of them.

Where specific issues were identified, we acted by securing additional money to be spent by local authorities aimed at helping many tourism and events businesses, including some that were outside the business rates system. Although I know there have been points where eligibility has not been possible, showmen have seen some success in applying for bounce-back loans, small business rate grants, local council discretionary grants and the self-employment support scheme. As I said, I recognise that that financial assistance has often been offered to operators and that the nature of the sector means that there remains a significant financial impact on the wider showmen community across all sectors, which has not received all the support. I urge showmen and fairground operators to continue to apply for all the available support, as my hon. Friend Richard Graham pointed out. I encourage them to apply for those grants that are available.

Throughout the summer, when restrictions were gradually eased, we helped fairs to make the most of the season. We cut the VAT rate on tourism, hospitality and leisure-related activities, including admissions to fairs, from 20% to 5%. We launched a variety of campaigns to try to encourage people to be out and about, including the Enjoy Summer Safely and the Escape the Everyday campaigns. We worked with the sector to develop detailed guidelines to make outdoor events covid-secure. As many hon. Members mentioned, becoming covid-compliant to provide security to visitors and workers in this sector has not come without significant cost and effort; I recognise that. VisitBritain introduced the “We’re Good to Go” standard, which over 40,000 businesses have signed up for, including many funfairs.

As hon. Members know, covid-19 forced us to adapt our approach in the autumn and strengthen social restrictions once again. I know that these restrictions have placed further strain on fairs and showground operators. However, I want to point out the measures introduced by the Government to mitigate some of those pressures. In response to November’s national lockdown and ongoing local measures, the Chancellor implemented further support for businesses and individuals, including extending various Government-backed loans, extending the furlough and self-employment schemes and introducing new grants.

I want to draw attention to those grants, which may be relevant to several businesses—not all, I recognise—in the fairground and showground sector and its supply chains. First, businesses that were legally required to close due to the restrictions, as was the case for funfairs during November, can receive up to £3,000 for the month. Secondly, many eligible businesses in the hospitality, leisure and accommodation sectors that were not required to close but suffered reduced demand could receive grants of up to £2,100. While the Government have set suggested criteria for the funding that states that we expect it to be

“targeted at hospitality and leisure businesses”,

local authorities will determine local needs for supporting the recovery, and they will determine exactly which businesses to support through the grants. However, I strongly encourage them to consider applications from the fair and showground sector sympathetically. That clear message, repeated by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, is the one we need to send today.

Finally, we have given local authorities £1.1 billion through the additional restrictions grants to help business more broadly. Again, they can determine how much funding to provide to businesses through the scheme and which businesses to target. Guidance for ARG funding again encourages local authorities to

“develop discretionary grant schemes to help those businesses which—while not legally forced to close—are nonetheless severely impacted by the restrictions put in place”.

That includes

“businesses which supply the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, or businesses in the events sector”.

While decisions are at the discretion of local authorities, I encourage them to make funding available to the fairs and showgrounds sector and I encourage showmen to apply for the funding—again, that has been the consistent message from the debate. We will continue to work with the Showmen’s Guild to understand covid’s impact on travelling showmen and closely monitor the fairground industry’s access to these grant schemes.

It is important to keep in mind that any further support will need to be considered in the wider context of existing support for the wider tourism and events industry and the effectiveness of measures already in place. Of course, with the exception of periods of national lockdown, funfairs and fairgrounds have been permitted to operate since July and, far from ignoring the fairground and outdoors events sector, we prioritised it for reopening. Local authorities are responsible for permitting events in their local areas.

The Government have set out a broad framework in which funfairs and fairgrounds can go ahead if they follow covid-secure guidance, adhere to all the legal requirements and put in place every mitigation to ensure that their events do not pose a public health risk. My Department has produced advice for local authorities encouraging them to work closely with event organisers on a case-by-case basis to permit events to go ahead safely. It is also important to stress that we recognise the important role of local authorities. Even if an event has taken place in the past, it is not necessarily appropriate for it to take place at the same location currently or in the future—there may be pinch points, for example. A directive from the Government saying that such events must go ahead would therefore be inappropriate, because we must recognise the local authority’s role in identifying the particular local circumstances. As I said, pinch points or other perfectly reasonable considerations may mean that events should not go ahead.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

I notice that the Minister is coming to the end of his comments. He said he recognises that not everybody can get support, so the crux of the debate is: what will he do to ensure that those who cannot get support do get it?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I will come to a couple of points. As I have said, the most important thing is that discretionary grants are available and that local authorities should look at this sector sympathetically.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

If that is the case, will he ensure that local authorities get more money? I know a lot of local authorities are running out of the money that the Government have already given them.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Lady will know that, for example, the discretionary grant fund is £1.1 billion, and it was specifically suggested that that money should go to events and locations and businesses that perhaps have not been paying business rates—particularly those who do not have a permanent location—and again specifically to the hospitality, leisure and events sector. That is clear guidance to local authorities. As I have said, other guidance is available.

The guild has shown that where entities have been able to apply for grants, they have had success. I do recognise that that is not across the board, but it is simply not true to say there has been no support. There has been significant support. I encourage all entities to apply and I encourage those disbursing the money, and those at local authority level in particular, to look sympathetically at those applications.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The Minister is making a good point. To be fair, I think that the money is there, but what would be very helpful is if he could team up with his MHCLG colleagues to send a clear message to council chief executives and leaders that they should give real consideration to the needs of the local showmen and, if need be, find a councillor in touch with them to co-ordinate a needing so that the needs are understood specifically.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for his practical comments. I am happy to write again to MHCLG. The message is clear in the guidance. As far as I am concerned, those are exactly the kind of entities that should be receiving support and what the programme was designed for. I am happy to write again, but there is a record of where some have received the money. That in itself shows that they can and should be eligible.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

One point made by several Members in the Chamber, including James Wild, but not addressed by the Minister is that the CRF funding is in his own Department. Will the criteria be extended to allow showpeople to apply for that funding?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I shall be coming on to that in a moment.

Where events have been permitted, there are numerous examples of safe, successful events going ahead, such as Blackheath’s August bank holiday funfair, the Tuckers fair at Birstall, near Leeds, the Charles Cole fair in Southampton and the Winter Festivals at Lakeside, Bluewater and Brent Cross. In my constituency, the local authorities have allowed fairs and other events, and have worked with organisers to ensure that those events are safe. I have seen a good relationship at first hand.

I therefore encourage and expect local authorities to allow fairs and other events to go ahead unless there are health risks that cannot be mitigated. I will repeat that, because this is a really important message: I encourage and expect local authorities to allow fairs and other events to go ahead unless there are health risks that cannot be mitigated. As well as providing vital income for showmen, such events have of course given local communities a much-needed sense of normality while putting in place appropriate mitigations to keep visitors safe.

With regard to the point that the hon. Member for Glasgow East made about local authorities cancelling 2021 fairs, we cannot guarantee what next year will hold, or exactly when covid restrictions will be lifted, but I share his belief that 2021 offers us all at least a glimmer of hope for a return to normality. Decisions about permitting local events are at the discretion of local authorities.

As set out in our guidance, I urge local authorities around the country to consider applications from outdoor event organisers on a case-by-case basis, according to the health situation in the area at the time, and not to issue blanket bans on future events without due regard for the safety measures that we know that such events can implement and put in place. My Department and the MHCLG will continue to engage with Public Health England, local authorities and fairgrounds themselves as part of the continuing reopening process.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of the red diesel duty. At Budget 2020, the Chancellor announced that the Government will remove the entitlement to use red diesel from April 2022, except in agriculture, fishing, farming, rail and non-commercial heating, including domestic heating. The Government recognise that that will be a significant change. Ultimately, this is a matter for the Treasury, which had a consultation, as has been recognised. That consultation, I believe, has now closed and the Treasury will set out the next steps in due course once it has considered the responses to the consultation in detail. I am afraid I cannot say much more at this moment in time.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I appreciate what the Minister says about not being able to comment on the red diesel point, but my understanding is that some European cities have plug-in points, so that funfair operators do not even need to use diesel in city centres and so on—they can use electronic charging points for their vehicles and rides. Could he support the development of that kind of thing?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

We are always open to good and creative ideas. We can look at what our friends in Europe propose to see whether we can mirror or copy anything.

With regard to the culture recovery fund, as with any fund, there are always eligibility criteria and a restriction on it. One thing we have been trying to do—I repeat this—is to get fairs and the outdoor events sector open as soon as possible. In fact, we prioritised it. Therefore, they are able to be open, although I recognise—as we have all said today—that there are restrictions on that. The classification of what is eligible, particularly for the part of the cultural recovery fund overseen by Arts Council England, included certain sub-genres. For example, circuses are a sub-genre of theatres in the Arts Council England classification. They were included, as well as areas where there is more of a live entertainment element and more often seating than in other areas.

There was a set of criteria. Most entities that received money from the CRF were unable to open when other entities were, so there had to be a broad set of criteria and eligibility in place. I recognise that not every entity that would like to apply is eligible or able to do so, but as I said, financial support and schemes are available. Although not everybody is eligible, I encourage everybody in the sector to apply if they think they may be, rather than discount themselves by not applying.

We will continue to engage with the funfairs and outdoors events stakeholders as we look into how to support them most effectively as they recover, including through the development of a tourism recovery plan, which I and my Department are overseeing. We know that there is plenty of work ahead of us, both in terms of reopening and the overall recovery, and I am grateful for all the constructive ideas that hon. Members have put forward today. I assure hon. Members that the Government are listening, and we will continue to work with all stakeholders on ideas to further support the fairs and showground industry.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:46 pm, 17th December 2020

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Ms Rees. I pass on my thanks to Mr Hollobone for chairing the first part of the debate. I wish him and you a merry Christmas. We have had an excellent debate. It was never my intention for it to be combative, so I am genuinely delighted with how it has gone and with some of the things that the Minister has said.

I will sum up some of what hon. Members said in what was an excellent debate. James Wild rightly paid tribute to his constituent Colleen Roper, who I have had dealings with for several months. She is tenacious in raising the issue, so he was right to put that on the record. He captured the history by talking about the royal charter established under Henry VIII for the King’s Lynn Mart. That is impressive and will not have been lost on the Minister.

In my experience, Mrs Lewell-Buck is not someone to be wrestled with often, as the Minister probably found several times. She rightly talked about the 3 million people who have been excluded, which is an indisputable fact. She quoted the ladies from Future 4 Fairgrounds, who said that it is not just a job for people, but a way of life. That is what I mean when I say that from my flat in Glasgow, I look into the yards where these people live, and I look at their caravans and equipment alongside them. It is a way of life for them and it is important for the Government to reflect on that.

I am jealous of Richard Graham as an honorary member of the Showmen’s Guild. He made an incredibly informed speech. I pay tribute to his work with the coalition Government on education. I was not unaware of that; I was looking at it only this week. I thank him for putting many of those points on the record. He spoke with a lot of authority on the issue.

I pay tribute to Sir David Amess, which should be, I believe, a city—we cannot get through a debate without putting that on the record—for his leadership of the APPG. It is probably quite frustrating when a young whippersnapper such as me comes along and starts prodding people to do lots of stuff, but he has a long track record of leading on these issues, and it is a pleasure to serve under his chairmanship of that group. There was a bit of a debate, in which I was certainly never going to get involved, between him and the hon. Member for South Shields. I think we can agree that the hon. Gentleman has the best seaside city resort and the hon. Lady has the best town. Perhaps we can leave it there without having a diplomatic incident.

For the purposes of Hansard, which I am sure will have got that wrong, Paul Howell was not at all suggesting that the best funfairs were in South Shields; I am sure he meant Sedgefield. He was right to talk about the nine generations that have operated over 200 years. I made precisely that point in my earlier speech about people’s long historical connection.

As Glasgow politicians, there is always a bit of banter between me and my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss. We might disagree about who has the best constituency, but we do not disagree that the Irn-Bru Carnival at the Scottish Event Campus is much missed this year. We look forward to it coming back. She is right to put on the record some of the issues relating to asset finance. I and several hon. Friends from Scotland wrote to the asset finance companies back in March, and some have been helpful, in terms of being a bit more flexible. She is also right to talk about the impact of the way the Showmen’s Guild was set up in regions, and to put on the record the concerns of showmen, particularly in the north of England, who are missing out on the funding and will be looking to their colleagues north of the border.

The shadow Minister was right to press the issue of the culture recovery fund. Earlier in the year, I was a bit concerned about the fact that when the taskforce was undertaken, the Showmen’s Guild was told that it could not be part of it and had to be represented by the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain. That is akin to asking the Brownies to represent the Scouts. That did not go down well with the guild, so is there any way of ensuring that the culture recovery fund can be looked at?

The Minister has been pretty candid today, which was welcome, in acknowledging that some people have been excluded. If there is that acknowledgement, the logical follow-through is to adapt ever so slightly—we are not talking about huge numbers of people—who is eligible for the culture recovery fund.

I thank the Minister, because I genuinely appreciate his tone and the contact that I had with his officials in the run-up to this debate, and I look forward to the meeting that is forthcoming following the question to the Prime Minister. The Government and particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer do not shy away from a photo opportunity. The Minister should tell Rishi that being pictured on the teacups is pretty good—it probably trumps that Nando’s shot. The Minister would be welcome to join us on the teacups as well, of course. Any support that the Treasury could look at providing, particularly as we head towards the Budget in March, would be appreciated.

I am very grateful to the Minister for putting on the record quite so strongly his expectation that local authorities should not be cancelling fairs. I expect that this edition of Hansard will be going to just about every council officer from the Showmen’s Guild, so I welcome that.

The final thing that I want to talk about is diesel. I appreciate that that is not a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but could a formal representation go from the Minister to the Treasury to say that he has heard those concerns?

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The Minister is nodding ever so slightly, so he is acceding to that request. If a letter could go to the Treasury outlining that, as the consultation has closed, that would be very helpful.

I want to take the opportunity to wish you, Ms Rees, and all hon. Members here a very happy Christmas. I am sure we are all looking forward to going on the teacups with Rishi when he gets his wallet out.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the future of fairs and showgrounds.

Sitting suspended.