I want to concentrate my remarks on the media industry, which was in crisis well before the pandemic hit. The fallout from covid-19 will only worsen the situation, unless adequate support and funding is secured. As it stands, sector-specific support for journalists and, in particular, freelancers is seriously lacking. The enormous power of the tech giants has destroyed the long-established news business model. In response, the National Union of Journalists has put together a news recovery plan, which consists of a raft of measures and interventions to ensure a pluralistic, diverse and vibrant news ecosystem. It sets out specific proposals for a levy on the tech giants based on the huge profits of these companies, which have increased vastly during the pandemic. That would fund public interest journalism.
I strongly encourage the Minister to engage with the National Union of Journalists on the proposals in its recovery plan, to ensure a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. The failure to tax excess profits of tech giants will directly impact professional journalism and result in the loss of uniquely valuable regional current affairs programmes such as the BBC’s “Inside Out” programme, broadcast in constituencies such as mine. To make matters worse, the poor funding settlement arising from the last royal charter review of the BBC is resulting in a loss of 550 jobs from BBC News. The BBC is the heart of the creative economy, and supports employment in the wider sector. Indeed, every £1 spent by the BBC generates an additional £2 in the wider economy.
In addition, the impact of the Government’s failure to honour their manifesto commitment to protect free TV licences for the over-75s has not only had a direct impact on the lives of tens of thousands of elderly and vulnerable people, but has had serious consequences for BBC budgets. The pandemic has further exposed the precarious nature of freelance work and the relative lack of protection for freelance journalists. Once again, I draw the Minister’s attention to the NUJ’s freelance charter, which sets out 10 specific proposals to secure a fair deal for freelancers. These include trade union collective bargaining to improve terms and conditions for freelance journalists and equalising rights with full-time employees, including sick pay, maternity pay, paternity and parental leave, unemployment benefits, and full access to benefits and social securities.
In conclusion, I urge Ministers to work constructively with the National Union of Journalists to ensure that those who are currently excluded have access to the support they need. I also echo the comments of other right hon. and hon. Members by praising and thanking the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), and his colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who have been extremely helpful in their listening to the concerns of Members, and proffering advice and making representations to Ministers.
It is time to think about how our sports and creative industries can help our post-pandemic recovery. Like other areas, the west midlands has been hammered by the pandemic. Our theatres, entertainment complexes and hospitality venues are on the verge of collapse. But Birmingham and west midlands residents are resilient people. That is why we are busy preparing for the Commonwealth games, hosting more than 70 teams from all around the Commonwealth, with a potential £1 billion boost to the local economy.
We are also developing the creative content hub at the Bond in Birmingham to enhance our film production facilities and digital games industry. But as many as 70% of the people who work in the creative industries are freelancers—the very people the Chancellor has consistently ignored throughout this crisis. The west midlands’ creative sector is braced for the loss of over 50,000 jobs in the aftermath of covid, so we will need more assistance.
It is not enough to be told that the culture recovery fund has been a success. Of course I welcome it, but there is little point in maintaining buildings if we lose the people who work in them. Ministers have to listen. They have to consider backing an insurance scheme to protect live music events, as others have said. They have to consider urgent action to address the barriers to creative workers travelling to Europe. We need opportunities for young people to break into the sector. How about apprenticeships in the creative industries and Government-supported scholarships for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are leaving care?
I welcome the funding the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund have allocated to support the wider cultural festival that will accompany the Commonwealth games. Birmingham Council is allocating £2 million to be shared across the city, so that ordinary Brummies can be part of the event. Would it not be a good idea if the Government were to build on such initiatives by establishing a sports legacy fund, to ensure that more young people are able to enjoy healthy sporting activities? With concern rising about mental health and an epidemic of knife crime, there has never been a better time to involve our youth in sport and cultural pursuits, but we are moving in the wrong direction. As the YMCA reports, budgets have suffered a cumulative cut of 60%, and 763 youth centres have closed. What has happened to the Government’s promise of a £500 million youth investment fund?
I hope we will see more support for initiatives such as community radio. Hope Radio, based in my constituency, is a not-for-profit organisation set up to help to reach the vulnerable and isolated. It gives out valuable and useful local information, and tackles some of the vaccine myths. I should point that that one in five people in the west midlands have no access to the internet, so community radio is vital. I hope the Government will continue to support FM licences for the station and perhaps give it a bit of funding.
I, too, welcome back to the House my dear friend and constituency neighbour, the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens).
I wish to make four quick points. First, others have mentioned the plight of freelance musicians and artists, who have been excluded from support because they do not fit the Chancellor’s criteria for support. The criteria were drawn up hastily, and there was an excuse for that, but they were not amended when it was clear that they had arbitrary and negative consequences—for which there is no excuse—for many artists, musicians and others. Tomorrow, the Chancellor has another chance to put that right. In Wales, funds were set aside to help freelancers, but what is really needed is action from the Chancellor to support those who have been excluded, as called for by the Musicians’ Union and others.
Secondly, we have missed the live music sector and could all do with a summer of live music events and festivals. The issue of insurance has already been mentioned in the debate. Last week, I received a written answer from the Minister for Digital and Culture that said:
“As such, HM Treasury does not believe that now is the right time for an insurance intervention.”
Well, if this is not the right time for an insurance intervention, there never will be an insurance intervention from the Treasury. This is typical Treasury orthodox thinking. Now is the time for an insurance intervention to make sure that we can have live music back this summer. It would be the best boost not only for the industry but for morale and the economy.
Thirdly, covid has been hard enough for the music industry in itself but, combined with the negligent no-deal Brexit for musicians and touring artists, it is a double dose of disaster. Covid was unavoidable; the consequences of a failure to do a deal on touring were not only avoidable and predictable but predicted. A small window now remains to fix that before many successful British businesses are ruined by this negligence. That should be a priority for the Government.
Finally, let me look to the future. Covid has killed live music, but it can be revived. As we have heard, covid has also shone a light on the inequities of the new economics of music streaming and how it is failing to deliver for music songwriters and composers. The House may know that the DCMS Committee is conducting an inquiry into the matter. Some change is happening already—at 2 pm today, SoundCloud announced that it is going over to fan-powered royalties and a user-centric system, which is a step forward by the industry—but as well as the industry the Government should be prepared, if necessary, to reform the law in favour of creators and away from wealthy corporate market powers. They have been enjoying a gold rush from streaming; after the gold rush, let’s have a “new home in the sun” for our brilliant musicians and songwriters.
It has been estimated that as much as 60% of some towns’ economic output comes directly from the night-time industry. The findings from a recent inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group for the night time economy highlight just how devastating an impact the pandemic has had in this sector. In some cases, businesses are trading at a mere 10% of their pre-covid turnovers and have been forced to make almost a third of their workforce redundant. Without urgent and tailored financial support, it is no exaggeration to say that this interwoven economic system faces the very real risk of irreparable damage and collapse.
Businesses in the sector not only help to drive the local economy, but act as meeting places and hubs of local social activity. They are a huge part of the fabric and culture of daily life on my constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. Many respondents to the APPG’s inquiry from the constituency viewed venues in the night-time industry locally as “safe locations” and
“places which promote good mental health and well-being”
Despite that, many have now been closed for an entire year, resulting in many employees and businesses facing real financial hardship, yet Government support for this sector continues to be drip fed disproportionately by comparison with that afforded to other industries.
The UK music sector has been hit especially hard by the effects of the pandemic. Ongoing restrictions and concerns over crowd numbers have removed live performance income completely. The Musicians Union reported that at the time of the first lockdown, cancellations of live performances had resulted in a £14 million loss for its members—a figure that has only grown the longer the pandemic has worn on. Further cancellations of live performances, coupled with increasing uncertainty about any potential return to performing, led to 34% of MU members telling a recent survey that they were considering quitting the UK music sector entirely. This includes many of my own very talented constituents who have contacted me with their concerns. A similar percentage told the same survey that they had not been eligible for any form of governmental relief or support package since lockdown began.
Pre-pandemic figures show that the music industry contributed over £5 billion to the economy and export revenue was almost £3 billion. Clearly this was not a failing industry, yet it has been left decimated because it has not been operating for the duration of the pandemic. I therefore call on the Government to provide clear guidance and timescales for a return to operations, given that this sector depends on long-term planning and scheduling. The imminent Budget is the perfect chance to do this.
Over £1 billion-worth of funding from the culture recovery fund has already been allocated across all four nations of the UK. The funding is supporting over 3,000 arts and heritage organisations in England alone and more than 75,000 jobs.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for banging the table so well for the culture sector over so many years. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture has previously said, the door always remains open should our European friends wish to reconsider our mutually beneficial proposals, which would have allowed UK touring professionals to tour more easily, but they rejected them. In the meantime, where visas apply, our agreement with the EU contains measures designed to make the necessary processes as smooth as possible. A working group has been set up by the Secretary of State to look at any obstacles that might face British performers seeking to tour. We will continue to seek to co-operate with our European friends on this important issue.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton). The creative industries are one of our greatest exports and a symbol of our national identity. They attract millions of people across the globe to visit and to live and work in the UK every year. I am proud that many of my constituents work in the sector as musicians, actors and producers in TV, theatre, art, design and dance. However, as we all know, the pandemic has dealt them a severe blow and looks set to prevent many organisations from reopening anytime soon.
I want to focus my comments today on those who work in the creative industries. This is an extremely talented, diverse and world-leading workforce. Office for National Statistics figures indicate that just over 30% of them are self-employed, with the subsectors most impacted by the pandemic, such as theatre and music, having a self-employed workforce of around 70%. As has been raised countless times in the Chamber, the design of the self-employed income support scheme has excluded at least 3 million self-employed taxpayers from any support. That was avoidable, and countless calls for the scheme to be amended have fallen on deaf ears.
I have received a huge number of emails from constituents who are affected, for example by being excluded from the SEISS and the job retention scheme because less than 50% of their income is from self-employment. This has impacted local musicians in particular, who often rely on a mixture of PAYE work on zero hours contracts alongside self-employed earnings. Constituents whose trading profits are just over the £50,000 threshold for support have been left with nothing because of the cliff edge. Constituents who operate under limited companies receiving remuneration through dividends—including video editors, producers and many more who have had to establish themselves in this way as a contracting requirement—have been excluded through no fault of their own. It is a travesty that these people have been excluded by the Government, and the just thing to do would be to find a solution. Instead, the Government are turning their back on them and, from November, reducing the grant to 20% of an individual’s average monthly trading profits. That is not enough for anyone to survive on. Further, the Chancellor’s comments this week, implying that struggling musicians and other arts workers should retrain and get a new job, are frankly insulting. The exemption measures are why so many creative workers have been put in an impossible situation. It is no fault of their own.
The job support scheme is similarly having dire effects on the creative workforce. In the past week alone, I have received numerous emails from constituents. One wrote telling me:
“I have worked in the theatre industry for over a decade and am now facing redundancy as our theatre simply cannot, by current legislation, open its doors. The latest wage subsidy plan won’t reach far enough in our industry, as we are simply unable to work up to a third of our normal working hours.”
Another constituent wrote saying:
“I am a freelance worker who, recently, was employed full time as a Resident Director in the West End, a job that I had been working towards for almost 2 years. I benefitted from being on furlough but was then taken off and made redundant when the government were being unclear on when theatres will open again. Since March I have spent all of my savings that I worked so hard to get.”
Despite the very obvious challenges facing workers, the Culture Secretary’s voice in all this has been extremely quiet. Why is he not lobbying the Chancellor, fighting the corner of the creative workforce? That is what those in the creatives industries want to see happening. This is one of the most unique and special sectors in the world. The Government need to urgently review how they expect the industry to survive in these conditions and introduce measures that will save creative jobs—and these are viable jobs. That can be done so long as the political will exists among the Government’s culture team. Sadly, at the moment that seems lacking.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing this debate, and I will also say how proud I am to see her leading the debate today. Not all hon. Members will know that I used to teach her at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff. It is wonderful to see her leading our debate today and it is a privilege for me to participate in the debate with her. I am sorry that she ended up the way she did, Mr Walker. [Laughter.] It was despite my best efforts, but there we are.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) who, like me, is a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on his speech. As ever, he made his constituency sound like a wonderful place, although he was unable to establish, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster did with her constituency, that we can literally find heaven within it.
I always like to stress the importance of the value of the arts and culture in and of themselves, as well as their economic benefits. In and of themselves, they are valuable and we should encourage them. Nevertheless, it is important to note that places such as the Sherman theatre in Cardiff, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), make a wonderful contribution—and an important economic contribution too. Cultural and creative industries contribute £10.8 billion a year to the UK economy and £2.8 billion in taxation, and they support over 360,000 jobs. This was also the fastest growing sector of the economy; we should not forget that.
In Cardiff, we have wonderful cultural facilities too. Recently, the Womanby Street campaign tried to protect our music venues—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) was very much involved in that. We have the wonderful Millennium centre in Cardiff, which is also in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and the Chapter arts centre, a world-leading contemporary arts centre in my own constituency. All of these places are wonderful, but they have all been very badly affected by coronavirus and the lockdown.
Arts and culture define our nation and form a vital part of the ecosystem that makes us a creative-industry superpower. At a time when the nation is crying out for comfort, they enrich our soul, which is why I was delighted this week to announce an unprecedented £1.57 billion package to help theatres, museums, live music venues and galleries to weather the ongoing storm. I want to see these institutions open their doors as soon as it is safe for them to do so. I am working extensively with the sector on how to achieve this and will be publishing further roadmap timings for further steps imminently.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I have been very clear right from the start in designing this package that it is intended to achieve two principal outcomes: first, to protect the crown jewels, our nationally and internationally significant institutions; and secondly, equally vitally, to help cultural institutions up and down the country where their loss would deprive communities of essential cultural experiences. We will be publishing the full criteria and processes shortly, and of course that will include, for example, demonstrating that they have exhausted all available funds. I know that my hon. Friend will be tirelessly making the case for Cornwall and, indeed, I hope the Minack theatre will soon be able to open as well.
My hon. Friend is too modest to admit it on the Floor of the House, but I thank him too for his vital work in helping to shape this important package and to support this vital sector. I would of course be delighted to meet the APPG. In fact, the only thing that would give me more pleasure would be to go on a visit with the APPG to a theatre that was performing, which I hope will happen soon.
My hon. Friend is another of our Equity card carrying Members and one of the greatest champions of the theatre and arts. He has been on so many of the calls that I have been on over recent weeks and months, and I thank him for all that he has done to champion this. We want to make an announcement on how this will work as soon as possible in the days and weeks ahead, and we want to get the money out as soon as possible, because we know that there are some organisations that are literally about to tip over the edge.