Ministers questioned on support package for the arts

07 July 2020

Earlier today, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was asked about the Government's announcement of a Covid-19 package to support the arts, culture and heritage sector.

Due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, many institutions in the arts and culture sector cannot reopen or can reopen only with limited attendance. There have been numerous reports of redundancies, such as the 60 per cent of jobs the Royal Exchange Theatre announced it was cutting, and of establishments closing for good.

Yesterday, DCMS Secretary Oliver Dowden announced a rescue package of grants and loans worth £1.57 billion for the sector.

Today Caroline Dinenage MP came to the House to respond to an urgent question on the issue from Jo Stevens MP.

Caroline Dinenage: an "unprecedented" package of support

Answering on behalf of the Secretary of State, Caroline Dinenage told the House that the UK's cultural institutions are "incredibly valuable to our economy" and the "lynchpins of their local communities".

Ms Dinenage said that the Government had "already provided" support to the sector through loans, business rate holidays and the furlough scheme. But she acknowledged that the effects of social distancing meant that cultural establishments "desperately needed help".

The Minister said that the Secretary of State's announcement had provided the support needed, calling it the package "unprecedented". She stated that although money will go to large arts institutions, it will also support "lesser known" organisations across the country, and noted that the funding comes just after the announcement last week from the Arts Council that they will reopen their project grants competition.

She explained that £120 million would also be invested in "rebuilding, upgrading and starting new construction work" across cultural institutions, as well as £100 million going to "arm's length instructions" such as the British Library and British Film Institute, and £188 million to devolved administrations.

The Minister concluded:

"It is a lifeline to help the sector weather this storm and bounce back even stronger."

Jo Stevens: package already "starting to unravel"

Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Jo Stevens said that she welcomed the support, but asked why it "took so long". She said that warnings from the sector and from the Opposition were "ignored for weeks on end" amid venues closing and rising job losses. She also noted that the money would not be received until autumn.

Ms Stevens stated that it was "vital" that the money was not simply given to the largest or most influential institutions, saying every town that has a cultural establishment "must keep it". She emphasised that freelancers, who make up a large proportion of the creative sector, were not covered under this package of support, and warned against a "one-size-fits-all approach".

The Shadow Minister asked the Minister if there was provision in the package to reverse job losses and closures, what dates the Government were working to for reopenings when they calculated this package, if Treasury schemes would be extended for the sector, and what the scientific evidence was behind making it safe to sit in an aeroplane but not a theatre.

She said:

"Within hours of the announcement yesterday, the package, which was described as “world-leading”, was already starting to unravel."

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