Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support

Andrew Selous Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
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9 Nov 2020, 12:01 a.m.

As hon. Members know, Newcastle has a globally renowned night-time economy. Our night life is a big attraction for locals, tourists and prospective students. Newcastle’s pubs and clubs are concentrated into clusters that have developed their own character, from the upmarket Quayside, through the down-to-earth Ouseburn and the famous Bigg Market, to the pink triangle. There is something for everyone, and a warm welcome usually awaits.

I am proud that Newcastle also hosts some iconic venues, such as World Headquarters, a pioneering and progressive underground club where I have to admit I spent much of my 20s. It has a long and rich history going back decades in Newcastle. Venues like that are the fabric of Newcastle and the north-east, helping to make us into the thriving, multicultural and cohesive community that we are proud to be.

Those are not dispensable businesses that we can allow to wither and die during the pandemic. We cannot assume that we will resume normal business, that they will be replaced with shiny new venues and that all will be well. If those businesses do not survive the pandemic, we will be losing our city’s character, part of our history, the thing that makes Newcastle what it is. The way to stop that is to give the support now.

The Government’s decision to include clubs in the restrictions support grant is a belated acknowledgement that they have not been able to generate any income for eight months. However, Ministers know that £3,000 a month—for those that get the most—will not be enough to cover the backdated losses that many of the places have faced. I want the Government to look at building flexibility into the local restrictions support grant. The night-time economy is in crisis, and we know that not every business will survive, but local authorities have the local knowledge and intelligence to know where that money can be best spent.

The petition is called “Let Us Dance”. People do not expect to go back to dancing in nightclubs straight away, but they want them still to be standing when they can go to celebrate when the pandemic is over. If we allow our night-time economy to fail, we will lose a part of our character and history that has grown organically over time. It cannot just be replaced. We should not leave a vacuum that will be filled with who knows what sort of business. Without support, we will be poorer financially and in spirit, and the Government should not want that to happen, as much as I do not want to see it.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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9 Nov 2020, 12:04 a.m.

The Government are allowing deathbed weddings during this period of second lockdown but, please, I make a plea to extend that provision for deathbed weddings to where parents or siblings of the bride or groom are terminally ill and not expected to live beyond 2 December.

My own mother was not able to come to my wedding, when I was married many years ago, because she was in hospital at the time, though she was able to watch it on video afterwards. For people not expected to live another two or three weeks, I please ask the Government to go back. Such weddings could be for the minimum legal number of five—the couple, the minister celebrant and two witnesses—but I think that would be a real kindness to that very small number of people. I please ask the Minister, who I know tries hard on this type of issue, to take it back to see if we can do something.

The wedding industry is a £10 billion business in this country, supporting an enormous amount of employment, and yet we have wedding venues—one in my constituency—that did not manage to receive the business support grant, the retail, hospitality and leisure grant or, at all, the discretionary grant. Some wedding venues, therefore, have fallen through the cracks. There has been great difficulty for couples whose insurance has excluded cancellation on the grounds of Government guidance alone, and some couples have been charged an 80% cancellation fee, which is entirely unreasonable. No one should be forced to effectively pay 180% of the cost of their wedding to get married the second time around. There are some big issues on the weddings front.

As far as the events and exhibition industry is concerned, one of my constituents, who runs an exhibition business, said: “I read, listen and watch leaders of industries bemoan the terrible impact that the second lockdown is having on their businesses, which I am very sympathetic to, and I see the Government provide substantial financial support to these industries. However, I look on with some incredulity that these industries have been able to trade in between lockdowns and have received support; yet the exhibition industry has neither been allowed to trade nor received any bespoke support. We have been locked down since March 2020 and will stay locked down until at least April 2021; yet we have received zero targeted support.” The events industry would echo those sentiments, and these are huge parts of our economy.

In relation to business rates, the Government gave discretionary grants to local authorities but there has been great variability in whether local authorities have granted rates relief to exhibitions and events businesses. I know of 40 local authorities that have, but other councils, for which I have sympathy, say that the Government have a proven track record in clawing back money that they believe has been paid out wrongly. There is therefore a postcode lottery on business rates. I ask the Minister to please give greater certainty to councils so that they can pay out business rates.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank you, Mr Gray, for chairing today’s debate, and I thank the 209 petitioners in my constituency—couples waiting for their happy day and the many people working in the weddings industry. I have met many people working in the industry, and last Thursday held a meeting with people who worked in all sorts of trades. I learned much, and it was fascinating to hear that 400,000 jobs across the country are dependent on the wedding industry, bringing in an income of £14.7 billion. In addition, we have a large tourist trade in the wedding industry, which attracts many couples to the UK to get married, so this issue is extensive for the economy as a whole and for people’s livelihoods and jobs.

An industry that should bring so much joy is, at the moment, bringing so much hardship. In the first two months of lockdown, people experienced the cancellation or postponement of weddings, so staff could not be furloughed; they had to work flat out to try to support couples during that time. Then, of course, they moved into the harsh reality of being unable to access vital Government support, the self-employed income support scheme and grants. We have heard about the VAT measures, which many organisations have been unable to access, and business rates, because many do not have direct premises.

The hardship has been acute for many. I heard from those working in the sector—predominantly women, I have to emphasise—that they had saved up for their first home and are therefore unable to access such things as universal credit. They are now living off their savings, eight months into the lockdown and pandemic. However, they described the future as well, which is where the Government can really help.

The announcement of the further lockdown and the extension of the furlough scheme to next March has brought a presumption that weddings will not be resuming any time soon. We therefore need the publication of a comprehensive plan on weddings so that people can start making plans. To give an example, one celebrant had 48 weddings booked for this year. Two went ahead as micro-weddings, 36 moved into next year and are now being rearranged because people are not confident, one moved into 2022 and seven were lost. That is the scale of the impact of the cancellation of weddings. Many are deferring for the second or even third time.

We therefore need to ensure that weddings are safe and socially distanced. If they can be certificated, that would be really helpful. Also, there is a lack of evidence to suggest that these are places where infections will be spread, an inference made by Public Health England. If there has been any evidence of infection, it would be good to have that data from Public Health England, but we need to ensure that there is testing and that specific support is introduced. Those working in the wedding industry in my constituency have asked for a scheme akin to the film and TV production restart scheme to help restart the industry.

Break in Debate

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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9 Nov 2020, 7:23 p.m.

I will happily look into any pilot scheme that has been happening. That may be something that we can feed into the taskforce with health officials, so as to look at how we might bring weddings on stream as and when the health advice allows. I am not an epidemiologist, but this is also about behavioural science, as well as the economics, which are very much part of my brief at the Department.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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9 Nov 2020, 7:23 p.m.

Would the Minister consider allowing a five-person event if siblings or parents were terminally ill?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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9 Nov 2020, 7:24 p.m.

I will cover that in a moment. On live events, in tandem with our discussions with the wedding industry, we are committed to continuing our work with the musical and cultural sectors to understand the difficulties that they face and help them to access support through these challenging times.

Ministers in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have been in discussion with stakeholders across the creative and cultural sector, including on the development of draft planning guidance for how music festivals might be able to take place in future. Significant funds have been allocated via the cultural recovery fund to protect cultural organisations across England—almost a fifth of the fund has gone to the music sector.

More generally, the Chancellor recently announced the continuation of the coronavirus job retention scheme—it is known as the furlough scheme—meaning that workers in any part of the UK can retain their job and be paid at least 80% of their salary up to £2,5000 a month, even if their employer cannot afford to pay them. The flexibility of that scheme will be retained to allow employees to continue to work where they can.