Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Caroline Lucas Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con) - Hansard
25 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

Nearly six months ago I gave my maiden speech, in which I spoke of the international events that Brecon and Radnorshire is home to. They include the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, the Brecon jazz festival, the Green Man festival and even the international bog snorkelling championships in Llanwrtyd Wells. Sadly, all of these have been cancelled this year. Cancelling the Green Man festival in Glanusk deprives us of more than just great music. The festival employs hundreds of seasonal workers and attracts thousands of visitors, all of whom spend money in our pubs, restaurants and local shops. Some events have been able to move online. For example, the Hay-on-Wye literary festival showcased virtual events, involving more than 100 award-winning writers, policy- makers and innovators. This was a huge undertaking, and I congratulate the organisers once again on delivering Hay-on-wifi, as the Prime Minister christened it.

With my passion for farming and agriculture, I have to say that I am gutted by the cancellation of the Royal Welsh Show. This world-renowned agricultural event, the largest agricultural show in Europe, attracts visitors from far and wide, generating up to £45 million for our economy in the process. The Royal Welsh is more than just a show. It is a celebration of Wales itself. For many in the farming community, it is the highlight of the year. The social aspect of the show cannot be underestimated, particularly when one considers the isolation that so often comes with rural life— a point reinforced to me during a meeting with my local branch of Mind, the mental health charity, this week.

Having spoken to the Royal Welsh this week, I know that the team in Builth Wells are working hard to try to deliver the Royal Welsh Winter Fair in November this year, and I am pleased that the UK Government and the Secretary of State for Wales are supporting them all we can, but they need support from both our Governments. The Welsh Government have provided some support to key events such as the Eisteddfodau, our Welsh language celebrations, but nothing so far for the Royal Welsh Show.

In England, outdoor theatres can now open and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working closely with the arts and culture sector on when indoor theatres can reopen. In Wales, we have no clarity on that. Yesterday, I received an email from Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon. Since the lockdown, all performances have been cancelled and audiences have stayed away. The theatre staff told me yesterday that they have no idea as to when they can reopen. This could provide some optimism to the thousands of self-employed artists and performers who do not know when they will be able to return to work. Their counterparts in England have visibility, while we in Wales are left in the dark.

I have much to thank this Government for, not least the 10,000 employed and self-employed jobs that have been saved in Brecon and Radnorshire. Of course, there will always be more to do—more cause to go further—to keep on writing cheques, but the harsh reality is that the cake only cuts so many ways. This Government have dug deep to provide an unprecedented level of support in finance and guidance. If only we could say the same in Wales.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) - Hansard
25 Jun 2020, 12:06 a.m.

Many of my constituents have signed the petitions triggering this debate and, in particular, are calling for a dedicated programme of support for our events, cultural and creative industries. Anyone who knows Brighton and Hove cannot fail to be aware that we are home to some of the country’s most vibrant, creative and successful festivals. We lead the way nationally as well in widening access to the arts and unleashing the creative lives as yet unlived in excluded communities. Failing to directly support the creative sector puts 16,000 jobs at risk in our city alone and £1.5 billion in turnover. The consequences for the UK as a whole will be equally devastating, including for our sense of identity as a nation, which is inextricably bound up with cultural innovation from Chaucer to Banksy.

I call on Ministers to introduce urgent life support measures as other European countries have done. Germany, for example, has invested in a €50 billion rescue package. We need a similar cultural sector hardship relief fund to save live music venues, grassroots theatres, arts centres, community pubs, and any space that is a vital hub of culture and social interaction in our communities. Live music venues in my constituency are particularly at risk, and face a cliff edge when furlough ends. As one, Komedia, wrote to me,

“A world without grassroots venues is a world where the future’s talent never get the opportunity they deserve”.

I urge Ministers not to stand by and watch them go to the wall.

Those working in the events and creative industries are often self-employed and need their incomes protecting, too. Yet the self-employed scheme falls far short, failing to recognise the reality of self-employment today, penalising those who combine self-employment with PAYE work, PAYE freelancers, new start-ups and the recently self-employed, women who have taken time out for maternity leave and childcare, and anyone earning £50,000 and over. It is also a kick in the teeth for the nation’s small limited companies whose directors take all or part of their income in dividends. Therefore, as well as expanding access to the self-employed scheme, the Government must immediately extend its duration. The self-employed are still only protected until August, and that is not equivalent to the job retention scheme and it is not enough.

This must also be a green recovery in more than name, because of the accelerating climate emergency—it is currently 45 degrees in the Arctic—and because it makes economic sense as well. Plenty of evidence shows that green projects create more jobs, deliver higher returns on investment and lead to increased long-term cost savings. A green new deal recovery should invest only in industries willing and prepared to adapt to the net zero imperative. If public money is being used to bail out a company, there should be green and social conditions attached. We should not be handing over £600 million to easyJet with no questions asked.  We should not be bailing out BA when it is treating its workers so appallingly.

Finally, a green recovery requires rethinking our entire economy, so that its primary purpose is human and planetary wellbeing, rather than the endless pursuit of indiscriminate GDP growth, which is destroying our planet and undermining the livelihoods of millions of people.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

It should be obvious to the House that we do not have very long left. I estimate that eight more people will be called to speak. As you all have the speaking list, you will be able to work out who those eight are. If you are not among them, it is only fair that I warn you now.