Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support

Catherine McKinnell Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
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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.

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Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing this debate. I urge the Minister to look at the petitions in detail. Although I could speak at length about the issues facing live music in my own constituency at places such as the Anvil, and the many festivals I seem to go to when picking up my children, I will focus on weddings because I have been struck by the way that the restrictions that the Government have absolutely had to bring in have really gone to the core of people’s lives—whether it is the couples who have had to postpone what might have been an event that they had planned for not just months but years, or the wide range of businesses that have been fundamentally undermined.

I will focus on the correspondence that I have had from organisations such as The Barn at Avington, a wedding venue near my constituency; Balloons For U and Events For U, which have been fundamentally affected by the restrictions brought in around weddings and other events; Sofi Designs Bridal, which produces bridal wear as its main focus, and which has lost one of its main business lines without weddings; and DJs such as Aaron Purkiss and Garry Job, whose livelihoods have been fundamentally affected by what has gone on in the last six to nine months. All have written about the paralysis that has affected an important part of their income—the wedding industry—and the devastating impact on their livelihoods.

What those people need now more than ever is some certainty for the future. I know that the Minister cannot give us a cast-iron guarantee today about when things are going to change, but he can give us some certainty about the way in which the Government are going to move to a position where we start to live with the virus, rather than completely shut things down. We have heard about how we could change the rules around the capacity of venues to help weddings to go ahead on a slightly larger scale. There are many other things that he could be doing to prepare a road map for the future so that people can start planning their big day yet again, and businesses can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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The right hon. Lady is making a compelling and powerful speech that resonates very much with the representations I have had from constituents. Does she agree that one of the big challenges that people face is the limbo that they have been left in—not able to plan for the wedding they dreamed of, or even one they could compromise on, and not knowing whether the insurance will cover the loss of everything that they have spent? That is why the Government need to give that certainty about what is happening to end the limbo for such couples.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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The hon. Lady makes a valid point to which I am sure the Minister will want to respond in detail.

In closing, I commend Natasha Newland, founder of the County Wedding Clubs, for speaking up so eloquently for the sector, which directly and indirectly employs many people—not just in my area, but throughout the country.

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Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for leading this important debate on the two petitions. I am so looking forward to attending his wedding to his partner Jed when it is possible to do so. It has been postponed once, but I was really hoping that it did not have to be postponed a second time.

Before I address the specific concerns highlighted in this debate, I want to talk about the two issues at hand. First, on wedding receptions, I want to put it on record that both myself and officials in BEIS have received a number of representations from the wedding industry over the summer. It is pleasing to see the dedication of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) who, as a number of people have done, has brought the industry together, listened to the sector, reflected on its views and been working tirelessly for those sectors that are so hard pressed and unable to open fully, or in some cases at all. When I saw the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) and for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) on the call list for this afternoon’s sitting, I knew that they would be here because they have been tireless in catching me every time they can in the Lobby to reflect the concerns of their constituents. That is absolutely right and shows their dedication to this important sector.

I have had representations from many people from the wedding industry and spoken to many of them in various roundtables, because it is so important to listen and reflect on the road map of the considerations that have been outlined today. It is important to consider the context of this issue. We are keenly aware of the importance of weddings for many people and how their plans have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Indeed, we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) about her ceremony: numbers might have been curtailed, but I am sure the fun, the enjoyment and the love they have for each other was not curtailed in any way in their celebrations.

The situation also affects family, friends and guests, and, as we have also heard, the small businesses that that service and work with the venues and the planners to celebrate people’s weddings. That is pivotal to so many people’s lives, so we did publish guidance on how wedding celebrations could take place in England in a manner that was covid-19 secure and in line with social distance guidelines. The significance of those events was underscored by the fact that we enabled celebrations to take place initially with 30 people present, but regrettably that had to be lowered to 15. That included the couple, the witnesses and guests, but it did not include suppliers or venue staff working at the wedding venue. I know that is nowhere near enough for the viability of the sector.

I have had discussions about viability with the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), and, come the day when we are learning to live with the virus and we have rapid testing—when we have the results of the good news today of one particular vaccine avenue—I cross my fingers that those businesses will be able to switch on almost overnight, because the dates are there and those businesses are viable when we get out of this situation.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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A huge number of couples have actually not booked their weddings and they are not waiting, ready to go, because they have lost their date. They had a date in July, but they have now been offered a date in January, probably at the same price and with no discount. This is really heart-breaking for many of these couples. I totally recognise the optimism of the Minister, but he should recognise the sheer heartache that many couples are living with today.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I see on my Twitter and Instagram feeds and elsewhere the pain and heartbreak of couples who were looking forward to that special day. We have also heard about the financial costs that people have faced, such as deposits and other difficulties. The initial moves and the conversations that we have had illustrate the importance that we attach to these life-affirming events.

Some hon. Members have talked about the contrast between the numbers of people allowed in restaurants and in wedding venues, but there is a fundamental difference: the very nature of weddings, which bring family and friends together from across the country, and potentially from around the world, means that they are particularly vulnerable to the spread of covid-19. Despite some media coverage to the contrary, the hospitality sector has worked so hard to become covid-19-secure that pubs and restaurants are some of the safest places in the country. I have spoken to venue owners and organisers in the wedding sector, and unlike visits to a public house or restaurant, where groups are more isolated, it becomes harder to resist breaking social distancing at weddings, where we spend extended periods among family.

We want to continue working with those professionals, together with Public Health England and other health professionals, to ensure that we can manage social distancing throughout the wedding process. Just today, I had a conversation with Richard Eagleton of McQueens Flowers and Sarah Haywood of Sarah Haywood Weddings & Celebrations. They are both seeking to build a taskforce of the kind that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury spoke about. I am happy to work closely, through a two-way dialogue, with them and their colleagues in the sector—the professionals who supply and service the sector, and the planners and venue owners—because that direct conversation will, I hope, lead to the kind of planning that hon. Members have suggested.