Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support

Karen Bradley Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
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Thank you very much, Mr Gray. I do hope the fact that I chair a Committee that you sit on has not somehow swayed you into giving me more time than other people.

James Gray Portrait James Gray (in the Chair)
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Reduced to one minute.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley
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I will remember that when we meet on Wednesday.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his excellent opening speech and for setting the scene so well. Given that I have only four minutes, I will focus on just one issue: wedding venues. Like many hon. Members, I have been contacted by so many people who have been affected—couples whose big day has not happened or has been seriously scaled down, and the businesses that supply wedding venues.

I want to focus on two unique venues in my constituency: Heaton House Farm and The Ashes. Heaton House Farm is in Rushton Spencer, and The Ashes in is Endon—both are in Staffordshire Moorlands. They are bespoke wedding venues; they do not do anything else. They offer large events and are licensed venues. They have the most incredible scenery. If you have been lucky enough to sit in the hairdresser’s and read Hello! or OK! magazines, Mr Gray, you will have seen the venues, because they host the celebrity weddings that feature in these great, august publications. However, they simply have no business at all at the moment—they have nothing. As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) said, they could not benefit from “eat out to help out”, because they do not offer food outside weddings and large events. They cannot benefit from the VAT reduction, because they have no turnover—they are not making any money at the moment.

The Heaton House Farm team have taken over running a community pub in Rushton Spencer, The Royal Oak, just to find somewhere to employ their staff. Without that, they will lose their staff. They are not making a single penny on that; they are doing it so that they can keep their staff and to make sure that when they can get back to having weddings, they can do so in the best way they possibly can. They do not benefit from many of the grants because their rateable values are too high—they simply need to be able to get back to holding weddings. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) said, they can hold a wedding service, but they could not sit the guests until the regulations changed to allow 15, and yet those guests could go to the local pub and up to 60 of them could sit, socially distanced, in tables of six. That cannot be right. We have to find a way through this. I invite the Minister to meet my constituents from Heaton House Farm and The Ashes to discuss the issue to see what support the Government can find to help those incredibly special places.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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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.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley
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On the point about the night-time economy and flexibility, will the Minister consider allowing drinking-up time after 10 pm, once we are through this lockdown? Venues could then provide two sittings for meals and ensure that everybody did not leave the venue at the same time.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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My right hon. Friend speaks of something that I have been working on for some time. I have seen it myself, and I have worked with, and had weekly conversations with, representatives of the hospitality sector. I have spoken to representatives of the nightclub sector on a few occasions as well, which I will come to in a second.

Some people have mentioned Northern Ireland, which has a separate system and a different system for weddings. The frustrating thing for me, when trying to work with health professionals and the hospitality sector, is that the incidence of transmission is so high in Northern Ireland at the moment. I am not suggesting that that is connected to the hospitality sector in any way, shape or form, but it becomes very difficult to disaggregate the data and to work through the evidence with health professionals. However, I will continue to do so.

Going back to the events sector, we have been working so that businesses will be protected from the threat of eviction until the end of the year. We have extended the moratorium for commercial tenants, which is incredibly important. Music venues create, present and support many different genres of music, and they have been eligible to apply for funds from the £1.57 billion support package for key cultural organisations to help them through the pandemic. As part of the cultural recovery fund, some festivals, dance venues and nightclubs received grants, including the Ministry of Sound and the MADE festival.

Some £3.36 million has been shared among 136 venues across England that applied for the emergency grassroots music venues fund, which has supported grassroots venues to survive the imminent risk of collapse, but I know that this is an ongoing situation. I have spoken to a number of nightclub operators, including Deltic, Fabric and Stonegate pubs, which owns nightclub venues as well. I have spoken to Mike Kill from the Night Time Industries Association, who has been mentioned a couple of times, and indeed to Sacha Lord, whom the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) talked about. He has been particularly proactive and constructive, and I welcome further discussions with him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington talked about deathbed weddings. Civil partnerships and weddings where one of the people getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover are limited to six people in the national guidance. It should not be that local authorities enforce that in any different way, apart from that specific thing. I will take his point on extended families to the relevant Department and reflect on it with the Minister with direct responsibility for that area.

I served on the Petitions Committee with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for many years. I am getting used to being on this side of the desk rather than on the other. She talked about venues in Newcastle and the cultural void that will emerge if they disappear. I am also Minister for London, so I know about that only too well. I have talked about the Gotham City scenario. If the ultra-rich are insulated from everything and poorer people on low incomes are forced into the city centre to service those areas, but we hollow out the culture and the mass of people coming in and spending, that will create a very different city.

We will be so much poorer if we get rid of our culture as a result of this pandemic, so we must work as hard as we can to avoid the sobering statistics that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury talked about regarding nightclubs, weddings and other events. The impact on the economy is quite severe, so we will continue to work as hard as we can. The new national restrictions have obviously replaced the tiered local restrictions. I want to ensure that we can learn to live with the virus, and that we work towards getting a vaccine and rapid testing in the spring, so that we can come to the new reality beyond the new normal.