Sir David Amess was on the call list to speak in the debate on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s spending on support measures during and after the Covid-19 pandemic on Thursday 8 October. However, unfortunately Sir David was not able to speak. Below is the speech Sir David intended to give as he calls for more support for the exhibitions and events industry, the arts and culture sector and Southend United.
“All aspects of our lives have been disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic, including the industries which make up our economy. The Government has introduced support packages that have helped businesses stay afloat and employees and the self-employed subsidise their income. However, many individuals and businesses either have not been eligible for these financial aids or are still struggling. No one knows when this pandemic will end, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport needs to support those industries it is responsible for now, throughout the pandemic and after the pandemic. We need to rebuild our economy to what it once was.
The exhibition and events sector is just one industry which has been left to fend for itself. It is an industry that contributes £70bn to the UK economy and employs 600,000 people. I have had numerous constituents email me who are business owners or employees in the sector who have received no support from the Government and have had to close offices and make staff redundant.
The events industry was required to close its doors in March this year. Although the sector was granted a return date of 1st October, this has not been the case. Currently less than 10% of the events and exhibitions that were due to take place this year still plan to do so.
The Department should assist the exhibition and events sector by: (1) the inclusion and extension of business rate reliefs until 2022 – they were excluded as a sector from this initial initiative. (2) Early clarity on when businesses can reopen – it takes a minimum of three-month lead in time to kick start exhibitions and events. (3) Understanding that business events, exhibitions and conferences are separate to the hospitality and entertainment sector in the UK.
In European countries such as Germany, France and Spain, exhibitions and venues are being funded and recognised for their major contribution to the global industry. The German Government has agreed a 50 billion Euro emergency relief programme to reduce the economic consequences of Coronavirus for freelancers and small businesses. Likewise, the industry in France is being supported and encouraged as safe places for businesses to meet.
In the UK, we can shop in busy shopping centres and highstreets where we don’t need to check in using the Test and Trace App, but Covid-secure exhibitions and events can’t take place where participants could check in safely. Events are happening elsewhere in Europe and are receiving Governmental support, so why can’t the same be done in the UK?
It is however not just the exhibition and events sector that has been struggling, the arts and culture sectors have been one of the industries hit hardest during the pandemic. I am appreciative of the Government’s support packages for the industry totalling £1.57 billion including grants and loans. However, theatres and those employed in the sector are still struggling and will continue to do so. The Palace Theatre in my constituency is over 100 years old and continued to operate throughout the Second World War. Many of my constituents work in the theatre and enjoy seeing shows and plays locally. More must be done to support historic, local theatres such as The Palace.
Additionally, many of my constituents work in the West End who are freelancers or self-employed. They have had no income for months and some have not been eligible for Governmental grants. It is not just the actors and actresses that need financial support, but it is the theatre managers, the stage designers, the hair and make-up team – all those involved in the behind the scenes work that are often overlooked.
Our most popular sport in the UK is in dire need of support. Fans have not been able to watch live football matches in stadiums due to the Government’s policies to combat Coronavirus. This has resulted in a loss of match day revenue that many clubs rely on. Southend United is a small, local team with a strong following in the community. Without Governmental support, all but essential staff could be made redundant and they may cease playing and be forced to put their business into administration.
I signed a letter to the Secretary of State last month asking for support for these clubs unable to help themselves. Southend United employs local people and contributes to the local economy. It will celebrate its 115th anniversary next year and hopefully it won’t celebrate with news of redundancies and administration. There is a historic community of fans and players that thrive in the culture of football and Southend United. This is just one of many reasons why Southend should become a city”.