One thing we won’t be hearing this Christmas is that pantomime favourite, ‘he’s behind you.’ Even Christmas is now in doubt.
I recently heard from a constituent who contacted me early in lockdown. He’s a self-employed artist who concentrates on children’s entertainment. The government advised him to take a Bounce Back loan but remain oblivious to problems some people have in accessing them. In any case, they’re only useful if you have some income with which to repay them. As his income here has disappeared, he’s had to take his chances, pack his bags and go on the road across Europe.
This pandemic has hit many sectors hard and the creative industries have really suffered. Artists, musicians, performers and our theatres are all at breaking point. And we mustn’t forget the technicians, researchers and producers. Before the virus struck, it was one of the fastest growing parts of our economy, employing over 2 million people but with a third classed as self-employed. Many of them now form part of #Excluded; a group who don’t qualify for any of the Chancellor’s wage support measures.
The other week, I was at Cannon Hill Park where Mac Theatre, which has given so much to children and parents over years, stands shuttered and closed as a monument to economic and social shutdown. The staff now face redundancy. It’s the kind of community resource Birmingham can ill afford to lose. People sometimes ask what Labour means by calling for sectoral support. It means, looking at how the crisis is impacting on different types of employment and not letting things like our theatres die. The government have announced a recovery fund for the creative sector but how long will it take to distribute the cash? They need it now.
Birmingham, without our cultural sector, will be poorer. If arguments about the arts don’t interest you, then we should remember that a sector employing 2 million people makes a huge contribution to paying other peoples’ pensions. It’s in all our interests to protect and nurture those who earn their living through the creative industries. Oh yes, it is!