Greater Manchester MPs join creatives hit by COVID to demand action for cultural sector

On Thursday 6th August, a group of Greater Manchester Labour MPs brought together over 40 local creatives to meet with Shadow Minister for the Cultural Industries, Tracy Brabin MP, and discuss the future of the sector.

Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, Stretford and Urmston MP Kate Green, and Worsley and Eccles South’s Barbara Keeley, organised the discussion off the back of growing local concern about the support available for workers, and the sector’s future recovery.

The meeting brought together a broad range of artists, performers, technicians, organisers, producers and directors, including representatives from the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and The Lowry in Salford. Many unsurprisingly reported a massive reduction or complete stop to their usual work.

Sadly, the recurring theme was of people falling through the gaps in existing government support schemes and being left without help. Many felt that when designing support like the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, the Chancellor had not properly considered the nature of employment for creative workers. Participants questioned why the Treasury has been unwilling to act since this became apparent.

Earlier this week, the Greater Manchester All-party Parliamentary Group wrote to the Chancellor with 5 key asks for action and recovery for Greater Manchester’s hospitality and cultural sector. This included the demand for the Government to publish roadmaps for the cultural and hospitality industries that have been left behind, so that venues can reopen and stay open safely, and for the Government to recognise that ‘culture’ includes live music venues, nightclubs and festivals, and to extend support accordingly.

This comes in the wake of Manchester City Council publishing its Culture Recovery Plan, containing detailed proposals for the Government about what is needed to repair, restart and rethink the cultural sector locally. The Council is encouraging local creatives to engage with the plan and feed in as detail is fleshed out in the coming months.

Zena Barrie, from south Manchester, is the organiser of Camden Fringe and Greater Manchester Fringe. She said:

“In March this year the rug was completely pulled out from under me. I had to cancel the 2 festivals I have run for years, each of which takes ten months to organise. We had to cancel every performance and refund every ticket. All my other small bits of writing and performance work went too.

I listened with relief when Rishi Sunak first brought out the furlough scheme… this didn’t cover me but I presumed some measures would be put in place for people like me next. Sadly I was mistaken, because since I pay myself in dividends rather than PAYE there’s no help.

I have paid corporation tax since my company was set up as well as well as tax on my dividends. When asked for an explanation, the Treasury Minister Jesse Norman MP said that “income from dividends is a return on investment in the company, rather than wages, and is not eligible for support.”

For me and thousands like me it’s very much wages. If anyone looked at our company accounts they would see that.

I will try and apply for the new Arts Council England funding but am concerned we will not get anything and if this is the case then that will be the end of me working in the arts. That would be a shame because the two companies I run help hundreds of artists and performers get their first experiences of producing shows.

I have had to line up a job doing care work so I have some income coming in again but I have underlying health conditions and am classed as high risk so I do worry about this type of work at the moment.”

Jeff Smith MP said:

“It was very powerful to hear from representatives from our local creative industries. Understandably, people are angry and worried about the future of the sector. People who work in music, theatre and the arts bring so much joy to our communities, but they also make a massive economic contribution here in Greater Manchester.

If skilled, talented people are forced to quit to look for other work, venues and businesses in the supply chain close, and young people are discouraged from working towards a career in the arts, the scene will be irreparably damaged for years to come.

We welcome the £1.57 billion DCMS package, but we’re concerned that this needs to include all parts of the country and all parts of the cultural sector. The Government must abandon its inflexible approach to support for individuals, and should urgently review the gaps in existing measures which disproportionately affect creative workers. We are encouraging everyone to get involved with campaign groups like Excluded UK, Forgotten Ltd and Forgotten PAYE, to make sure their voices are heard by the Government.”

Tracy Brabin, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cultural Industries, said:

“The creative industries are an enormously important part of the Greater Manchester way of life but sadly, for too many, the changes to furlough and lack of support for freelancers is biting hard. The creatives on the call shared their experiences, and I was struck by the real difficulty the gaps in support are leaving people in.

If we want our creative industries to remain world leading, the Government must make sure support works for the dedicated and passionate creative workforce.”

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