By Paule Constable

Meanwhile in the House of Lords today there was a question asked on our behalf.  The brilliant Genista Mackintosh (Baroness Mackintosh now) registered the following:

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the Jobs Support Scheme on live performing arts organisations.

The response was nothing short of infuriating.  Baroness Penn was representing the government – harping on about the £1.57 billion Cultural recovery fund and how the Winter Jobs scheme is offering further support for those who can start to return to work.

Baroness Mackintosh came back with a wonderful response – slightly bemused – asking that Baroness Penn accept that the performing Arts are – in the most part – unable to return and that sector specific support is vital for both the companies and the buildings and the freelancers who make up 70% of the industry.  She used the phrase “Irreversible damage to one of our most successful industries…”.  It was heartening to hear it said aloud by a politician….however depressing the reality is!

The government response was to talk about the Cultural Recovery Fund again, claiming this is the big idea for the bail out of our Cultural Sector. Again with no understanding of how exclusionary the strings are that they have attached to this fund; essentially meaning that the money cannot be spent on activity and therefore cannot reach the freelancers!

Lord Foster of Bath came in with a pertinent question – asking if the English might consider a scheme something akin to the Welsh to support their Excluded freelancers.  He quoted the 36% who have received absolutely nothing so far.  Would the government in England consider doing the same – the answer was no, because the CRF (Cultural Recovery Fund) can be spent on Freelancers….only we know it can’t!

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Chris Smith – the last brilliant and dedicated Minister for the Arts that we have seen in this country – made an impassioned plea. Clearly he understands that the CRF will not reach many and certainly won’t reach the “heart” of our cultural industries.

Lord Stevenson of Balcamara took no prisoners and pointed out why we, the Arts workforce, are so angry; saying that the “One size fits all” approach to the initial support schemes excluded many of us and the whole focus of the DCMS bailout is buildings and London.  The “jewels in the crown….” As it were.  The following speech from Lord Taylor of Goss Moor heard him absolutely trying to hammer home that many venues cannot open because of government guidelines and for this reason alone are considered non-viable.

And yet again – Baroness Penn harped back to the CRF.  She seemed to have become bored with referring to it.  Probably less bored than I am of Tories who believe that this fund will do anything to help us.

And then a new low – when asked about those who haven’t qualified for support – particularly new graduates, she then offered the possibility of Bounce Back loans with a ten year extension for repayment.  Do they seriously believe that a new arts graduate, already burdened with student debt, should take out a further loan to survive this crisis?

A final moment of hope perhaps.  In response to further questioning from Lord Berkeley around the Welsh model she agreed to go back to the DCMS to ask about this.  Is that a ray of hope?  I don’t know but I, for one, am going to start writing to some MPs and members of the House of Lords to try to push this.  We can’t give up.

And clearly the message has got through to many in the Lords who are willing to listen and learn.  It’s a shame the government seem incapable of anything similar!

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