Sacha Lord, night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester and co-founder of Parklife and The Warehouse Project, calls on the UK Government to follow the lead of other European countries that are incentivising young people to increase cultural activity
In his Spring Statement last month Rishi Sunak only mentioned leisure and hospitality once, and while the temporary business rates relief for firms is of course welcome, it really is a drop in the ocean.
At the same time, the Chancellor hiked VAT by 60% and did nothing to support firms struggling to survive due to a deadly cocktail of soaring energy bills, increased operating costs and existing huge debts accrued during the last two years.
What we desperately need is a Government willing to step in and support our cultural sector.
I recently read a report from the Performance Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA) which said the pandemic disruption had forced 400,000 people, most of them skilled professionals, out of the events sector, while in hospitality, a further 660,000 jobs have been lost since March 2020 (UKHospitality) due to venues closures. Isn’t it therefore obvious that at this point in our sector’s history, any further blows to the financial stability of businesses will have an irrecoverable effect? We will lose the venues, festivals and events that are so vital to tourism, and are the beating heart of communities across the land.
These venues give us the moments that live in our memories for years, if not decades. We can all remember nights out as students, a festival where we met old friends, or music gigs that made us just feel alive.
After the last two years, our Government now needs to think outside the box to help the cultural and live events industries recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Take Spain, for example, who, in their bid to aid the sector’s recovery, will provide every 18-year-old with a ‘Youth Cultural Bonus’ – a €400 voucher to spend on festivals, events, books and music. This follows similar schemes in France and Italy introduced pre-Covid to aid cultural tourism, but all these initiatives demonstrate how far ahead of the UK some of our neighbours are when it comes to innovative ideas for our sector.
Crucially, the Spanish scheme is specifically intended to not only give the creative industries and hospitality sectors a much-needed boost as they emerge from the pandemic, but also to ensure universal access to culture, generate and embed habits of cultural consumption and enjoyment and create new, more diverse audiences across music, live events and the arts.
What a brilliant investment this is – investing in music, culture and live events and investing in young people at the same time because, let’s be honest, young people have had it tough over the past two years.
Acknowledging this fact doesn’t mean minimising the suffering of people who have been shielding or have lost their jobs and incomes, but it is important to recognise that on top of missing out on in-person teaching and socialising with friends, our young people have lost out on so many formative experiences that are a vital part of growing up. They have spent their teenage years on Zoom, rather than experiencing the buzz of the nights out, festivals and gigs that you remember for the rest of your life.
Our creative industries generate an additional £1.14 for every £1 of investment, so the dividends of introducing such a policy would be enormous for businesses, our economy and the young people who will begin lifelong love affairs with live events, music and culture and who will repay this investment many times over in their lives.
Before the pandemic, our creative industries were growing five times quicker than the economy as a whole and were set to create one million new jobs this decade.
Surely investments like these make economic sense?