The words of the Lords
The House of Lords may have more luck than I had.
In a letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, Lord Gilbert of Panteg, chair of The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee, asks for more details of the government's plans.
The letter walks a line between stating the obvious—"the performing arts, museums and galleries, and TV and film production all require groups of people in close proximity. At the same time, they largely require ‘in person’ attendance by workers and performers. Consequently, the creative industries will likely be one of the last sectors able to reopen fully"—and asking some questions that doubtless will have Dowden squirming.
Panteg welcomes the Cultural Renewal Taskforce but raises concerns about its effectiveness unless it is properly resourced and asks what additional (my emphasis) support will be forthcoming to enable the sector not just to survive but "thrive".
It appears to take a side swipe at the brevity, limits and restrictions around the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and points out specifically the "acute impact" of COVID-19 on the performing arts sector where 70% of workers are self-employed.
It goes on to broaden its concerns to issues around performing arts education and arts education generally, and in relation to under-represented groups.
This is something also raised in a letter to Dowden from more than sixty BAME creatives calling for proper representation and stressing that "any taskforce assembled to discuss the future of the arts must include consultation from BAME leaders".
The writers of that letter must be waiting with interest not only for a response of their own but Dowden's reply to Panteg's missive which closes with, "the [Lords] Committee would therefore be grateful if you could explain what plans the Government has for sustaining and improving diversity and inclusion within the performing arts, and for maintaining arts education during the pandemic."
And a final calling to account with, "the Committee also seeks reassurance that the Government still intends to introduce an arts premium to fund creative activities in secondary schools, as proposed in the Conservative Party manifesto." Squirming might be an understatement.
There was no surprise to read the statement from Jo Stevens MP, Labour’s Shadow Digital, Culture, Media & Sports Secretary in response to the formation of the Cultural Renewal Taskforce which said, “…however, an advisory taskforce is no substitute for financial support for our cultural and creative industries and thousands of talented individuals across the sector have been left to face this crisis alone and without access to financial support schemes" and prophesies "an exodus of skills making a plan for renewal even more difficult to deliver.”
Stevens probably has a point, though it is difficult to imagine an exodus at the moment. Long before that day comes Dowden will have had to do something to protect the sectors for which he is minister.
It is perhaps inevitable that the government is not just flying by the seat of its pants but that it is not sure what direction to "fly" in given these unprecedented times.
It is what my colleague would call a "buggers' muddle" and as sure as eggs is eggs there would be much negative media coverage even if it wasn’t.
In the end, Dowden may be condemned out of his own mouth: "normal life as we have known it is still a long way off, and the path to get there is a narrow one.
"But these things will return, when it is safe for them to do so, thanks to the same drive and creativity that makes a great performance or a great piece of art.
"And I really think that when they do, and when we have overcome this crisis together, we will appreciate them that much more."
Except how can we appreciate something that isn't there anymore?