Northern culture is a £2bn industry that must be nurtured – Julie Elliott

AS we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown, the incredible vaccine rollout conducted by our fantastic NHS gives us hope for a 
return to our normal lives later in the year.

A review is being launched today into the future of the North's cultural sector following the pandemic.

However, the economic situation that we will inherit in the post-pandemic world is a difficult one. Lockdowns, and economic decisions by Government, have had a huge effect on jobs, livelihoods and businesses, and the cultural sector has been hit especially hard.

I am therefore proud to be the co-chair of the APPG for Northern Culture as we today launch our inquiry into how the cultural sector in the North can rebuild, rebalance and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

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In our towns and cities across the North which once buzzed with activity, from live music concerts, to theatre productions, to art galleries, and to nightclubs, it went quiet very suddenly. Tickets weren’t sold, shows weren’t attended, opportunities disappeared, and ultimately, jobs were lost.

Julie Elliott MP is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Northern Culture and Labour MP for Sunderland Central.

This is why the return of the cultural sector post-Covid is so important. Not only does it enrich our everyday lives, but it provides highly skilled jobs to so many people, through the work of technicians, producers, electricians, stage managers and a range of different roles on all different levels.

It a sector in which the UK is world renowned, exporting these incredible skill sets right across the world, with big industries seeking out those who have developed in the creative industries of the North of England.

In addition to this, the cultural sector has an incredibly positive knock-on effect on other aspects of our economy too, such as our high streets, which themselves have taken a massive hit.

Local culture brings people together, to the centres of our towns and cities, 
to shops, to restaurants, cafes and 
bars, helping sustain jobs in the surrounding areas and give our town and city centres the life and energy we are so used to.

The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond - what more can be done to help the cultural sector recover from the pandemic?

The numbers back this up. The Arts Council estimates that the cultural sector itself adds almost £2bn to the Northern economy and around 25,000 jobs, and this is not even taking into the account the wider effect that it has on our local economies.

The APPG inquiry that I will be co-chairing will provide a united voice on pan-Northern cultural asks, focusing on how we get the sector back on track, how culture fits into the Government’s levelling-up agenda, and what we must do to ensure that Northern voices are heard when decisions need to be made.

At the launch of the inquiry, we will be hearing from those on the ground about how difficult the last year has been, what support is still needed to ensure that those elements of the sector which continue to function need to sustain themselves until they can reopen fully, and what we need to do to make the sector sustainable into the future.

The launch, and the inquiry itself, will also be an opportunity to hear from those who have managed to adapt, in some way, to the change in circumstances.

An example of this is Generator NE, who have provided over 1,000 hours of online support to almost 200 artists over the past year, organising help to those who engage with how to develop in the industry.

This support has been incredibly important, providing a vital service when artists need it most, not least when you consider the context within which the industry sits. The Live Music Industry Body reports that live music made basically no income in the last year, and the Musicians’ Union report that around a third of musicians are prepared to quit the industry altogether as a result of the pandemic, with many falling outside of the Government’s support packages as so many freelancers have.

It is important to note too that this is only one part of a cultural sector that is so vital to the economic eco-system of the North. This conversation about how sustainable jobs are will be going on in theatre, in circuses, in dance, in art galleries, museums and in community venues to name a few.

We cannot let the cultural sector in the North fall by the wayside – the inquiry is an opportunity to bang a collective drum for the North’s cultural sector and make sure it is being heard and not left behind. I hope that as many people can get involved and submit as possible.

Find out more about the inquiry on northernculture.org.uk or at @NCAPPG.

Julie Elliott MP is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Northern Culture and Labour MP for Sunderland Central.

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