Thursday, 19 November 2020
Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
7. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she will provide grants and supports to the self-employed and sole traders who work in the arts, entertainment, music and event industry who continue to have work-related overheads despite having little or no work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35170/20]
At one level the task force report on recovery in arts and culture is welcome. I refer to the proposals for a basic income pilot scheme for those working in the arts, local authority funding to be continued, a support for well-being programmes, upskilling and training, loans for small and medium-sized businesses in the events sector and other proposals such as, importantly, payment for online content. The issue is whether it will be merely an oversight committee discussing this. Will we actually see any of these measures implemented?
Sorry, has the Deputy changed the question? The question I have before me relates to providing grants and supports to the self-employed and sole traders. I have no problem answering questions about the task force. I only want to know whether the Deputy wants that information as well.
There are a wide range of supports available to the individuals and businesses whose financial circumstances have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. The particular support depends on the institutional arrangements of the individual or organisation and whether it is a sole trader or an incorporated entity.
Detailed information on all supports is provided on gov.ieand a guide to business supports booklet giving details of the key supports and resources available to help businesses is available also. Businesses may qualify for the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, which I launched earlier this month together with the Minister for Finance. It is a targeted support for businesses significantly impacted by the level 3 or higher restrictions introduced by Government. Qualifying businesses can apply to the Revenue Commissioners for a cash payment in respect of an advanced credit for trading expenses for the period of the restrictions. The scheme will operate until 31 March 2021.
In budget 2021 the Government announced the provision of a support of €50 million for the live entertainment sector after a period of engagement between it and officials from my Department. It is the first time this sector has received direct support and that tells us a lot about the impact of Covid-19. The 2021 supports for the live entertainment sector will be the subject of further consultation with stakeholders as a follow up to the €5 million pilot scheme and I have significantly increased funding to the Arts Council in 2021 from €80 million at the beginning of the year to €130 million in 2021. Since the onset of Covid-19, the Arts Council has extended its reach and in 2020 has provided grants to many individuals and organisations. On the exact proposal or recommendation with the live events and the supports needed in the task force, I am engaging with it already on the €50 million for the live entertainment sector to see how we can improve the €5 million pilot to reach out more and support more.
The CRSS will benefit some in live entertainment and music and that is to be welcomed. The report itself, however, obviously influenced by the campaigning of groups like the Events Industry Alliance and the Event Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group, EPIC, points out that huge numbers of SMEs in the music and live entertainment sector will not qualify for the CRSS because they do not have rateable or public-facing premises and so on. This, by the way, is the same point I have made about taxi drivers. They are excluded from these supports and, in fact, they are probably the people who need the most. It is all very well announcing schemes and having positive proposals from a task force but if they are not implemented it will not mean a hell of a lot to the people who are really on their knees. More widely, it is worrying that there is, from what I can see, no timeline for the universal basic income pilot and in a number of other areas, it seems we are going to follow a task force report with an oversight committee. When is it actually going to happen because it is urgent?
I am very aware there are those in the sector who cannot apply for the CRSS. We met with the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI, last week and we have met with representatives from EPIC. We have asked them to consider what changes could be made to the €5 million pilot scheme. That is not just a scheme, we have seen it up and running. Last weekend saw the first events from that €5 million and there will be many more over the coming weeks and covering the Christmas period. These include pantomimes, live performances and musicians performing all across the State. I watched David Kitt play Mike the Pies on Tuesday and there are upcoming performances, including by Lisa Hannigan, Lantern events and the 4 of Us at the Spirit Store. There is a list of instances where we can see this money actually being used and providing a much-needed platform for performers. I am continuing the consultation with the sector to give careful consideration to how we can improve that €50 million on foot of the €5 million to help it, especially those who cannot access the CRSS.
On the UBI, I launched that report this week, only 48 hours ago. I am going to move with the oversight committee as a matter of priority. I cannot provide a timeline immediately. I want to do this properly. We have one shot at this and I want to do it the right way. I am hoping the €50 million will provide the lifeline, as will the other supports I have given throughout the year.
I requested the first debate on the impact of Covid on the arts in the House earlier this year. The central point of what I said at the time was that life, without arts, music and culture, would not be worth living. I am glad to find that sentiment has found its way into the title of the Minister's report. However, while we have all these positive proposals, what has actually happened? Many of the people who really need the help and are fighting for their lives are excluded from the CRSS.
The PUP has been cut for many of the people impacted. I would say that the Department has shelves full of reports on the need for pensions for people in the arts and all sorts of stuff that never happened. Yes, we have made progress in having a few good proposals because of the campaigning by and desperation of those in the sector, but there has to be urgency in their delivery and the idea we are going to have another report on top of the last one is pretty worrying.
Many Deputies feel passionately about the arts, as Deputy Boyd Barrett does. To clarify, it is not my report nor the Department's; this report belongs to those who work in the community, from screen producers to the live events industry to the artists and the cultural institutions. It is their report. These are their recommendations which they have brought to me. It was part of the programme for Government commitment to set up that task force, which I very quickly did, and to get the report in a very quick timeline of six weeks. The task force is to be commended on bringing it down to ten key proposals. What have I done in a number of months? I brought in the €29 million in the July stimulus, €130 million for the Arts Council in 2021 and €50 million for a live event entertainment consultation. The community this impacts welcomed this report. It can trust, given my track record in four months in this position, that I am serious about giving the support to this community which I, like many in this House, feel is an essential part of our identity as a nation.