Fri, 09 Oct 2020
Newbury MP Laura Farris has called for support for West Berkshire's "crucial" businesses and "treasured" theatres hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Conservative MP also called for direct financial support from the Government for the "much-loved" Newbury Weekly News.
Speaking in the Commons in a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport debate yesterday (Thursday) on support measures and guidance for reopening arts venues and racing, Mrs Farris said the reopening affected the business ecosystem of the district.
She said: "My remarks that follow are not intended to be a criticism, but a fair reflection of the challenges that face not only racing, but some of the arts venues in my constituency, including The Watermill theatre in Newbury and the Corn Exchange.
"The first great challenge such organisations face is reopening."
Mrs Farris said she had spoken with constituents providing services to music and arts events.
She said: "They make the point that they are viable, in that they would have demand if they could open the doors.
"They believe that they could do so in a secure way, and they underscore the need for planning. They genuinely do not know what the Government anticipate, what happens next year with a vaccine or without a vaccine, or what happens in a best-case scenario or a worst-case scenario.
"When they reopen, they will get orders, but it will be two to three months before they actually deliver the service, and they ask for consideration of that."
Mrs Farris said that the racing industry in Lambourn was not just a major employer and source of revenue, "but something of which we are very proud. It is a core part of our identity".
She said: "When the lockdown hit, it had very serious consequences, because the horses cannot just be dumped in a field.
"They are essentially equine athletes who need to be trained and cared for, and that involves high costs and staff retention.
"The package of financial support was a lifeline, and so was the support given to get racing going behind closed doors in July, and the industry is grateful for that, but the situation is dire."
Mrs Farris said that the racing industry believed it could make racecourses secure by limiting numbers, constructing barriers and holding events entirely outside.
"It could get racing going safely, if only it was permitted to do so," she said.
"That is not just a top-line concern but one that reverberates around the entire ecosystem of photographers, hospitality and bookmakers."
Local newspapers have also been impacted by the pandemic through a hit on advertising and many have either closed or made redundancies.
Mrs Farris said: "On the issue of collateral damage, my constituency’s much-loved local newspaper, the Newbury Weekly News, has been more important than ever in providing a service to people during the crisis, yet its revenues have taken an unprecedented hit because of the loss of advertising.
"Without direct financial support from the department, I am genuinely concerned about its survival."