The Showmen’s Guild managed to secure a meeting with the Heritage Minister, Nigel Huddleston from the Dept of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on 13th January. This followed the successful Parliamentary Adjournment debate that took place in Westminster on 17th December.
Taking part in the virtual meeting with the minister and his DCMS team for the meeting were the Guild’s President, Philip Paris and Senior Vice President, John Thurston.
They were joined by two other MPs: Sir David Amess, Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Fairs and Showgrounds (and MP for Southend West) and David Linden MP, the Group’s Secretary & Treasurer (and MP for Glasgow East).
Adjournment Debate follow-up:
• The Heritage Minister praised the success of the Adjournment Debate in December for its comprehensive discussion and participation by a cross section of MPs.
• He also spoke of his childhood memories onwards at Evesham Mop Fair.
• The Minister confirmed that, as agreed at the debate, he had written to the Local Government Minister (in the MHLG Dept.) to ensure access to Local Authority Discretionary Grants for Showmen.
• He had also written to the Chancellor, at the Treasury, to look positively on the Showmen’s submissions to the red diesel tax rebate consultation (that was sent by the Guild to the Treasury in September and due for consideration in the spring 2021 Budget).
• The Minister will also discuss with the Business Minister (in the BEIS Dept.) to have the word “Showmen” as a category (as they do with ‘Market Traders’) so that we can benefit from eligibility rather than being routinely excluded as at present.
• Understanding the difficulties Showmen experienced in applying for grants, the Minister advised Showmen “to apply anyway”, especially as the grant fund has been topped-up.
• There will not be a specific fund for Showmen as in Scotland, as Scotland’s finance rules are different as a devolved power, although discussions on the matter of funding continue.
• The Minister assured that “all discussions are live”. This includes the Minister speaking with the Treasury.
• It was understood that many of the Guild members are sole traders, not large companies; many are not VAT registered; and many do not have Rateable Business premises.
The Guild President discussed funding:
• He explained that when the restrictions are lifted, members have to have their fairground equipment and vehicles ready, with significant costs of inspections and more.
• He also reminded the Minister that many of the members have had neither work nor income for a year.
• The President urged that the Showmen’s Guild itself required funding to continue its work in representing and supporting its members; especially as the members’ subscriptions that usually fund it have been reduced by 90% as the members did not have the income to pay it.
• He explained that the Guild was submitting an application to the Culture Recovery Fund.
• He and the Snr Vice President explained that Guild members are still not able to operate, even though fairs are Covid-secure as agreed with DCMS, because there was opposition from local authorities.
• He concluded that when restrictions are lifted this year, we need to be ready to operate our fairs, with all the mitigations in place and would need improved assistance from local councils.
The Snr Vice President explained the heritage, working style and day to day difficulties of Showmen:
• He detailed the funding problems members were having.
• He also explained how Showmen had always helped the country both in times of conflict and peacetime, including during this last year.
• He spoke of the human cost of the pandemic affecting Showmen and expressed concern for this season’s operations and the concerns for getting open when the pandemic eases.
The Heritage Minister, concluding:
• Committed to appeal to Local Authorities to allow fairs and events as soon as possible with social distancing and being Covid-safe.
• On funding: DCMS has no direct Showmen’s package but is talking to the Treasury.
• The Heritage Minister reassured that he is looking for there to be fair and equal treatment.
• He assured that the Showmen’s Guild and the fairground industry is recognised in Parliament more than many have feared and have done well:
“The Guild is very well represented in Parliament, better than you think, with the All-Party Group, MPs Questions and the Parliamentary debate.”
• He was also aware that insurance is an issue, urging the Guild to let DCMS know, as we are corresponding with the insurance industry and the Treasury.
• The Minister noted that the Guild have made a strong case; “We will do what we can; we want as many to survive as possible.”