The second Creative Coalition Festival was broadcast online between 1 and 3 February. It comprised a great melange of free meetings, performances, chat rooms and presentations.
While many of the presenters had cross-cultural interests, theatre was generally not to the fore although whenever creatives get together, there will inevitably be some topics that matter to those of us who love the stage.
In particular, readers may be interested to glean pointers from some speeches addressing major issues that stretch across the industry.
Caroline Norbury, the CEO of Creative UK, launched the event as the first part of a double act with the Culture Secretary, delivering a heartfelt speech praising those in the arts and warning of threats ahead from the pandemic and other factors.
She quickly identified that the creative sector generates £116 billion of revenues annually, which is as good an advert as you could possibly hope for. At the same time, she was very concerned that so many individuals are leaving creative roles, particularly freelancers who can no longer afford to make ends meet.
Systemic change is needed and this will require adequate financial resources. These need to be better directed as the government’s insurance scheme for the sector has failed to achieve its purported goal.
The growth of the creative industries is vital not only for those who work directly in the area but also beyond, since they can assist in tackling some of the greatest issues facing the world today and help to promote a fairer, greener, more prosperous society for us all.
To that end, she was also concerned about the way in which financial pressures have reduced diversity presenting a particular memorable tagline “talent is everywhere, opportunity is not”.
Aided by an autocue that occasionally almost ground to a standstill, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries then delivered what, at times, sounded like a party-political broadcast, supported by a reminder that she is a published author who understands the struggles of so many who will have been watching.
As one might possibly have expected, the main concentration was on winners and money. In particular, she was keener to emphasise the attractions of an industry that sells the UK abroad than consider the benefits of art for art’s sake.
The statement that the government is determined to protect those industries sounded encouraging, along with a reminder that there has been £2 billion of funding, albeit spread around thinly. The sector is apparently booming, not that those involved would necessarily know it, and is at the heart of the recovery plan—ditto.
At the end of a speech that lasted under five minutes, Ms Nadine Dorries set out her sector vision and personal priorities, critically highlighting inclusion and levelling up. She also announced that the government is to offer a further £50 million across the sector, which must be welcome to those who eventually receive it. Characteristically, almost 85% of this was old money that had previously been promised in one of last year’s many spending reviews.
Regardless of that, you don’t need to be an accountant to work out that the new £8 million would only buy one unspectacular Picasso for the National Gallery or fund a low-budget movie.
Looked at differently, such a sum is hardly significant in the context of £116 billion of creative industry turnover, nor to note that it is 80 million less than the prime minister is sending to beleaguered Ukraine apparently to fight corruption, let alone the £8.7 billion written off on disastrous PPE purchases.
Sir Keir Starmer
On day two, rather than sending along the Shadow Culture Secretary, the Labour Party paid honour to the industry by allocating Sir Keir Starmer to give a full-scale keynote address to which he generously devoted over 10 times as long as the Culture Secretary had to her presentation the day before.
While there were also elements of party-political broadcast, Sir Keir had clearly thought through his party’s policy in great detail with plans that generally sounded carefully considered and coherent, though one must inevitably wonder about the funding.
Initially, he showed great appreciation for the cultural heritage of the UK creative industries and our creativity as a nation, talking about “a great British success story”. In his words, the three key issues were the security, the prosperity and the respect that our country and the sector both need.
To that end, he wished to propose a contract with the next Labour government (his words), which would provide security for working people after all of the damage done to the creative industries by the pandemic and also repair some of the harm done to freelancers, who frequently represent 70% of workers in the arts.
As he put it, “we need you to feel safe to take risks”. In return, “government should provide you with the security to do so”.
This will primarily be provided by introducing a higher minimum wage, enhanced workers’ rights, a ban on zero hours contracts and an expanded statutory sick pay scheme, complemented by a 10-point COVID protection plan.
Pleasingly, the Labour leader specifically recognised the importance of theatre, noting that the UK theatre industry is not only world-beating but also envied worldwide.
He showed concern for the problems that have arisen as a result of the UK’s departure from the European Union, identifying the loss of many areas of EU funding, workforce travel restrictions. To alleviate the latter problem, he proposed that Labour would negotiate a visa waiver arrangement and also an EU-wide cultural touring agreement.
Ultimately, he issued a timely reminder that culture engenders civic pride and, in a similar spirit, recognised the need to protect public service broadcasting and save Channel 4 and the BBC, both of which are under threat from the Minister who had opened the conference on the previous day.
During a question-and-answer session, looking to the future, he noted that Labour would seek to promote diversity and access from schools upwards and observed that funding to the subsidised sector had fallen 20% in real terms since 2010.
While there was no explicit promise to restore such a huge black hole, we must all hope that this also becomes part of the plan.