Earlier this week, The House of Lords Communications Committee fired a broadside across the government’s bows, warning that its “complacency risks undermining the UK’s creative industries in the face of increased international competition and rapid technological change”.
Almost immediately afterwards, in a delayed volte face, Arts Council England agreed to offer a reduced grant to English National Opera, having originally given the company what amounted to a death blow by cutting its funding completely.
As representatives of the beleaguered opera institution pointed out, while a short-term fix was welcome, it came too late to rescue some productions and still leaves desperate uncertainty regarding the future.
In effect, it appears that ACE or possibly its paymasters in Whitehall realised that their dream of shipping the ENO up north might founder unless it was put on life support.
These two developments put into sharp focus what the government clearly believes to be a clash between culture and money, with their view that cutting financial support for the arts is the favoured solution.
Pleasingly for those involved in UK’s creative industries, The House of Lords Communications Committee has worked hard to make the strongest case for support of the arts both from a cultural and financial perspective.
As they say, “the UK’s creative industries should sit at the heart of the UK’s economic growth plans. But the Committee sounds the alarm over missed opportunities and a failure among senior Government figures to recognise the sector’s commercial potential.” That is damning.
“The UK’s creative industries were worth more than £115bn to the UK economy before the pandemic, and make up as many as one in eight businesses across the country. Their contribution to the economy in 2019 was more than the aerospace, life sciences and automotive industries combined. The sector also delivers higher levels of innovation than many other areas of the economy. Countries across the world are competing for a slice of the lucrative opportunities in the sector: global exports of creative services alone exceeded $1 trillion in 2020—more than double what it was in 2010.”
The Committee came up with five major recommendations.
- Improved tax policy to boost innovation, primarily by widening the definition of research and development relief so that it applies to the arts sector but also comparing UK tax reliefs for the arts of those overseas.
- A review of proposals by The Intellectual Property Office to change the text and data mining regime.
- Protecting the UK’s intellectual property framework, which is respected across the world. These should not be watered down by expeditious new trade deals.
- A cross-government focus on skills shortages in the creative industries.
- Continued support for the Creative Clusters Programme beyond March 2023.
After concluding that the government has a major opportunity to put the creative sector at the heart of its future growth agenda but is failing to do so, its chair, Baroness Stowell, summed up the situation.
“The UK’s creative industries are an economic powerhouse and have been a huge success story. But the fundamentals that underpin our success are changing, and rivals are catching up. The Government’s failure to grasp both the opportunities and risks is baffling.
“International competitors are championing their creative industries and seizing the opportunities of new technology. But in the UK we’re seeing muddled policies, barriers to success, and indifference to the sector’s potential. We acknowledge the Government has introduced important programmes in recent years, but we are concerned past success has bred complacency.
“Our report sets out some immediate challenges that the Government can address now. These include improving R&D tax policy to stop excluding innovation in the creative sector; abandoning plans to relax intellectual property rules which would undercut our creative businesses; making the Department for Education wake up to the reality that the future lies in blending creative and digital skills rather than perpetuating silos; and urging senior figures across Government to take the creative sector’s economic potential more seriously.”
Putting it as politely as possible, the problems identified by the Committee put into sharp perspective the many harsh decisions from Arts Council England as it cut funding to major arts organisations without notice and, similarly, much consideration.
One has to hope that Culture Minister Michelle Donelan might see the light, but if the current regime won’t even protect the NHS, what hope for the arts?