This year Arts Council England has been getting gradually more hot under the collar about unpaid internships. The Old Vic and the Unicorn both were forced to ditch ‘voluntary placement schemes’ after having ACE’s guidelines on internships pointed out to them, and the trades unions got heavy. But rather than laying down the law as they see it and then standing back to watch the dust rise, ACE have gone into action with its Creative Employment Programme.
The initiative not only gives young people a paid entry into the arts industries and the career they may have thought was only open to the well-connected, but also provides a much needed influx of talent of which cultural organisations have been starved and training for those enterprises in recruiting the people they need. Especially needed, ACE has discovered, are the technicians and backstage specialists that keep our theatres bright and busy.
For many arts organisations the only way that can get much-needed help is from volunteers, and unreliable source no matter how willing, because they don’t have the resources or the recruitment skills to take on the permanent staff they so badly need. Furthermore, the reputation of our cultural enterprises is being eroded by the budget pinch, while what can be achieved with an adequate budget was shown triumphantly over the summer by London Festival 2012 and the Cultural Olympiad.
The Creative Employment Programme is a sophisticated, wide-ranging scheme based on consultation and deep research which could make the most fundamental beneficial change to the arts in this country since the creation of the arts council itself.
The future of the Creative Employment Programme should not be left to chance and ACE’s uncertain future ability to keep it fed
The cash line is £15 million that ACE has put into creating apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships and paid internships in the cultural industries, a large slice of its much diminished DCMS income, but far more important is the network that is being thrown out across England. ACE has used its own regional contacts to make vital links with local authorities and further education colleges. The scheme has been launched, it starts in earnest in December, and the aim is to get 6,500 youngsters aged 16 to 24 helping to earn Britain its cultural pound.
The sector has been acknowledged by the government as a potential major earner for the UK, with the prime minister declaring two years ago that culture and the arts will be vital to the country’s economic recovery.
Yet the programme is only scheduled to run until March 2015. The ACE money is finite, and the hope is that in 30 months the network will be so well established it will have become organically self-perpetuating, with input from the private sector having been attracted to it. The Business Department and the Department for Work and Pensions are involved, but only in terms of winding in existing schemes they already have. All the £15m comes from the arts council, but if the sector is as vital to the economic recovery of the nation as David Cameron has said it is, surely the future of the Creative Employment Programme should not be left to chance and ACE’s uncertain future ability to keep it fed. The current phase should be seen as a pilot with a commitment to renewing and expanding the scheme post-March 2015.