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George Osborne: Why this government will keep investing in arts and culture

George Osborne meets the Chinese cast of the stage show War Horse at the National Theatre in Beijing. Photo: PA/Press Association Images George Osborne meets the Chinese cast of the stage show War Horse at the National Theatre in Beijing. Photo: PA/Press Association Images
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For hundreds of years, the UK has been a place where culture meets commerce and great creative success stories begin. From the enterprising Elizabethan businessmen who helped establish the most famous theatre district in the world, to the British directors and designers behind Hollywood’s greatest hits, we have countless examples of the influence and success of our creative industries.

Last year was one of those success stories. In 2015, British developers were behind some of the world’s bestselling video games, UK architects led on high-profile global projects and one in seven of all artist albums sold across the globe in 2014 were by British artists. British-made films took 20% of the major film industry awards, including six films nominated for Oscars, the highest number since records began. And, of course, millions of people from across the world once again flocked to the West End to make it one of the busiest destinations for theatre on the planet.

Last year’s successes add to the substantial roll call of UK achievement. But it’s not simply the number of accolades that has made the last few years record-breaking. The latest statistics show that the value to the UK economy of the creative industries is almost £77 billion, accounting for 5% of our economy. These figures are proof that one of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary creative industries.

At the spending review in November we continued to make that investment and protected funding for the arts. Deep cuts in the budget of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport would be a false economy, and I was pleased to be able to increase the cash that will go to Arts Council England.

Meeting Chewbacca, just one of the 1.8m people working in the sector, was a memorable moment

But it’s important to remember that those reaping these economic benefits are not just those treading the boards of the West End or sat in production studios. Latest figures show that the creative sector accounts for around 6% of our job market, which is around 1.8 million people working across roles from catering, front of house and security, to the apprentices and trainees, such as the 15 who were employed on the superb film Suffragette. I got to meet some of these people, and a couple of aliens too, when I visited the Star Wars set and managed to meet Chewbacca on-board the Millennium Falcon. It was certainly a memorable moment, but what the visit really brought home to me is how the creative industries are delivering real jobs and real growth, above and beyond our already impressive recovery.

Star Wars, for example, is committed to making the new trilogy here in the UK, and Pinewood Studios has recently announced a £200 million expansion to double the size of its existing studios. The government recognises this potential for growth, and I am proud of our record of supporting the sector – it is in part what has helped generate last year’s success. Last spring I was pleased to extend film tax relief, which saw a record number of claims paid in the last financial year. Since its introduction, £1.5 billion has been secured by the UK film industry through the relief, which has led to over £6.9 billion investment across the UK. One third of the total value of the relief has gone to independent productions. Britain might love cinema, but the relief also represents a shrewd investment for the UK.

I have introduced similar assistance for video games, animation and high-end TV, the latter of which has helped big-budget TV shows such as Downton Abbey, and encouraged Game of Thrones to be filmed here in the UK. In 2014 during a trip to the Theatre Royal in Brighton, I announced the introduction of a new tax relief for theatre productions, which is supporting performances right across the country, such as the touring production of Tom Stoppard’s fantastic Arcadia.

And from April of this year, we will introduce a new orchestra tax relief in recognition of the artistic importance of Britain’s brilliant orchestras. We are also looking at how best we can provide a tax relief for the museums sector to develop creative, new exhibitions and showcase them to wider audiences.

I also announced millions of pounds for a digital skills centre at the National Film and Television School to ensure we have a world leading centre of excellence for broadcasting. This, along with the Skills Investment Fund, will offer government money to tackle skills gaps in the creative sector. Also important, but more difficult to quantify, is the impact our creative sector has on how the rest of the world views Britain. Britain’s musicians, performers and stories, from Billy Elliot to Spectre, have won the hearts and minds of people across the world. During the summer last year, I was pleased to note Britain was ranked first in a global index of ‘soft power’, a concept which lauds the use of cultural influence in international relations. A fine example of this is the BBC World Service, which since 1932 has brought British news and values to the world. Today it has a combined global audience of 308 million, and the government is helping it expand even further.

Last year, during my trip to China, I also had the pleasure of watching one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, Richard III, being performed in Mandarin; this demonstrates the reach of Britain’s most-loved playwright. The performance was part of a government grant to the Royal Shakespeare Company to translate every Shakespeare play into Mandarin, in the hope of introducing them to a new audience. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this year, Shakespeare’s Globe will tour China with a revival of The Merchant of Venice, which premiered at the Globe in April last year. Our creative output is an expression of who we are as a nation, and the success of the UK’s ‘soft power’ is in part because of the success of our creative community.

On January 12 I was invited to address members of that community at a gathering organised by the Creative Industries Federation, which was founded a year ago to provide an independent voice for the sector. The organisation, like me, believes passionately that everyone – no matter who they are or where they come from – should have an equal opportunity to fulfil their creative potential. It was a fantastic evening, and I took the opportunity to celebrate the creative sector’s achievements in not just fuelling our imagination with world-class creations, but also contributing massively to our economy, providing jobs and investment that myself and this government is proud to support.

So, for anyone who’s looking to forge a career in this industry, I say get the creative juices flowing – the support is there and business is booming.

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