On Wednesday, Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, hailed his government’s Budget as “delivering for DCMS”. Perhaps he listened to a different chancellor giving a different speech because what I heard was a government that doesn’t understand the creative industries.
There were some positives in the rescue package to cushion businesses from the impact of Covid-19, but more needs to be done. Waiving business rates for small and medium-sized enterprises is welcome, but will it be enough? Evidence from other countries where stricter measures have already been taken shows a drastic fall in revenues. Many smaller venues, which make up the lifeblood of our sector, simply won’t be able to bear this. The government should listen to the Creative Industries Federation and others calling for a further package of support.
It’s the hard work of freelances and the self-employed that keeps our industry going, as I know, having been a self-employed writer and actor for 30 years.
If forced to self-isolate, those workers face two weeks without pay and won’t be able to secure future opportunities. Removing the income floor for certain benefits is a step in the right direction, but BECTU is right that it’s “not good enough” to use the discredited Universal Credit system to deliver government support.
What the Tories need to understand is that for the creative industries, this pandemic is an existential threat.
What the Tories need to understand is that for the creative industries, this pandemic is an existential threat
Beyond Covid-19, the Budget was a missed opportunity. The new money for art and sports education is a drop in the ocean given that Tory cuts are squeezing the creative arts out of the curriculum in nine out of 10 schools.
Without proper reforms to the English Baccalaureate and a revolution in funding for adult skills, we won’t be able to end the country’s creative skills shortage.
The failure to even mention the creative industries calls into question the validity of the government’s ‘levelling up’ strategy. ‘Levelling up’ regions of the country outside London means attending to what makes a place attractive. And that’s art and culture.
A recent Arts Council England survey suggested that when people are deciding where to move, a good cultural offer is even more important than proximity to good schools. If we’re serious about regenerating towns like mine, investment in grassroots cultural infrastructure must be part of the strategy.
On Wednesday, the chancellor could have announced an industrial strategy for the creative industries to provide sustainable funding for community institutions. He could have provided new funding to replace the £40 million we’ll lose each year outside the EU. Or he could have pledged a genuinely transformative package for arts education in schools and adult learning institutions, ending a decade of Tory cuts to skills budgets. Sadly he missed all of these opportunities.
Tracy Brabin is an MP and shadow secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. She was previously an actor