All 1 Baroness Scott of Bybrook debates involving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Thu 4th Nov 2021

Creative Sector

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Thursday 4th November 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Harris of Richmond Portrait Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I too thank my noble friend for introducing this important debate so brilliantly and comprehensively. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Spencer, on his fascinating maiden speech and welcome him to this House, even virtually.

I want to tell noble Lords about the impact that the pandemic and government policies have had on the creative industries in a small rural town. Like many small communities up and down the country, you will find a wealth of remarkable cultural and creative activities in my beautiful market town of Richmond at the top of the Yorkshire Dales. We have dozens of groups that our citizens can join, from choirs and orchestras to writers’ groups, painters, potters, sewers and dancers—all tastes are catered for. It is remarkable to me that a town of only 8,500 should have so many creative people wanting to express themselves in so many diverse ways.

In particular we have our internationally famous Georgian Theatre Royal, a grade 1 listed building built in 1788, the oldest working theatre in its original form in the UK. Knowing that we had this debate today, I wanted to know how the theatre had fared during this terrible time and, interestingly, it has fared pretty well. Having been given a hugely generous donation from a marvellous benefactor, it was beautifully restored during lockdown, which enabled it then to open once restrictions on theatres had been lifted. During lockdown, though, it was helped by the Culture Recovery Fund, for which we were enormously grateful. That paid around £78,000 for items such as maintenance, insurance and utilities. Then of course there was the job retention scheme, which paid the salaries of the small number of people employed at the theatre, which, by the way, has only 155 seats. In a way, if there were to be a good time for the theatre to be closed, one could say that this was it. However, without the help from the recovery fund and the furlough scheme, it might well have been a very different story.

However, it is not all roses. Most venues, all over the country, may have survived, but actually putting on a production is much more problematic. Because they received little help with their finances, many smaller venues have had to close permanently. Certainly, small production companies like the ones used by our theatre in Richmond have found it extremely difficult to get started again because of the uncertainty of getting money in. Shows take time to be stage-ready, and artists simply have not had the help that others have had, leading to a real shortage of shows to put on in our theatre. Indeed, the chief executive tells me that it has been almost impossible to produce a good programme because of the inability to get people together to rehearse. This is the fault, without doubt, of the Government’s leaving this sector without any help whatsoever during the pandemic.

Small theatres need to be paid up front now because insurance is problematic and going up, as we have heard. There is understandable nervousness about getting people back into theatres. Will they make enough profit to stay open? Even an historically significant theatre like ours has these deep concerns, so what assurance can the Minister give to them? For instance, will the Government ensure that the theatre and orchestra tax relief scheme will continue to support the many small theatres and orchestras into the future, because it will be a long time before they can make any profit?

It seems to me that this is all about confidence: confidence in our Government to do the right thing and begin to support our cultural heritage. This sector was so cruelly treated during the pandemic by not supporting artists and performers—the very people we need to help our creative industries grow. We also need to find the confidence to return to pre-pandemic levels of support for those individual performers and groups, who bring such richness to our daily lives.

That means allowing overseas artists to perform here as well. At the moment, we have made it extremely difficult for them to do so, as we have heard, and our home-grown performers are finding it almost impossible to get bookings in Europe because of the ridiculous paperwork they now need to complete. What was once easy has been made ludicrously difficult because of our stance on Brexit. So, finally, will the Government begin to see how important it is for us to share our culture with the world and recognise that only by unfettered reciprocal arrangements between countries can we begin to rebuild our creative industries?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I remind noble Lords that there is a six-minute limit on speeches from Back-Benchers, and it will take time from the response from the Minister if we keep going over.

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Earl of Dundee Portrait The Earl of Dundee (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, for introducing this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Spencer on his excellent maiden speech.

On the creative industries, I shall briefly connect a few points: their future prospects; the part played by digital technology; their ability to enhance learning and education; and their application at any and every level, whether local, national or international. In view of Covid, however, and as many of your Lordships have done, today we should start by assessing various damage-limitation expedients.

The DCMS Committee of another place has alleged that help arrived too late, precipitating mass redundancies and threatening permanent closure of our cultural infrastructure, while the Public Accounts Committee of another place has claimed that in spite of attempts at compensatory funding many participants are still in great difficulties.

Nevertheless, the Government should be commended for their July 2020 cultural recovery disbursement of £1.57 billion, awarded to more than 5,000 organisations, as since then they also can be for instigating a variety of other useful interventions, including those of last week’s Budget, enabling tax relief for theatre, orchestra, museum and gallery businesses, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, referred.

For 2022 and 2023, what forecasts does my noble friend the Minister make both for the recovery of creative industry jobs, which pre Covid in 2019 had reached 2.1 million, as well as for the sector’s contribution to the United Kingdom economy, which only three years ago rose to 5.9%, at £115.9 billion?

We may take heart that, between 2011 and 2019, the gross value added measure for the creative industries grew four times faster than the rate for the rest of the UK economy. The sector exported £36 billion in services worldwide and accounted for almost 12% of the UK’s services exports. We can also take comfort from the all-win, solid partnership, which is fortunately there to stay, between digital technology and the creative industries, permeating all sectors and now evident within each, from film, TV, music, fashion and design to arts, architecture, publishing, advertising, video games, crafts and so on.

Be that as it may, along with artificial intelligence, digital technology is quite easily misinterpreted, and even incorrectly misunderstood to undermine or replace human minds. Yet as we well know, the opposite is the case, for digital technology does not take over intellectually but instead, and provided in partnership with human thinking and creativity, which come first, is able to innovate or cause many more permutations and constructive results which otherwise, without it, would not have occurred at all.

Another misplaced fear and inaccuracy is that machines and robots, as they proliferate, will disadvantage people. However, research from the United States and Europe indicates that the more creative a job, the less likely it is to be replaced by a machine. That suggests that, to the extent that robots may perhaps do the jobs of men in manufacturing, agriculture and some services, the creative industries then become all the more necessary for generating employment and enabling stable communities. This leads to the aim, shared by all, to attain a much more consistent national spread of creative industries, thereby narrowing the gap between the south-east of England and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Before Covid, while resolving to redress this imbalance, the Government also indicated a 50% increase in reported creative industry exports by 2023, sustained annual growth of 3.9% reflecting £130 billion by 2025, and a million more people employed by 2030. How far would my noble friend now see fit to revise those figures? What plans are there for 2022 and 2023 for the further development of creative clusters within the UK’s cities and regions? In the next couple of years, what targets are there for new partnerships between universities and businesses to strengthen R&D and improve understanding of the sector?

Ironically, during the pandemic the quality of online learning has become even better while its cost has reduced. The British Council is a case in point. Before the pandemic, its traditional business model had relied on the receipt of income from face-to-face English teaching along with some financial support from the FCO. Now its business model has changed, substituting direct teaching with that online, certainly in order to make ends meet and pay back, as required, its current FCO loan of £60 million, yet at the same time without any loss of quality in its language teaching.

The Government’s pre-Covid industrial strategy paper calls for the better teaching of maths, sciences and technical knowledge. All such programmes would be best delivered online. There is as well a strong case to include the humanities within a comprehensive range of subjects. Video games systems, such as those designed in Dundee, already cover a number of subjects with excellent results, particularly when, through use of the Socratic dialogue, learners are also challenged to ask questions and drawn out to give their own opinions on aspects of what they are learning.

Where it already exists, there is no need to replace good teaching at schools and universities. Locally and nationally, the online learning delivery purpose instead is to supplement teaching, as relevant, although occasionally to provide courses in the first place if these should be lacking, such as those covering neglected subjects already referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley of Knighton and Lord Foster of Bath, and my noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot.

Internationally, however, the purpose is different. Within a full range, this is to offer to countless numbers of people abroad whichever subject or subjects they need and want to learn but have not been able so to do owing to an insufficient availability of teaching in their own countries.

My noble friend the Minister will recall that at the recent G7 in June of this year, the United Kingdom, in chairing that summit, has already agreed to assist education internationally. A key issue is that online learning courses should lead to proper qualifications. Just now, as a Council of Europe parliamentarian and through its committee structure, I am writing a report on that. In connection with their G7 commitment, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that any online learning delivered internationally—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am sorry, will my noble friend wind up?

Earl of Dundee Portrait The Earl of Dundee (Con)
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I will just finish.

In summary, the creative industries have a very good prospect. To counteract the current negative economic effects of Covid, ongoing protection is necessary. The Government must also continue to do all they can to spread out from the south-east. A central challenge is to improve and increase education. Through increased online delivery, the UK must now improve education for learners both here and abroad.