Oona King

Thursday, 18 June 2015 00:00


Written by 

Speech to Parliament as Shadow Broadcast Minister:

A generation ago, in 1998, the Labour Government defined the creative industries as comprising any business with the potential to generate,

wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property”.

It seems strange now that, in the fairly recent past, the Blair Government became the first in the world to recognise the creative industries as an industrial sector in their own right. The Creative Industries Mapping Document published by former Secretary of State, Chris Smith—now the noble Lord, Lord Smith—set out for the first time to measure and map the impact of the creative industries on the rest of the economy. He wrote in the foreword to the document:

The most successful economies and societies in the twenty-first century will be creative ones. Creativity will make the difference—to businesses seeking a competitive edge, to societies looking for new ways to … improve the quality of life. This offers the UK enormous opportunities. We have a well-deserved reputation for creativity; we can draw on both a strong historical base and vibrant contemporary developments”.

It is worth touching on the historical base that the noble Lord, Lord Smith, mentioned because it puts the future potential of our creative industries in context. It is incredible to recall that, at its height, the British Empire was the largest ever in history and held sway over one-fifth of the world’s population. The BBC Empire Service began in 1932 and is today, of course, known as the BBC World Service. The global footprint of the World Service is the widest reaching of any broadcaster or country and it is the most trusted news source in the world. The BBC news reaches more than 230 million weekly users. If you add our news to our other intellectual property exports—music, film, TV, games, digital content, publishing, architecture and so on—it is clear that Britain has done something truly remarkable. We have lost an empire but won the battle for global cultural pre-eminence. That pre-eminence now showers us with revenue and is the real venture capital of our economy.

As John Woodward wrote in his excellent review of the creative industries, published recently in March,

the UK has risen to become the pre-eminent global hub and talent magnet for investors seeking creativity, innovation, world-class skills and cutting-edge engagement with the new digitally-led creative economy”.

One of the purposes of this debate, and what noble Lords have done in it, is to ask: how did this happen and how we can ensure that it continues to happen? Tellingly, Mr Woodward’s explanation of how it happened is:

Over the past 40 years a combination of natural talent, education, training, and crucially, the provision of state-funded access to a broad range of cultural activity, have all contributed to the UK becoming a global powerhouse for the creative industries”,

but that,

the recent public spending cuts to arts bodies and to regional economic support structures now risk eroding the national DNA that originally propelled the UK to the top of the global creativity league”.

If we want to secure our future, we must secure our creative industries. As my noble friend Lord Bragg said, this calls for enlightenment from the centre. I liked his comments on repetition, such as:

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”.

A couple of us have re-quoted this. I like a bit of repetition as much as anyone else but there are too many arts organisations crying, “A grant! a grant! my kingdom for a grant!”. Our kingdom’s cultural hegemony was built on state-funded access to a multiplicity of cultural goods but the scale of cuts to state-funded arts projects and institutions now risks critically undermining not just our collective creativity, our creative industries and our cultural heritage but the life-blood of Britain’s economy. That is why this debate is so important, and why it is so important that we see clearly the risks ahead.

What are the risks? The first is that we do not protect our PSBs and the extraordinarily innovative yet fragile creative ecology that they have spawned. Virtually every Peer speaking today has referred to our creative infrastructure. Secondly, there is the risk that through excessive funding cuts, as I have said, we fatally undermine access to arts and culture for all British kids, not just a lucky few. This was articulated by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the noble Baroness,

Lady Kidron, my noble friends Lord Haskel and Lord Bragg and many others. Third, there is an enormous risk that our education system does not do enough to promote creativity, as was outlined by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bonham-Carter, Lady Kidron and Lady Wheatcroft, and by the noble Lords, Lord Burns and Lord Clement-Jones, and others. Fourthly, there is the risk that we do not secure the digital economy or its infrastructure adequately, for example in broadband.

The fifth risk is that the creative economy is limited to London and the south-east, and that we fail to introduce the regional structures required to hardwire creativity throughout Britain. We have not touched on that enough in this debate but I am sure we would all agree that we need to pursue that incredibly important strategy. Sixthly, there is the risk that we fail to respond adequately to regulatory challenges as they emerge, particularly those that require a constructive relationship with the EU. Seventhly, and following on from that, we need our IP regime to promote innovation and not stifle it, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned. I encourage the Government to think harder about how we effect that difficult balance between the incentive to innovate and ensuring that we have appropriate returns from copyright. There will be instances, and the digital world throws up many of them, where the current situation is not as we would wish it to be.

Eighthly, there is diversity, which I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, for raising. I should flag up that I am Diversity Executive for the broadcaster Channel 4. It was really instructive of the noble Baroness to have highlighted the role that Lenny Henry has played and the link with talent. Let us remember that this is about talent. Lenny Henry highlighted the fact that BAME talent has left, or been pushed out of, the television industry. Too often, people greet the diversity initiatives that are set up to deal with this sort of issue by whispering complaints—let me be blunt here—that they are just about getting black people jobs, that they lower the bar, that they undermine meritocracy and that they prevent the best person getting the job. So let me put the record straight and explain why intelligent diversity strategies grow our talent pool and our economy.

I will do this by way of an example that I never tire of repeating—please forgive me, those who have heard me say this before. It relates to the legendary former head of Film4, Tessa Ross, who was a great advocate for diversity. She was concerned that, despite Channel 4 having a remit to push diversity and find hidden talent, she could not find any black film directors. Tessa looked and looked. She asked her people to look. The cry went out across the land: “Black film directors—where are they?”. The response came, “Oh no, there aren’t any. Well, there aren’t any of note”. You know how it is: you want to employ black people and women and disabled people and working-class white boys from Scunthorpe, but you just can’t find any who have the right experience or qualifications. It’s even a bit like this round here in the House of Lords, isn’t it? How else do you explain that 77% of the Lords are men? Obviously we do not discriminate against women, and we are not in favour of men over women. It’s just that women are not as experienced as men, or they have not risen up through the ranks, or they are not the experts in their field, or they cry in the lab. You know how it is. Honestly, what a load of nonsense.

Back to the head of Film4 searching for a black film director—she knew there must be black people out there who had the talent to be film directors but just hadn’t had the opportunity. She decided to widen the recruitment field, to change the qualifications required. I say to any person in any industry, in any business: if you want to improve things, do that. Widen your recruitment base. She turned to somebody who had no experience as a film director. He was a visual artist. As we all know, Steve McQueen did not get the Oscar for best film due to political correctness. He got it because he is one of the most talented film directors in the world, because Channel 4 had an innovative approach to diversity and because Channel 4 had—and has—a strategy to go out and find the talent without qualifications, rather than let that talent be lost for ever.

The TV industry is currently working hard to promote diversity, and the Creative Diversity Network, which I work with, has done just that. I know that the Minister in the other place is well acquainted with the issues that the Creative Diversity Network is pursuing, so I ask the Minister: what will the Government do to spread the best practice identified by the Creative Diversity Network for the TV and film industries further afield to related creative fields such as radio, the music industry, publishing and theatre?

While I am on the subject of diversity, it is imperative to point out the huge diversity of the creative industries themselves. We have heard about fashion design, architecture, film, video, special effects, software, music, publishing, theatre, TV, tourism —the list goes on and on. Yes, these are disparate fields, but, as the Creative Industries Mapping Document pointed out all those years ago for the first time, these are the areas that make up the knowledge economy on which our future rests.

I end by turning to the BBC. As so many have pointed out, the BBC goes to the very heart of what it is to be British. I have already quoted my noble friend Lord Bragg, who said in this Chamber:

The BBC is not so much the family silver as the family itself”.—[Official Report, 3/6/15; col. 432.]

I will be frank. Many are worried that the Government want, with ideological zeal, to cut the BBC down to size, to something far less than it is at the moment. I am sure many of us will urge the Government not to use the BBC’s charter renewal as an inadvertent exercise in cultural vandalism. I quote an article that said:

Proverbially, when the bombs rain down, the captain of the last nuclear submarine will judge Britain ended when Radio 4 ceases to sound”.

The cultural industries have given Britain a sense of itself, and none more so than the BBC. Those industries will protect our future and, as such, they could hardly make a greater contribution to the United Kingdom’s economy.

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