Ahead of tomorrow’s UK general election, Caroline Julian, deputy head of policy and public affairs at the Creative Industries Federation, lays out the impact all possible outcomes might have on the creative sector.
In an election pitched as a vote on Brexit, the creative sector has arguably received more attention from politicians during the campaign than in any other. And rightly so. As the fastest growing part of the UK’s economy, worth more than oil and gas, aerospace and life sciences combined, it is right that politicians acknowledge the value of the creative industries as well the intrinsic value of the arts.
And yet, with all the main political parties’ manifestos laid before us, evident gaps in their policy proposals will be to the detriment of the creative economy no matter who wins on June 8.
Most significantly, the impact of Brexit on the creative workforce, which is heavily international in nature, has been hugely underestimated across the board. None of the parties have come close to explaining how businesses will be able to continue to attract the right talent and skills they need if freedom of movement ends.
To put the scale of the problem into context, a recent survey of Federation members found that nearly three-quarters believe restricting immigration will limit their capacity to do business. Three quarters employ non-UK EU nationals and 61 per cent use non-British freelancers. A significant majority say these positions could not be filled with British workers.
This is due in large part to a systemic undervaluing of creative education by successive governments, leaving British workers without the necessary skills to take on these jobs. This problem will not be fixed overnight – or indeed by the time Brexit negotiations are over.
To address this issue Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to put creativity back at the heart of learning, but there are no firm commitments to ensuring that creative subjects are taught in every single school. Conservatives will include creative and design in their forthcoming T-levels (designed as the technical equivalent of A-levels) but fail to address directly how to stop the decline in the take-up of creative subjects in schools. Without this, the skills gap will not close and the loss of EU workers will be felt far more harshly by the sector.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. It must be remembered just how far the creative industries have come in the past decade. During this election campaign, the Conservatives have re-emphasised their commitment to the creative industries as one of the key sectors in their industrial strategy. This is significant when at the start of the coalition government only six years ago the sector was not formally acknowledged in growth policy.
The Conservatives have also committed to protecting creative industries tax breaks and Intellectual Property (IP) as the UK leaves the EU, and recognise the importance of digital, all of which would go some way to advancing the potential growth of the sector.
Labour’s cultural manifesto pledges to put the creative sector at the heart of its Brexit negotiations and future industrial strategy. This comes in the form of a £5bn cultural capital fund designed to upgrade existing infrastructure and the adoption of the Federation’s idea to launch a nationwide creative careers campaign to help address skills shortages.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also pledged to introduce creative enterprise zones – an idea proposed by the Federation earlier this year. Under this policy, cities and regions would be eligible to bid for bespoke deals to help support the creative industries and culture locally. Investment in infrastructure, business rate relief on creative spaces and other policies that could make up these deals would promote regional growth based on a modern 21st century creative workforce.
The SNP have also made some promising commitments on copyright and IP protection, and recognise the importance of securing and attracting international talent. However, as with all the other parties, promising rhetoric is just that until we see firm action.
And it is firm action we need after the election when Brexit will come sharply into focus for the creative industries and the UK economy as a whole. Whichever party wins in the early hours of Friday morning, it makes economic sense for them to come good on their promises for the sector, but also to look up and outwards and acknowledge where there is still much more work to be done.
Artwork is by Shaz Madani for It’s Nice That’s Vote poster series.