Creative Industries — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:59 am on 3rd November 2011.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 11:59 am, 3rd November 2011

My Lords, I shall endeavour to take that to heart. I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, for securing the debate. She is extremely assiduous in keeping the importance of the creative industries before the House. I, too, look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. I have no doubt that his experience will be of enormous value to the House as time goes on.

I should also like to mention the excellent note generated by the House of Lords Library for the debate. It is full of useful information and statistics that remind us of the economic and social importance of creative enterprise. It is a really good read. However, it tells us only what most of us already knew and have shared with each other and with successive Governments many times, contributing-I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me for putting it this way-to a slight groundhog day feeling to the debate. But some things bear repeating-and I am sure that they will be repeated as the morning goes on.

I have knocked around the creative industries-mostly the performing arts-for a very long time, initially in executive roles but now exclusively in non-executive ones. I am currently a board member at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Roundhouse, the National Opera Studio and the Southbank Sinfonia. I am also a director of Artis Education. I will explain what these organisations have in common; that is what I want to talk about. They are all committed, wholly or in part, to education through developing the most talented young performers and/or by helping to develop in children and young people, often using trained, professional performing artists, the confidence and skills-for example, communication and teamwork skills-that all employers, not just those in the creative industries, say that they need.

In my nearly 40 years in the performing arts there have been some tough times-but none as tough as now. First, I want to say how proud I am of the arts sector as a whole, and in particular the organisations that I work with-for which I take absolutely no credit-for the mature, imaginative and, I have to say, creative way in which they are facing up to the combined challenge of shrinking funding from all sources and audiences with significantly less money in their pockets. Although this week Arts Council England announced a new strand of strategic funding, which is of course very welcome, it had to take some very difficult decisions earlier this year. It did not shirk them, but their impact on the sector will be felt in earnest next year and beyond. ACE itself is being forced to make a 50 per cent cut in its own costs, which cannot fail to reduce its capacity to provide the leadership and support that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, pointed out, it exists to provide.

All in all, it is easy to be gloomy, but I have faith in the resilience of the arts. They will find a way to survive and thrive. I am not shroud-waving or special pleading. People in the cultural sector understand that in dire economic times everyone has to take a hit. I will talk not about what we spend on our creative industries but about how we value them. How often do we pat ourselves on the back about the worldwide reputation of our artists and arts organisations? We all feel entitled to glow when the peerless Mark Rylance in "Jerusalem" or the National Theatre's "War Horse" triumph on Broadway, or when Colin Firth or Helen Mirren wins an Oscar. However, we should remember that truly great artists, be they actors, puppeteers, musicians or fashion designers, do not spring fully formed from television competitions. They are rare and wonderful creatures whose skills take years to hone, and more often than not their talent and enthusiasm have been nurtured first in school and then through universities and specialist training institutions such as arts colleges, drama schools and music conservatoires.

That is why it is so profoundly depressing that the higher education teaching grant has been removed from arts, humanities and social science subjects; that the much vaunted EBacc, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham Carter, mentioned, and which many schools will feel they have to prioritise, does not include any mention of music, design or drama; and that an artificial divide has thereby been created between the so-called STEM subjects and everything else. The message from the Government appears to be: creative education, and by extension the industries that flow from it, is not important but is a luxury and an add-on that is not central to our lives.

As I know from reading the right honourable David Willetts's speech to the British Academy earlier this year, the Government will protest that such an inference should not be drawn from what they have done to higher education and funding in the school curriculum. I think it is hard to sustain that position. Mr Willetts is an honourable man and I have no doubt that he meant to give comfort when he suggested that taking away the teaching grant from those in the arts and humanities was going to improve the position of higher education courses in those subjects. However, that is not how it feels to all those who have worked so hard and for so long to build our creative industries into the vibrant, economic and social force that they are today. It feels like a slap in the face or, worse, indifference.

The world faces a huge array of challenges at the moment. Some we hope are short term, but most are long term, centring on issues such as climate change, population growth, migration and scarcity of natural resources. We will have to apply every ounce of creative energy that we can summon up to meet them. Solutions will not come, nor have they historically come, just from scientists, engineers and mathematicians, much as we need them and creative as they are. They will come from the boldness of those whose imaginations have been shaped and stimulated by a richly creative education.

I hope that the Government understand this, but it is not clear to me from their policies that they do.