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Brexit: Movement of People in the Cultural Sector (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:42 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Crossbench 4:42 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow that peroration. I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and his committee for what the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, described as incisive report. I was less impressed by the incisive government response, which consists of a grand total of three and a half pages of A4, two pages of which are taken up by detailing the report’s recommendations and barely one page with the Government’s responses, which they rather misleadingly describe as answers.

As I read and reread the government response, I was reminded of the last verse of Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”:

“‘O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,

‘You’ve had a pleasant run!

Shall we be trotting home again?’

But answer came there none—

And this was scarcely odd, because

They’d eaten every one”.

I will return to that later. As with so many aspects of the potential consequences of our intended departure from the EU, there is a mountain range of questions but a dusty and barren plain of broad and seemingly deliberately vague answers.

This report is about people: real people who work in what is a thriving and economically vital part of our economy. Some of the DCMS’s definitions of what is not in the cultural sector are somewhat puzzling, as these manage to exclude music, the performing and visual arts, film, TV, video, radio and photography. I can give the Minister the relevant departmental document if he wants to see it.

It is incontrovertible that, in 2017, the creative industries contributed more than £100 billion to the UK economy; included in that is the department’s definition of the “cultural sector”, which contributed just under £30 billion. The creative industries employ more than 3 million people, which represents about one in every 11 UK jobs—twice as many as financial services and more than manufacturing.

Although it is a source of great pride that this sector should be so successful and highly regarded internationally, one of the key elements of its success is the way in which it has become deeply intertwined with EU nationals and EU organisations. One of our challenges is to map and understand the nature of these interlinkages, and the consequences and challenges that will arise from them changing and, in some cases, unfortunately, being sundered. An obvious question is: how much does the sector rely on non-UK talent and why is this so? The first and most obvious answer is that being an EU member has made this easy and straightforward. The more important answer is that, in many cases, the demand for EU talent is the result of a lack of the necessary skills and experience, which causes an imbalance in supply. Our existing non-EU immigration struggles to supply the sector with the talent it seeks; there is real concern that the struggles will get significantly worse in a post-Brexit immigration system that lumps everybody together and where everybody will be equally badly done by.

What could the Government do to help the sector continue to grow and thrive? The answer is a variety of things, if they so wish. They could comprehensively review the ways in which creative and technical skills are taught in the UK. They could ensure that any future EU-UK agreement includes measures such as visa-free travel, reciprocal rights for short-term projects and same-day access to talent for businesses that need workers with immediate notice, as other noble Lords have mentioned. They could take steps to ensure that the tier 2 salary threshold is flexible enough to meet the needs of creative enterprises. They could introduce a special visa category to take account of the fact that, as other noble Lords have said, one-third of UK creative industry workers are self-employed, typically working for multiple employers. They could expand and regularly review the shortage occupation list to ensure that it is appropriate and completely up to date; the same is true of reviewing and updating the standard occupational codes and appropriate rates. The current visa processing system, which is not digital—that is not necessarily one of Her Majesty’s Government’s great strengths—requires individuals to hand over their passports, which is hardly user-friendly for internationally touring acts.

Finally, a specific case study requires me to declare a personal interest since the organisation in question—The Place, also known as the London Contemporary Dance School—was founded by my uncle, Robin Howard, in 1969. It has just celebrated its 50th birthday and is one of Europe’s leading centres for performing and teaching contemporary dance. It is hard to develop and maintain an international reputation if an organisation is not genuinely international. The Place speaks from direct experience when it declares that,

“dance artists from the EU drive up the quality of UK dance”.

More than a third of its casual and freelance staff are EU nationals whose individual incomes rarely go anywhere near £30,000—they should be so lucky.

Touring in Europe is very effective advertising for the United Kingdom but it is also a fundamental part of artistic development. It would be a tragedy if the UK dance sector took the risk of becoming more isolated and inward-looking. Participation in initiatives such as Creative Europe has been hugely beneficial. Since these sources of funding are rapidly drying up, can the Minister tell us what plans the Government have to promote and encourage a vibrant UK creative sector, and to mitigate people’s understandable and frighteningly real concerns about the potential unintended consequences of our departure from the EU?

I think I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I pray that he has not demolished all his oysters before he rises to his feet, perhaps to give us some answers or, at the very least, to demonstrate that the Government have genuinely taken the sector’s concerns on board.