4. Statement by the Minister for Social Partnership: Creative Wales skills update

– in the Senedd at 3:30 pm on 18 June 2024.

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Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 3:30, 18 June 2024

Now we move to item 4, a statement by the Minister for Social Partnership: Creative Wales skills update. And I call for the statement by the Minister for Social Partnership: Creative Wales. Sarah Murphy.

Photo of Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy Labour

Diolch. The growth of Wales's creative industries is recognised as one of our major economic success stories. A skilled workforce is key to ensuring the creative sector in Wales builds on this success and continues to thrive and develop, creating valued employment opportunities across Wales. This is recognised by the Welsh Government’s programme for government, which includes an ongoing commitment to supporting creative skills.

As part of this work, an industry-led creative skills advisory panel was appointed in September 2022 to advise upon a three-year creative skills action plan, which seeks to address the skills needs of Creative Wales’s three priority sectors: music, screen and games, animation and immersive technology. I was pleased to join their recent meeting, and really appreciate their commitment and expertise.

The plan outlines Creative Wales’s commitments to bring about change through its own remit and collaboration across Welsh Government portfolios and with others. It sets out 10 priorities identified by the industry for investment in skills in the priority sectors. This action plan cannot be delivered in isolation. Partnership working and collaboration with key industry stakeholders is crucial to supporting a more successful and more representative creative sector. My officials have worked across Government to help establish the creative flexible skills programme, a scheme that provides a 50 per cent subsidy for staff upskilling and training, designed to encourage creative companies to invest in their own staff training. And importantly, in line with our wider ambitions, we are currently working on a review of the creative design and media apprenticeship framework, the first of the apprenticeship frameworks to be reviewed.

A creative skills fund was launched in September 2022 to deliver the priorities of the creative skills action plan. Seventeen projects, receiving £1.5 million of support, were supported through the inaugural round of funding, and a full report on project achievements will be published later this month. Key outputs include the establishment of a new network of screen academies at four film studios across Wales, bespoke training for Welsh music managers and music venues, and a gaming hub supporting the development of BTEC training at levels 1 to 3. Forty-six applications were submitted to the second round of the creative skills fund, launched in May of this year. And I am pleased to announce today that a further 17 projects have been selected to receive £1.5 million of support. Details will be provided on these projects once formal offers are accepted.

Of course, there is still work to be done to ensure the creative workforce in Wales is representative of all sectors of Welsh society. Removing barriers to entry and improving career opportunities for individuals from under-represented groups is, therefore, an important focus of the creative skills action plan. Historically, there has been a dependency on informal and word-of-mouth recruitment. Overreliance on networks and archaic hiring practices can make it difficult for new talent, especially from under-represented communities, to breakthrough into the industry. This is exacerbated by the creative sector often not being seen as a viable career choice for young people or their parents.

To meet this challenge, Creative Wales has developed partnerships with a number of key strategic partners, including Beacons Cymru, National Film and Television School Cymru and Culture Connect Wales, who support diverse talent in finding opportunities in the film and tv sector in Wales. In addition, a number of the projects supported by the second round of the creative skills fund will have a particular focus on improving representation and providing opportunities for all, including those with physical disabilities, learning difficulties and neurodiversity.

Creative Wales established a Creative Wales film and tv skills stakeholder group in January 2020 to bring together key stakeholders, and the group now has over 60 members and has been incredibly valuable as an information-sharing network and in seeking to address silo working. 

We recently announced Creative Wales has worked with training providers Sgil Cymru and Screen Alliance Wales to secure a total of £1.4 million of funding, including £900,000 from the British Film Institute, with £300,000 match funding from Creative Wales and £240,000 from BBC Studios for the new BFI skills cluster, the 'One Stop Shop'. This collaborative project will provide clear and coherent signposting to either enter or progress within the screen industry in Wales, and the new cluster will provide bursary funding, co-ordinated work experience placements, training, and will have a full-time mentor on hand to offer advice. 

BBC Studios are a key delivery partner for this initiative, providing future entry-level and upskilling career pathways in the sector on continuing drama series Pobol y Cwm and Casualty, with an emphasis on recruitment of Welsh speakers and individuals from under-represented communities. Creative Wales is also working with BBC Studios on the Pobol Welsh language directors scheme, which will provide 10 directors with on-the-job training. The development of Welsh talent, such as writers, producers and directors, is vital to ensuring a continuing pipeline of productions across Wales in the future.

In terms of addressing workplace challenges, particularly around crew retention, Creative Wales has funded a two-year well-being facilitators pilot scheme, and is working with the Film and TV Charity to help prevent stress, mental health issues, bullying, harassment and discrimination on productions. Creative Wales also supported the RoadieMedic service of Focus Wales's music festival in Wrexham in May this year. This forms part of the work that the Welsh Government, through Creative Wales, is doing to develop a road map to help to improve working practices in the creative industries in Wales, using the findings of the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre's 'The Good Work Review' report.

All Welsh Government-funded productions are mandated to provide paid entry-level and upskilling trainee placements, with more than 420 placements supported since January 2020. This has been a game changer in terms of providing experience, crucial on-the-job training, and that all-important first credit on scripted, unscripted, games and animation productions, such as Sex Education, Men Up, House of the Dragon, Lost Boys and Fairies, Maid of Sker 2, and Mini Buds. At least one trainee placement on each funded production must be provided to an apprenticeship from the crew shared apprenticeship scheme, operating in both north and south Wales, and 40 apprentices have benefited from placements on Welsh Government-funded productions to date. This apprenticeship model is now a recognised model of best practice across the UK, and my officials are currently working to extend this level 3 qualification to cover the digital, animation, games and music sectors. This work will continue alongside the review of the creative design and media apprenticeship framework. I am committed to continuing all of this good practice through a clear and focused approach on creative skills to ensure our workforce has the skills and talent necessary to flourish. Diolch.

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative 3:37, 18 June 2024

Can I thank you, Minister, for your statement today? Is it your first statement as a Minister?

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative

Oh, there we go. Congratulations, nonetheless, as the new Minister for Social Partnership. And as my constituency MS, I hope you don't take your eye off the ball locally as well—that's very important.

We're all aware how important the creative industries are, and becoming an increasingly valuable part of our Welsh economy. Indeed, UK Government estimates reveal that the creative industries contributed around £126 billion to the UK economy in 2022. The film industry, particularly, has been increasing its reach in Wales, using more Welsh talent and Wales's beautiful geography to produce films. So, it should not surprise us that the Welsh film industry is going to need a continuous supply of talent for the future. We now have an enormous opportunity to help Welsh children to develop those skills and creative talents that the sector needs in order for it to grow and to flourish. But Creative Wales doesn't appear to have any specific funding streams that encourage children or teenagers to explore the creative industry, and even the youth content fund is currently closed.

As we've recently seen with the potential closure of both the Saturday junior conservatoire and the young RWCMD drama course by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the provision for helping children to be creative and develop talent and enthusiasm early in their lives is seemingly withdrawn. It's therefore vital, Minister, that resources are made available for our children and young people to develop those skills, otherwise so many are going to find it harder or even be denied huge opportunities to develop careers in this sector.

I recognise the work being done by many in the sector to provide opportunities for people to upskill and improve their career prospects. And I believe that, if Wales is able to create a robust pool of talent, there's no reason why we could not be a global competitor in the creative sector. But I hope you recognise then that that needs to be met with investment. So, with that in mind, what efforts are you taking, and what funding are you making available, to help schoolchildren and teenagers to explore the creative industry as a potential career path? And how are these opportunities ensuring good-quality experiences and learning opportunities for the future workforce?

In terms of attracting international film projects to Wales, it would be quite beneficial if international teams were able to use Cardiff Wales airport to fly in equipment, as well as production teams and film crews and the like. I've spoken with people in the film industry who've expressed frustration that they have lost projects, or projects have become more costly, because of the extra time international crews have had to take transporting their equipment via Heathrow, only then having to drive it all the way back into Wales.

In terms of improving the international reputation of Wales as a place for filming, which I understand is the ambition of Creative Wales, what specific conversations have you had with the Cabinet Secretary for transport in terms of improving Cardiff's airport as a transport hub that can be used to support the film industry in Wales? The Welsh film industry will not flourish if it can't compete with other countries, and at the moment Cardiff airport does little to encourage a positive international reputation.

And finally, Cabinet Secretary, I wanted to pick up a point regarding freelancers. As you'll be aware, the creative industry relies very heavily on freelancers, and I believe it's in the region of 75 per cent of those that work in the creative industries. One of the problems is that they can go long periods without employment, which makes a career less attractive to young people who are starting out on those careers. Deaf and disabled creative freelancers not only face this challenge, but also the fact that a significant proportion find that they have insufficient support when at work, citing poor understanding or accommodation of access needs and a perception of them as irritations, rather than assets. So, what specific measures are the Welsh Government taking to support freelancers, and in particular deaf and disabled freelancers, by providing mentoring and continuous professional development to help them find regular work? Diolch.

Photo of Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy Labour 3:41, 18 June 2024

Thank you very much for all of those questions. And I agree with much of it. As you said, the growth of Wales's creative industries is recognised as one of the major economic success stories that we have. The latest statistics on the creative sector supported by Creative Wales show this part of the economy continues to perform well, generating an annual turnover of £1.4 billion and employing 32,500 people, with a significant freelance workforce, which you touched on, which I'll come to. And a skilled workforce is key to ensuring the creative sector in Wales continues to thrive; I completely agree. In terms of some of the funding, what I also didn't touch on, which I think is relevant, is that officials have worked with the Welsh Government skills department to establish the creative flexible skills programme, and that is ring fencing £100,000 per annum to provide a 50 per cent subsidy for staff in upskilling training.

But coming on to your specific question about young people, I know this is something that my colleague, Rhianon Passmore, is particularly passionate about, about music for young people. And that is one of the three priority sectors that we have in Creative Wales. So, just to give you an example of what we are doing with young people in schools, there are the soundcheck sessions. It's a project developed and run by the Independent Venue Community through Creative Wales funding, which offers young people—so that's aged 14 plus—the chance to go to a venue before doors open to the public to watch the artists playing that night's sound check and then have a Q&A with them, along with some of the crew and venue team. So, it's really inspiring young people, again, to see this as a viable career and to give them that confidence. So, there certainly is work happening in that area.

When it comes to the airport, this would be something that would go between, yes, the Cabinet Secretary for transport, but also the Cabinet Secretary for the economy. I have not had a specific opportunity to go and visit the airport yet, but I do hope to, because I would always like to see the work being done being done in social partnership, and that is where I come in—my portfolio. So, I'm very happy to follow up on that. 

And then you mentioned about freelancers. Now, when it comes to freelancers, I actually met with the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union yesterday, and we talked an awful lot about freelancers. As you know, during the pandemic, Wales was the only nation to have a freelancers fund, which was hugely appreciated and kept many people able to—you know, not having to leave the sector completely. Interestingly, one of the key findings in their most recent report, which came out at the beginning of the year, was that universal credit is not appropriate for freelancers, because, by the time they've applied for it, sometimes they pick up work again; sometimes, it goes. It just doesn't work with their type of working schedule. I am curious to see—. Ireland are currently trialling a basic income scheme for people in the creative industries. I'd like us to keep an eye on that. But, ultimately, this will be a conversation that people will need to have with the new incoming Government after 4 July. I obviously hope that's a Labour Government, as they have committed to an industrial strategy that would include the creative industries. 

I think I've touched on all of your questions. [Interruption.] Deaf and disabled. Yes. Well, as I mentioned earlier on, we have the 17 projects that are due to be announced—£1.5 million, again, worth of funding. There has been a particular focus on supporting people with disabilities and learning difficulties. So, once that is announced, I hope that you will be happy to see that we've definitely tried to accommodate and to support people in that area. Diolch.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Thank you acting Llywydd, and thank you, Minister, for your statement this afternoon. Clearly, this is a crucial sector for Wales. I'm sure you will have familiarised yourself with the report of the culture committee on the creative industries workforce, which made a number of recommendations, although this plan was in place. It's concerning that there is so much more that needs to be done, and also some shocking statistics in terms of how many freelancers are being lost from the sector for many reasons. Clearly, the support during COVID had been appreciated, but things have been difficult since then, many people haven't returned, and we're seeing far too many people losing income from these industries, or having to leave these sectors, which are so crucially important to us but we are seeing a decline in them.

Can I ask you, therefore, there's been a reduction in the Creative Wales budget in this financial year compared to the last financial year, what impact has that had on the creative skills action plan?

(Translated)

The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 3:46, 18 June 2024

If I may turn to just giving one example, because there was a focus in your response to Tom Giffard around music. Obviously, fantastic, the schemes that are going on, but Music Venue Trust have been in correspondence. I met with them recently, talking about the impact of the recent cut in business rates relief from the 75 per cent to 40 per cent, and the immediate threat of this to Welsh grass-roots music venues. They talk about 16 venues possibly having to close, which is 33 per cent of all the venues in Wales. So, in terms of what you were saying in terms of how young people benefit or work with these kinds of venues, that could be really detrimental. Also, in terms of some of the stats that they've presented: 588 jobs, £8 million of economic activity generated by them currently, 3,500 events and 30,000 performance opportunities. We know that a number of these grass-roots music venues as well are giving that opportunity. I've seen lots in Clwb y Bont of those young bands—perhaps that's their first opportunity. So, when they close, it does have a huge impact.

So, can I ask, one of the issues is, you're developing the workforce, but there has to be somewhere for them to then work and progress. So, I understand your focus on the fund specifically today, but how are you working to ensure that some of the other initiatives or decisions taken by Government aren't actually impacting then on your ability to implement the plan? I think the same is true in terms of apprenticeships. There's an emphasis on apprenticeships, and we've seen a cut to apprenticeship budgets and so on. So, can I ask, in terms of how the actual plan is progressing, how you're alleviating the impact of the cuts that have been to ensure that we are still able to develop the workforce, as has been evidenced with countless inquiries?

Photo of Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy Labour 3:48, 18 June 2024

Thank you very much. I am familiar with the recommendations from the committee. To be honest, it very much correlates with what I'm hearing since I've been in the role and meeting with people from across the sector. You are right when it comes to people, freelancers in particular, leaving these industries. I think, as I referenced the BECTU report, about a third in Wales now are considering just leaving completely because they haven't got that stability, the cost-of-living crisis, of course, if you haven't got the savings.

We also discussed that diversity is about socioeconomic diversity as well. Do you only end up with people who can afford to go without work for some time? How does that work with families and caring responsibilities? This was something that, like I said, was at the top of the agenda. I do believe it is something that will need to be discussed with the UK Government, and I will absolutely support and push for that wholeheartedly. The model does not work for freelancers, it does not work for our creative industries. So, that's something that I'm very committed to. 

The other thing that BECTU mentioned to me—and it's one of those things that sometimes is about unintended consequences. So, of course, one of the things in many areas—not just Wales, but also the south-west, also London, also the north of England—they'll have productions and then they'll say, 'Obviously, please try and recruit locally.' Well, that's fine if you've got projects in your area; if you don't have projects in your area, then you're actually not getting recruited locally, and you're not getting recruited in London either, where the jobs are. That's why, as I've laid out today, so much of the investment is in ensuring that these are projects that are all Wales-wide.

When it comes to the funding, all the budgets, of course, have had cuts to them. I think that, actually, the Welsh Government has really supported the digital, the creative and everything that I've been talking about today, more than other Governments. We haven't slashed it at all, we've still got the £1.5 million fund and we're still going to be providing 17 projects this year, just as we have in previous years. I would say that the cuts, really, within the portfolio, have more been towards things like the Books Council of Wales, which I visited recently as well, and we discussed how that's had an impact, and obviously discussed the future of that. But in terms of the core delivery of Creative Wales, I wouldn't say at the moment that—. I actually think that it's been very successful and the next 17 projects now are going to go even further than that.

When you mentioned the business rates and the Wales Music Venue Trust, I actually met with them, as well, recently. We had a really good conversation about everything that you've said, which did end up going into that nostalgia of all the gigs that I went to myself around the Welsh Valleys when I was growing up. And we've lost places like Barfly and Gwdihŵ and things in Cardiff as well, where those medium-to-small bands would get an opportunity to sell out on a Friday and Saturday night. One of the things that we did talk about was that we've got really big stadium gigs coming to Cardiff—we've got one tonight, we've got one next week with Foo Fighters—and what could be done, really, to work with them and those promoters and those stadiums to see if there's a way that we can give back to local music and grass-roots music. That's something that I'm really supporting them with in exploring, as well as the artist pledge that they're asking Welsh artists to sign up to, which I'm also going to be helping them to promote. I think that's really crucial, as well, for the future.

I hope I've covered everything, but if not, I'm more than happy to have a conversation about this afterwards. Everything that you've said is a concern, and, honestly, this is what we're trying to do with this fund.

Photo of Carolyn Thomas Carolyn Thomas Labour

In north Wales, Wrexham and Flintshire made a bid to become an investment zone for advanced manufacturing, creative industries and digital. Lately, I've been hearing that creative industries and digital have been dropped to just talk about advanced manufacturing, which has been a real concern. In north Wales, there's a lot of potential, we've got Theatr Clwyd, we've got new studios being opened up and lots of courses being offered in Wrexham and other places as well. On digital, Wrexham recently made a bid to be a city of culture, but broadband, digital was an issue. So, we really need to have that as well. So, Cabinet Secretary, would you be able to make a case for us to retain creative industries and digital, as well as advanced manufacturing for north Wales? We can really build on it.

Photo of Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy Labour 3:52, 18 June 2024

Thank you very much for the question. Yes, as you mentioned, the investment zones are a joint programme between the Welsh Government and the UK Government, and decisions are paused at the moment on this programme until the new UK Government is in place. The investment zones were intended to focus on addressing barriers, as you've said, for high-growth potential sectors or clusters, and to have that kind of narrow focus.

The Flintshire and Wrexham investment zone was selected on the basis of a joint objective assessment by the Welsh Government and UK Government, with the area showing particular strengths in advanced manufacturing. So, essentially, the private sector-led proposal didn't fit with that focus and, ultimately, it was not necessarily dropped, it was just that it was not part of the agreement for the investment zone going further. So, that's the specific update on that investment zone. However, what I would say is that it doesn't mean that there's not an absolute commitment to the digital, to the creative in north Wales. As I mentioned in my other responses today, many of the projects that are being supported and are happening in Wales are happening in the north of Wales, and we are really supporting that.

I also wanted to point out as well—and this is something, maybe, to point to in the hopes of having that kind of city of culture and things—that Games Talent Wales is a grass-roots games talent development programme that Creative Wales supports in partnership with Glyndwr university, which supported eight companies in 2023. So, I'd be more than happy to send you a copy of that, just to point to a lot of innovation and businesses that are setting up in this sector and receiving support from Welsh Government as well. But if it hasn't been identified as a key sector in that area, it doesn't mean that there isn't stuff happening, and let's have a follow-up conversation because I'm absolutely committed to ensuring that that is happening in north Wales too.

Photo of Rhianon Passmore Rhianon Passmore Labour 3:54, 18 June 2024

Minister, thank you for your statement today. I think I will declare an interest as a former freelancer, but I'm appreciative of the emphasis today that you've placed on the freelance workforce participation. And I would also welcome any exploration with the UK Government, in terms of any type of system that will benefit creatives, alongside the interesting work in Northern Ireland around the basic income.

So, the three-year 'Creative Skills Action Plan 2022-2025' seeks to address the skills needs of Creative Wales’s three priority sectors—music, screen and games, animation and immersive technologies—and that is to be welcomed. While the funding, via a creative skills fund of £3 million in two rounds of awards from the Welsh Government, is very much welcomed, the creative landscape, however, continues to be heavily undermined by austerity and cuts to the Welsh budget and the public spending that emanates from the financial decision making of the UK Tory Government.

Equally of note, though, is the critical determination and decision making, strategically made by Wales's own arts council model, which itself plays a pivotal role in the shape and direction of travel of Welsh skills and Welsh culture. While these new funding steps are very welcome, I think that we also need to be vigilant and not further any actions that cause erosion of established cultural sectors in Wales—for example, the current decimation of opera and theatre, and the amazing breadth of sector skills, and the amount of jobs from these the largest arts employers of Wales.

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama is also consulting to end its junior department by July this term, pointing to significant financial challenges. Young Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the junior conservatoire of Wales, offers a full range of Saturday curricula for skills learning, for those aged four to 18. It's on a par with the Royal College of Music, Guildhall, the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music. These are what we have now.   

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:56, 18 June 2024

You need to ask your question now, please.

Photo of Rhianon Passmore Rhianon Passmore Labour

Yes, I'll come to my question then. In regard to the re-evaluation of the creative skills plan, bearing in mind also the skills development of the outreach of Welsh National Opera, is there any consideration in the third year of how that will be undertaken, going forward? Because we manifestly face a serious undermining of skills and opportunities in vital established cultural sectors, such as those that I have mentioned at our conservatoire and at the Welsh National Opera. Diolch.

Photo of Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy Labour 3:57, 18 June 2024

Thank you very much, Rhianon Passmore, for those questions. As I have said, I know that this is an area that you are very, very passionate about. It doesn't quite fall under my portfolio, as I'm sure you understand, but I did just want to say that I really admire your passion for this, and I understand that this is a really, really difficult time for our music venues, but also educators in Wales.

We heard, earlier on today, that the First Minister used to play the trumpet and the violin. I used to play the clarinet, like Mark Drakeford, in the Pontypridd community orchestra. It was always a huge honour to be able to go up and play in those bigger venues. It was really, really special. And to have those people coming through—that pipeline—is absolutely crucial. So, I totally take on board what you are saying.

In terms of music and apprenticeships, though, it is one of the three key priorities that we have in Creative Wales. The people I mentioned on the skills advisory panel have a wealth of expertise in this area, and they will point out that we have got a lot of people who are mixers, for example, and producers, who are going to be retiring shortly. So, this is an area that we really need to boost.

I mentioned earlier on to Tom Giffard about the sound check sessions that are being done with young people to inspire them. I've mentioned today the support that we are giving to the projects, bringing in House of the Dragon to film in Wales. All of these things, really, are just to really, really boost this industry and to give people that hope and stability for the future.

I just want to say as well in terms of the apprenticeships, which I haven't touched on, that at least one trainee placement on each Welsh Government-funded production must be provided to an apprentice from Criw, the shared apprenticeship scheme that now operates in both north and south Wales. Like I have said before, this is a recognised model of best practice.

It's not just about bringing people in, though. It's about upskilling as we go through. This is something that I'm constantly hearing. I really want to say thank you to the people who do engage with the Welsh Government and Creative Wales, and really share their absolute on-the-ground knowledge and expertise when it comes to all of this. We are listening, and I'm sure that many of them would share what you have said today as well. So, diolch.