Creative Industries (Communications and Digital Committee Report) Debate

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Department: Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Creative Industries (Communications and Digital Committee Report)

Baroness Rebuck Excerpts
Friday 7th July 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Rebuck Portrait Baroness Rebuck (Lab)
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My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests in the creative industries as set out in the register. I pay tribute to the skilful and consensual chairing of the inquiry by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, and to the skill of our clerk and the rest of the team in helping the committee distil this rather amorphous subject into a robust set of recommendations, which, as we have heard, perhaps made some contribution to recent policy announcements.

However, at the time of the inquiry, the mood music from government was fairly grim for the creative industries: the BBC was under siege, Channel 4 was going to be privatised, unhelpful copyright changes were being tabled, and the successful creative clusters initiative was languishing on the cutting room floor. There was little recognition of the creative industries’ significant contribution to the UK economy or that the sector’s job growth, as we have heard, was over three times that of the UK as a whole. There was little acknowledgement of the civic contribution of the arts, and no vision for the future.

We are now on our third Prime Minister and third Culture Secretary since we began the inquiry a year ago, but in June, as we have heard, a creative industries vision document was published, which talked of growing these industries by £50 billion by 2030, a renewed focus on creative clusters, and the possibility of 1 million extra jobs. That is refreshing, but there is no room for complacency, and we still risk losing the leading global role of the UK creative industries. Academics warned that we were in danger of frittering away our great talents, while other countries move ahead with relentless policy focus and investment. As is noted in the vision document, the export of our creative IP alone is one of our great strengths. Figures released on book publishing support that, showing an export growth in English language books in 2022, with sales to Germany, the largest of the European markets, up by 27%, and to Spain up by 30%.

However, in the time I have in the debate, I will concentrate on what I think is the biggest threat to our long-term growth in the creative industries: the issue of skills. How will we fill those promised extra 1 million jobs? Creative skills must be developed alongside STEM subjects, from nursery through to further, higher and postgraduate education. The current Department for Education’s consistent blind spot on the value of the humanities must be addressed. Universities such as East Anglia, have drunk the Kool-Aid of the Government’s rhetoric on so-called low-value humanities courses. Under financial duress, East Anglia is planning to cut its world-renowned creative writing course, which launched the careers of Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright and Ian McEwan, whose novels are exported and translated the world over and the source of so many top British films.

Dr Darren Henley of Arts Council England told us that the three pillars of education were numeracy, literacy and creativity, which I hope will figure strongly in the cultural education plan which may be published later this year. I would add oracy to that list, as suggested yesterday by Keir Starmer, having seen the positive effects of this educational focus when I visited School 21 in Newham some 10 years ago and was so impressed by the articulate and imaginative students I met.

I know that the Minister supports a cultural education plan, but I still wonder why the EBacc continues to be so narrowly focused, excluding creative and tech skills, and why creative industry careers guidance is so inadequate, resulting in 41% of 16 year-olds not knowing that they could have a career in our successful screen industries. Time after time, we heard evidence of creative industries being held up through a lack of workforce skills. Some 88% of creative employers find it hard to recruit the right staff, against 38% across the rest of the economy, which is bad enough. That statistic was quoted to the inquiry by a Minister from the Department for Education. ScreenSkills told us that skills shortages were the biggest inhibitor to growth, and one fast-growing gaming company was turning work down because it could not recruit people with the right skills.

Why is it so difficult for government to fully embrace the STEAM agenda? By STEAM, I of course mean science, technology, engineering and maths, but the “A”, for me at least, means the whole of the humanities and the teaching of creativity and critical thinking. One academic said that, despite the evidence of science, technology and artistry as the unicorns of the modern world, so many students were nervous about investing in their creativity. Surely the Government must recognise the central role of the humanities, imagination and critical thinking in harnessing technologies such as AI, which will have such a profound effect on every aspect of our society.

One of the starkest concerns for me was the 70% drop in the take-up of the design and technology GCSE over the last decade, higher even than the 40% decline in other creative subjects. How could this happen, when arguably one of the most successful companies in the world, Apple, was born through a unique combination of the technological vison of Steve Jobs and the world-beating design of Sir Jony Ive? A product of our own—creative higher education—is now under threat.

People say that a reimagining of the education system would be difficult, if not impossible, but we had some very interesting evidence from Dinah Caine, chair of the STEAM initiative in Camden, London. I declare that my daughter is the leader of Camden Council and that it is the borough in which I live. I knew that it had started a STEAM agenda some five years ago to build a bridge for the kids on the local housing estates, who would walk past the glass edifices of Google, Meta and even St Martin’s School of Art and think that they were never for them.

Today, many young people’s lives in the borough have been transformed by hearing of the opportunities available and by getting top careers advice and work placements inside these exciting institutions and in many smaller creative businesses. However, I had no idea of the effect on education in the borough and the power of the STEAM teachers’ networks with local businesses. I therefore asked to visit Torriano Primary School in Kentish Town, home to 446 children, of which just under 50% were on free school meals. Walking into the school and seeing the accomplished art on the walls alongside representation of polymers created by five year-olds was impressive enough; then I heard that six and seven year-olds had worked with an engineering company to design a greenhouse of the future and had coded a watering app to use the least amount of water for the seeds to grow. Yes, six and seven year-olds were combining tech, design and creativity to invent the future. This school, a beacon of STEAM excellence, was also delivering the national curriculum—it can be done.

I realise that the Minister cannot wave a magic wand and secure an instant new skills pipeline for the creative industries, but, with the promised 1 million new jobs to fill, can he reassure us that he recognises the skills threat and will advocate with the DfE at all levels to ensure a fundamental focus on arts and creative education alongside STEM, and that skills are a “cross-ministry issue”, to quote Sir Peter Bazalgette, co-chair of the Creative Industries Council and co-author of the vision document? Can the Minister confirm his support for the STEAM agenda and the key role of teaching and nurturing creative and critical thinking, without which the threatened decline of our world-leading creative industries will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.