Thursday 1st February 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Rebuck Portrait Baroness Rebuck (Lab)
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My Lords, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Kinnock, McKinsey published an arts report last November that described the UK as a “cultural powerhouse” that punches above its weight globally with a dynamic ecosystem of multipurposed talent. I thank my noble friend Lord Bragg—a true multitalent—for initiating this debate. I also mention my own interest, particularly in book publishing, as set out in the register.

The creative industries significantly grow our economy, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and the civic contribution of the arts improves our health, well-being and happiness. Creative learning inspires children’s inquisitiveness, persistence, collaboration, imagination and self-esteem. The arts encourage social cohesion and lower crime, which is perhaps why all 18 year-olds in Germany are given a €200 KulturPass for cultural events, books or music.

A third key impact of the arts is soft power and international reputation. British writers are some of the top-grossing global film franchises of all time: think of JRR Tolkien, Ian Fleming and JK Rowling. The film of Alasdair Gray’s novel Poor Things has clocked up 11 Oscar nominations and the film of Martin Amis’s The Zone of Interest has five. The BBC World Service is listened to by 318 million people weekly and the British Council engages with 650 million people annually.

The Royal College of Art and UAL are ranked number 1 and number 2 globally for art and design. Other countries revere, invest and showcase their creative successes, but not us. The BBC, an admired global brand, sits at the heart of our connected creative industries. It is a trusted provider of news and our largest commissioner of entertainment. But, instead of nurturing it, we freeze its income for two years, engineer a 30% decrease in funding since 2010 and give it a below-average inflation rise at the end of it. With the arts declining by 40% at GCSE and no government plan to improve literacy, oracy, creativity and music in schools, together with the downgrading of humanities at university, I fail to see how we will keep a pipeline of talent.

The destruction of our arts ecosystem began in 2010 with austerity cuts. Local authorities, traditionally the largest investors in culture, suffered a 40% real-term core funding cut over 10 years, with libraries, local theatres, museums and public art the first to go—making a mockery of the levelling-up agenda. Meanwhile, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, an astonishing one in seven primary schools do not have a library. It would cost £14 million to correct that and, if all children in the UK read for pleasure, the UK’s GDP would be up by £4.6 billion over a generation.

By contrast, France’s primary schools devote 10% of their time to the arts, all secondary schools have a cultural co-ordinator and art history is compulsory up to 16 years of age. Twenty years ago, South Korea decided to invest in the arts, and it is now the seventh largest creative cluster in the world. It increased funding by 14% last year and put £500 million into a public/private VC fund for the arts. The film “Parasite” won over 300 awards and four Oscars. “Squid Game”, K-pop and the Hallyu wave have powered the growth of other local industries, from food to cosmetics to tourism—which is why British creative leaders are all travelling to Seoul.

We did lead the world creatively and should have aspirations to do so again. We still have the creative talent, but not the policies or the funding, for our cultural industries to flourish at the heart of a growth strategy. We fail to recognise the innovation the arts initiate when coupled with science and technology. We make it difficult for our cultural activities to tour, to export and to be discovered. This has to change. We must invest in the power of art and in the creative industries that bring us such pride and recognition globally.