Baroness Rebuck Excerpts
Thursday 1st February 2024

(5 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.

Creative Industries (Communications and Digital Committee Report)

Baroness Rebuck Excerpts
Friday 7th July 2023

(1 year 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.

BBC: Future Funding (Communications and Digital Committee Report)

Baroness Rebuck Excerpts
Friday 16th December 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Rebuck Portrait Baroness Rebuck (Lab)
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My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to this debate as a member of the Communications and Digital Committee and humbled to speak after our esteemed chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston. Please note my interests in the creative industries as detailed in the register. During this inquiry, each member brought a strong set of opinions to the table against which to assess the evidence, and it took expert navigation by our excellent chair to reach the agreed conclusions.

The British public know what the licence fee is. They understand its purpose and, mostly, they pay it. The evasion rate compares well with other European countries. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has talked of the BBC’s role in shaping global broadcasting and said that the iPlayer blazed the trail long before Netflix and on-demand viewing.

In Salford, our committee heard how BBC engineers assess and develop technological advances, from the use of blockchain to immersive TV and AI-controlled cameras. Professor Mariana Mazzucato argued to us that by being at the forefront of technology, with stability as a national and values-driven broadcaster, the BBC has market-shaping power that de-risks and opens up the media innovation chain.

The BBC shapes the demand for content too—for example, in its championing of women’s football, culminating in 17 million viewers of the Women’s Euro final. The BBC is also, impressively, the largest single investor in UK content, while our vibrant publishing industry, which is where I spent my professional career, owes much to its existence. The BBC has many wide-ranging economic impacts. A PwC study showed that, if the BBC increased its footprint by 15% in a region, it doubled that area’s creative growth.

Our committee heard criticism of the BBC too—for instance, that its news coverage can reflect a metropolitan perspective, not the views of the whole country. However, historically all Governments have criticised BBC news coverage if it did not conform to their agendas, and that should never threaten the BBC’s very existence.

We also heard that pay TV and streamers were better at reflecting our ethnically diverse society. The BBC takes that issue seriously, but there is still much to do. Many teenagers are switching off the BBC; we spoke to many of them in Salford, and they said they watched the BBC as children and for school revision but now turned to TikTok and YouTube. Ofcom research backs that up, and few longitudinal studies exist to predict whether this generation will eventually return.

Grappling with the loss of income from the licence fee freeze, the BBC has increased its commercial target by 30% for the next five years to £1.5 billion, and is investing its new £750 million borrowing capacity for greater returns. However, according to the National Audit Office, the BBC’s commercial activities do not yet contribute significantly to overall income.

We heard evidence for an online-only BBC, a second digital revolution, but there was doubt from some of our witnesses that the UK would achieve full-fibre rollout by 2030—the Minister may want to comment on that— while Enders Analysis highlighted the 8 million adults in the UK who prefer to stick to linear free-to-air TV.

As we have heard, Tim Davie said in a recent speech that the BBC wanted to shape a digital-only future, but there is no detail yet for that vision. As this week’s NAO report suggests, the legislative environment needs to become more agile to keep pace with technological change. For example, the decision to allow programmes to be available for longer on the iPlayer took over a year to agree, while the question of how PSB content is displayed on other platforms is yet to be resolved. When we were in Salford, we saw a range of television sets and, frankly, you would have to be an archaeologist to find the BBC. The BBC’s metadata gathering and usage could also be improved, which could be an opportunity for the BBC to lead on the ethical but effective use of data.

That takes me to the core of our report: funding models. The European Broadcasting Union, impressed by the BBC’s audience, quality, impact and brand, argued that if a country has a reasonable licence fee and avoidance is low then that is the easiest and most transparent way of funding a national broadcaster—yet it is not a progressive model. The question is, as the chair has said: how urgent is change in the context of falling linear viewing, increased digital competition and higher costs?

In our report, we focused on exploring a council tax or progressive household levy that took account of people’s ability to pay. We noted that a ring-fenced income-tax solution would adversely affect low-earning shared households and that a telecommunications levy might make internet connectivity more expensive for many. Pure advertising or full subscription alone, as we have heard, would not fund the current BBC, but we heard evidence supporting a hybrid subscription model. To my mind, though, the pure public service part of the two-tier system seems to come too close to the market-failure model that we unanimously rejected, so more work needs to be done.

We must encourage the BBC to work imaginatively on a more detailed vision for the digital age with preferred costed funding options while it turbocharges commercial revenues, mindful of its other role: to provide underserved services. That work is critical, because my time on this committee reaffirmed to me the crucial role of that the BBC plays in supporting our shared national identity, creativity and economic growth.

From the Government, we must ask the Minister to reassure us that any decision on future funding models will be decided with the BBC and that independent market studies will be commissioned, made available and consulted upon thoroughly with Parliament and, eventually, with the public.

Authors, Booksellers and Libraries: Economic Recovery

Baroness Rebuck Excerpts
Monday 10th January 2022

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As I said, the Booksellers Association reports that the number of independent bookshops has grown over the past 22 months. Its membership is up 12% since the pandemic began. As my noble friend knows, we will continue to consider the arguments for and against an online sales tax which, if introduced, would raise revenue to fund business rates reductions.

Baroness Rebuck Portrait Baroness Rebuck (Lab)
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I would like to ask the Minister about the current consultation on a change to UK copyright law relating to the UK’s future IP exhaustion regime, the impact of which could be far reaching for authors. Does he share my concern that, according to the Publishers Association, a move to international exhaustion could cost authors more than £500 million a year in lost income? The Minister will know that the author community is very concerned about this. I declare an interest as a non-executive director of a publishing house, as stated in the register.