“A government I lead will always have your back,” Keir Starmer tells creatives

Keir Starmer

Below is the speech delivered by Labour leader Keir Starmer to the Creative Coalition Festival this evening on his ambition for a “creative nation”.

Thank you Caroline, and hello everyone. I’m so pleased to be here talking to you for the first time. This should not be a one off. But the beginning of a conversation we can keep coming back to. As I was planning this talk, I was reflecting on how lucky we are. We live in a country with a cultural heritage stretching back thousands of years. Our literature, art, music, theatre, advertising and fashion are admired all over the world. We have a truly national culture, maintained by universal public broadcasting. And 2022 will be a big year to celebrate that culture.

It is Her Majesty the Queen’s platinum jubilee. The Women’s Euros are here, Birmingham will host the Commonwealth Games and the BBC will celebrate the centenary of its creation. But as great as they are, I am not here just to celebrate the cultural achievements of the past. Instead, I want to look at the source of this heritage – our creativity as a nation.

Creativity allows us all to see the world in entirely new ways. We saw it in the scientists at Oxford developing the coronavirus vaccine every bit as much as we see it in our great painters, actors, and musicians. So my focus today is not just on what are known in policy circles as ‘the creative industries’. I want to widen the conversation to talk about our creative nation. Because I believe that all good industry is creative. To be creative is the economic necessity of our times. Creativity brings beauty and meaning into our lives. But it is also the source of innovation and invention. It is the expression of talent and imagination. It is the key to the security, prosperity and respect that our country needs and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the creative industries themselves.

At the beginning of this year, I set out my contract with the British people. Its objective was the creation of a new Britain in which people get the security, prosperity, and respect they deserve. Today, I want to fill in the details of this contract. To give you a sense of how those values will make us an even more creative nation. I’ll talk about how Labour will work in partnership with you to provide security to a creative workforce to bring prosperity to the nation and to restore respect to the industry and creative communities across the nation.

The first term in my contract with the British people is security. Labour is committed to providing security for people working in every sector. The creative industries were left especially exposed to the pandemic. Output in the creative industries declined by more than a third between 2019 and 2021. That’s partly because – beyond Britain’s renowned creative brands – there are legions of small businesses, micro-businesses and freelancers who depend for a living on the success of those brands. A third of creative workers are freelancers – double the UK average. That rises to seven in ten workers in music and the performing and visual arts.

The pandemic left many people in these industries insecure and short of support. 110,000 jobs were lost. And if Britain is to recover strongly from the pandemic the creative industries must thrive. We need your entrepreneurial spirit, your ability to navigate and embrace change. We need you to feel safe to take risks. We need your ideas and innovation. In return for that, the government should provide you with the security to do so. A decade of this Conservative government, though, has let you down – badly. Economic growth has slowed and the cost of living has risen faster than earnings. This makes it harder to build new businesses. Labour would unleash the entrepreneurial spirit so evident in the creative industries – with our plan for 100, 000 start-ups across the country.

Sadly, today the British economy is increasingly defined by insecure work and low pay. The government I lead would deliver the security at work you need and deserve. We would raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour. We would give workers full rights from day one. We would ban zero-hours contracts and we would increase statutory sick pay to make it available to all. In addition, we have a ten-point plan to live well with Covid, preventing the need for future restrictions. This would give the creative industries security from the threat of cancellations. We will not prosper if we are not secure.

Security and prosperity work together. The second term in the contract is prosperity. Under my leadership, Labour is back in business. We will equip the next generation for work and we will invest to create high-skilled jobs. In response, we expect each sector to invest in the long term, too. We expect businesses to contribute to the aim of net-zero. And we expect them to be good local citizens by supporting their workforces with fair pay and flexible working.

Labour believes Britain’s future prosperity lies with its home-grown industries. And the creative industries are a Great British success story. In 2019, for instance, they contributed over £100bn in gross value added to the UK economy. That’s greater than the aerospace, automotive, life sciences and oil and gas sectors combined. And that’s not all, these industries supported a further £62.1bn across the supply chain. There are two million jobs in the creative sector and a further 1.4 million more rely on it.

And creativity is nation-wide. Some of Britain’s most famous characters – James Bond and Harry Potter were brought to life in Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire through the acknowledged excellence of our film crews, technicians and set-builders. The UK theatre industry is world-beating. Our productions are in huge demand and our West End, regional theatres and community arts are envied worldwide. We have world-leading 3D capture technology at Dimension Studios in London. The UK gaming industry has evolved into the UK’s most lucrative entertainment sector and is the leading video game market in Europe. More than 1,500 people are employed in the industry in its birthplace in Dundee.

In 2020, the universities of Abertay, Dundee and St Andrews announced the launch of a £9m gaming research and development centre in the city. The University of Reading’s Thames Valley Science Park is soon to become the UK’s biggest film studio, creating 3,000 jobs. There are studio developments underway in Cardiff, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire, Manchester and Scotland. The creative industries are growing four times the rate of the UK economy as a whole. Their gross value-added has grown by over a third in the North-West and almost half in Scotland over the last decade. The creative industries are creating jobs at three times the UK average. Employment in the sector grew 21% in Northern Ireland and 30% in the West Midlands between 2010 and 2017.

And we are exporting the fruits of our creativity too. The creative industries account for 12% of total UK exports. Our creativity enhances Britain’s international reputation. It attracts investors and visitors. But leaving the EU does of course pose challenges. There is, for a start, a potential loss of funding. Between 2014 and 2020, the UK received 68 million euros in funding from Creative Europe. And we will lose funds such as Erasmus+, Europe for Citizens and the European Structural & Investment Funds. In addition, EU citizens are a significant part of the UK’s creative industries workforce. Creative professionals need to be able to travel abroad at speed so the impact on them has been tough – with musicians especially hard hit.

The Conservatives believed it was enough to get Brexit done. It’s not. We urgently need to make Brexit work. We would push for a visa waiver for touring artists. And we would negotiate an EU-wide cultural touring agreement – including allowances for cabotage, carnets and custom rules. It is only when we achieve security and prosperity that we will be paying the creative industries the respect they are properly due.

Respect is the third term in my contract with the British people. Every village, town and city in Britain has a sense of identity. And nothing creates more civic pride than a cinema, a museum, a theatre, a gallery, or a concert hall. Creativity has driven the regeneration of so many of our towns, cities and regions. Margate, for instance, the home of the Turner Contemporary, attracts 2.9 million visitors and generates £68m for the local economy. In Folkestone, the creative quarter has regenerated the area with arts, creative industries and education.

And of course in Scotland we have the world’s largest international arts festival: the Edinburgh festival. The Edinburgh festival, as many of you will know first-hand, is the launch pad for creatives across the country – and indeed the world – who bring their performances and new works to the city. And Scottish TV productions – like Outlander – are exported across the world helping to promote jobs in the media that make Britain such a world leader in TV production. The UK video effects industry thrives in Cardiff Bay with successful businesses like Bait Studio. And Creative UK launched the Culture and Creative Investment Programme in the North-East.

We need to look after our national culture, too. The UK’s public service broadcasting is a national treasure because it is also local and global. Local news, the World Service, the BBC and Channel 4 are the narrators of our national story. They create jobs and drive productivity. The Conservatives threaten the future of these two great institutions. The plan to privatise Channel 4 and the threat to the BBC as we know it are a direct attack on some of the best of Britain’s creative work.

There will be an economic price to pay, too. Yesterday, the Secretary of State announced £50m of investment for the creative industries. But the privatisation of Channel 4 would put £2.1bn of gross value-added to the supply chain at risk over the next ten years. It risks putting 60 UK production companies out of business showing that the Government isn’t interested in growth. Meanwhile, a commercial BBC would rob us – and the world – not only of superb news services with unparalleled local knowledge but of a valuable cultural export. I want to challenge all of you here today and the wider sector to be bold to come together and assert your collective clout by speaking out in defence of the value of public sector broadcasting against the government’s attacks.

I promise you this. You can do so knowing that a government I lead will always have your back. Our record, in government, on creativity and culture speaks for itself. The last Labour government oversaw a boom in creative industries and institutions. Tate Modern opened in 2000. The Eden Project in Cornwall in 2001. The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the Quayside in Newcastle opened in 2002. And the Sage Gateshead concert hall opened in 2004. In Salford, meanwhile, MediaCityUK began life in 2006. The next Labour government will help the creative industries flourish again.

Creative roles now make up a significant part of the government’s shortage occupation list. And they include many of the jobs predicted to grow as a share of the workforce by 2030. As I tour the country, I am frequently struck by how often I am told about skills shortages. A recent survey showed that 80% of businesses were worried about skills. In this context the government’s squeeze on creative subjects in curriculums is self-harming. Even STEM industries say that the stripping away of vital creative subjects including drama, music and art is costing them. Even primary age children have seen almost a 40% decline in participation in music activities. Not only does this affect access to careers in the performing arts it also further degrades the creativity upon which our national prosperity rests.

The skills gaps in the creative industries workforce aren’t being filled by the available training. Funding per student in further education and sixth form colleges has fallen by 11% in real terms since Labour was last in government. Digital skills are another area where the UK needs to improve. But fewer than half of employers believe young people have the digital skills they need. In government, we would add digital skills to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. And, last year, we launched our Council of Skills Advisors. David Blunkett, a former education secretary will work alongside the tech entrepreneur Praful Nargund the skills expert, Rachel Sandby-Thomas and Kevin Rowan of the TUC. In government, we would ensure that everyone leaves education ready for work and ready for life. The reputation of the creative nation depends on it.

Prosperity, security and respect. The three terms of my contract with the British people. A Labour government would extend this contract to the creative industries. You have achieved so much. But to succeed as a country, we will need more creativity than ever before. I want us to become an even more creative nation. A nation defined by its willingness to take risks and embrace change. Creativity can make us more prosperous as a country. And it can bring meaning, beauty and pride to every village, town and city. It can give people opportunities to flourish. The security they need to do so and the respect they deserve. Together we can build the creative nation of which we can all be proud. Let’s keep this conversation going. Thank you.

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