The time for poring over televised debates, exit polls and the BBC’s swingometer is nearly over: on Thursday 7th May the bluster stops, and we go to the polls for what will surely be one of the most closely-contested General Elections in recent history. But who is going to be pulling for our artists, musicians, performers, venue owners and creators? Phil Morris has climbed aboard our own pink battle bus to ask some questions and find out which political parties are making provisions for our independent creative sector.
We’re constantly being told that the election battle lines are drawn over immigration and tax policies – but how do they affect the micro-economy that fuels our creative community? Over the five years of the last Con-Dem government, Arts Council England – one of the biggest funders of the arts – had its central funding cut by £459m. And while our booming “Northern Powerhouse” economy has been eulogised, especially for its contributions from creative sectors, funding remains highly disproportionate here compared to the capital – unjustly favouring the ‘nationals’ of opera, theatre and ballet. Who is sticking up for the regions’ allocations? Where are our champions?
Against a backdrop of austerity and the looming threat of NHS privatisation, it seems odd that the 2015 General Election could well be dominated by socially divisive debates around immigration, EU membership and the state of the union. An unlikely anti-hero has emerged for those irrationally threatened by a newly-enfranchised Eastern-European contingent. Nigel Farage, a public school-educated former banker, has succeeded in shifting the boundaries of political debate from an ideological battle for our country’s most valued institutions, to a climate of xenophobic fear-mongering aimed at scapegoating immigrants. The cultural normalisation of their spouted bigotry has enabled the UKIPers to inflict damage on all major parties, not least the Conservatives.
Simultaneously, an under-promising Labour party have had their hopes of a parliamentary majority all but extinguished by a resurgent SNP. As Ed Miliband remains a prisoner of his own aesthetic shortcomings, Nicola Sturgeon has galvanised the unifying optimism harnessed during last year’s Scottish Independence referendum. The erosion of Labour’s partisan support has also continued south of the border: a blossoming Green party have presented a genuinely progressive alternative to the centre-ground status quo. No longer viewed as single-issue environmentalists, the Greens are now the third most popular UK-wide party (if any of the recent polls are to be believed). Predictably, support for the once conventional recipients of a protest vote, the Liberal Democrats, has also diminished. The tainted figure of Nick Clegg is odds-on to lose his Sheffield Hallam seat in sensationally karmic fashion.
One thing is clear, the British political landscape has never been so fractured. We are witnessing the end of two-party politics and embarking upon an era of unprecedented coalition. Despite Russell Brand’s infamous prescription of conscientious apathy, there are now a multitude of parties and policies compelling the electorate. You may, for instance, be attracted to Labour’s commitment to end exploitative zero-hour contracts; but also titivated by the Greens’ pledge of returning railways to public ownership. Presumably there are those, too, who want to reconcile UKIP’s promise to legalise handguns, or with a desire to back the Conservatives’ deficit elimination agenda.
In an election grappling with the profound issues of our time, we’ve elected to look beyond polarising pledges and emotive soundbites, instead focusing our policy critique through the lens of Arts and Culture. The case for the vibrant, yet under-appreciated, sector is persuasive. The creative and cultural industries have boomed as a result of sustained government investment. Combined, they are the fastest-growing industry, worth £71.4bn per year, amounting to 5% of the UK economy. Alongside their cultural and economic values, not only do the arts contribute to a flourishing society, they also play a pivotal role in education; teaching us empathy through creativity and understanding.
The continued public funding of Arts and Culture is vital to safeguarding our local creative communities. To put that in a regional context: Liverpool Music Week, Sound City, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society and Liverpool International Music Festival benefitted from just under half a million pounds of Arts Council funding in 2014. These are but a few local examples of the many who rely on cultural funding in order to enrich our lives and bring communities closer together. There is a genuine concern that funding cuts will not only undermine the world-class quality of culture that Liverpool currently offers but also threaten to have a negative effect on our regeneration process.
Liverpool’s exemplary model of culture-driven regeneration demonstrates how public spending on the creative and cultural industries plays an important role in re-energising the UK economy. Substantial returns are generated for the comparably modest amount of public investment offered to the sector – equivalent to 0.7% of total government spending. Our tenure as European Capital Of Culture in 2008 highlights this return, as it generated an economic impact of £753.8m of additional visitor spend in the region, and continues to help raise our profile internationally. Cultural investment has therefore been instrumental in making the city viable through its cross-sector effects on tourism, talent retention and attracting inward business investment.
If Ed Balls is to be believed, the Conservatives are planning public spending cuts in the region of £70bn. The reality is that both parties that are able to form a government are committed to a programme of austerity by the Budgetary Responsibility Bill. Difficult decisions about what level of public subsidy for the arts is necessary and sustainable will have to be taken in the next parliament. Addressing the London vs regional funding imbalance is also a matter of urgency. The regions are struggling to maintain the arts infrastructure they have been building for generations. This is unsurprising when you consider current arts spending in the capital is £68.99 per person, compared with £4.58 in the rest of the UK.
The zero-sum economy that has emerged from austerity demands that the arts demonstrate the quantifiable value they provide. In the face of stiff competition for diminishing public funds, the arts are now expected to state their case alongside basic services such as health, education and public administration. With this in mind, we canvassed the views of the respective UK parties on how they rate the economic contribution of arts and culture, and what they would do to ensure that thriving, non-London-based creative communities are funded in parity with those in the capital. Tragically, the Conservative and UKIP representatives we contacted failed to respond, so we posed the following questions to some Green Party candidates, a Labour MP and a Liberal life peer:
Question 1 – Arts and culture generate more per-pound invested than the health, wholesale and retail, and professional and business services sectors. How do your parties’ policies value and sustain this return?
Question 2 – Public Arts spending in the capital is 15 times higher than in the rest of the UK. What would your party do to re-address this London bias? Particularly, with regards to cultural activities in our region.
On 23rd April 2015, Ed Miliband boldly affirmed that Labour would put “arts policy at the heart of government”. On balance, they do have a credible history on arts and culture: free entrance to museums, ensuring fair access and trebling Arts Council funding demonstrated their commitment to the imperative “the arts must be a right for all”. STEVE ROTHERAM incumbent Labour MP for Walton, shares a proven track record on the issue. Rotherham, shaped by his experience as Lord Mayor of Liverpool during the 2008 ECOC, views culture in relation to its value to tourism, believing them to be “co-dependent”:
“Tourism is extremely important to local economies with 3.1 million jobs and 9% of GDP being generated via the sector. Tourism can also be used as a catalyst for the physical transformation of an area. With proper planning there can be long-term regeneration, as well as short-term economic benefits.”
Enhancing cultural tourism through cross-sector collaboration is obviously going to be key to making the most out of dwindling public subsidy. Rotherham’s views are equally pragmatic on the issue of funding imbalance:
“London receives more grant in aid than the rest of the country put together and additionally benefits from almost £9 in every £10 of philanthropic giving. London needs to do a lot more to assist secondary destinations and we would ensure there is a joined-up approach and improved linkages between regions so that international visitors to London are made aware of the offer from other parts of the country.”
Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats tend to prioritise fair access with regards to arts and culture, taking a specific party interest in education and supporting the creative industries. However, on the face of it, they mustered few achievements in coalition, beyond the modest victory in the disclosure of Government Art Collections. To improve our understanding, we interviewed MIKE STOREY, who became a life peer in 2010, speaking on behalf of the party for education, arts and regeneration matters in the Lords. He immediately acknowledged the economic return of the sector, asserting “arts and culture account for 0.4% of GDP.” Lord Storey, a head teacher before entering politics through Liverpool City Council, states:
“We’ve got to encourage the nurturing of interest in creative subjects at school. There’s a great danger that creative subjects will become lost if schools don’t focus on them; that would be a huge pity. It’s important that schools who have a creative bent feel they can pursue that without being penalised by doing so.”
His concern arrives on the heels of dramatic falls in the number of students taking GCSEs in craft-related subjects, and reflects a cross-party consensus towards supporting intersection between arts and education. Lord Storey also elaborates on his parties’ inclinations towards supporting creative businesses:
“The manufacturing industries have a manufacturing advice service; we as a party would want to see the same for the creative industries. This service would be and could be funded jointly by government and industry.”
Since the creative industries have effectively replaced the manufacturing industries, an industrial strategy is a welcome proposal. Lord Storey is more philosophical about re-balancing the London-centric funding issue:
“We don’t want to see the funding stop for some of our national institutions, so we would identify those and the remaining funding needs to be more equitably distributed… We would want to keep entry to [regional] museums and art galleries free but give them more autonomy to develop sponsored revenue. It’s about being creative. It’s also about finding other ways to generate income.”
In sharp contrast, the Green party have pinned perhaps the greatest significance on their commitment to arts funding, seeking policies that “promote the widest participation in culture.” Not ones to underestimate the value of the sector, the Green party view arts and culture as “essential for the future development of the human race”. Indeed, the arts may have found their political champions. JULIAN PRATT, Green party parliamentary candidate for Wallasey, affirms the party’s intentions for progressive reform of the sector:
“As examples of our short- to mid-term policies we would encourage the growth of local arts associations made up of practising artists; we would modify the licensing regulations to ensure that small-scale live performance in pubs, clubs and similar venues is not stifled; and we would zero-rate live performance for VAT purposes.”
The Green party are clearly optimistic about what they could achieve for the sector in the interim, but the most winsome piece of their arts strategy is a long-term policy to devolve responsibility for arts funding from regional to local levels; in essence “democratising arts funding”. PAUL CARTLIDGE, a Green party parliamentary candidate for Wirral South, is indicative of the culturally-endowed candidates the party are fielding, practising as an actor, producer and musician. Cartlidge draws on his involvement with Birkenhead’s Little Theatre to determine that:
“the regions must have their budgets increased to match London’s. After all, a lot of London talent finds its feet in the regions. And I would like to see government grants to London Arts requiring that London galleries and shows leave the capital more often and tour the regions so we can all share in the artistic experience.”
The Conservatives have, to their credit, balanced harsh spending cuts with increased Lottery Funding to the arts. However, their continued onus on improving “philanthropic giving” is symptomatic of a Victorian mentality towards state subsidy; one that serves only to inflate the mismatch of London-centric funding.
Meanwhile, UKIP are predictably unabashed in ending the “failed policy of multi-culturalism”. If elected, Mike Read’s UKIP Calypso would presumably be used to spearhead the campaign, at the expense of public funding.
The Creative Industries Federation recently streamed a Cultural Debate live from The Royal Opera House. In a moment that captured the essence of why arts and culture funding access should be primary to voter concerns, Liberal Democrat Baroness Bonham-Carter paraphrased Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, and hit upon a tellingly prescient point: “Rather than the manufactured clash of civilisations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together.”
Words: Phil Morris / @mauricedesade
Illustration: Christian Davies / @christianbeardavies
GUEST COLUMN: Peter Shilton – Merseyside Arts Foundation Project Manager. MERSEYSIDE ARTS FOUNDATION is an independent development organisation supporting engagement in the arts and creative industries.
The next big record label may not be a record label.
In times gone by record labels were the stewards responsible for overseeing the development of new music and the artists that produce them, sourcing the best new talent and backing them over the long-term. Today, for the most part, it would seem the major labels are unwilling to invest and the independents are unable to. The result? An industry tendency to favour low-risk, high-yield music which rapidly reduces opportunities for emerging artists to promote and develop their work.
Whilst there is a status quo of public investment in so-called “high arts”, the idea of making similar investment in UK popular music is somewhat alien, largely due to a pre-internet age of success where record companies actually sold music. But given its undoubted social and economic value, coupled with the seismic shift of its business model in a post-internet age, the question of giving parity to popular music in public investment terms is becoming increasingly pertinent.
In other parts of the world such investment isn’t even a question but is standard practice. Canada, through its Ontario Music Fund, for example, currently invests over $14m a year into grassroots music. Given that their national population stands at 35 million, that’s 40 Canadian cents for every man, woman and child invested in the music industry. Justifiable too, as it generates more than 80% of total music industry revenue. In Sweden, another country which has a large public investment in national music talent, their Kulturrådet is responsible for making the country one of only four worldwide whose net export of music exceeds their net import. And they didn’t have The Beatles or The Stones.
Clearly then, if the UK is to retain its enviable position in the global music marketplace the perceived success of its music industry must be revised along with our country’s approach to investment in arts and creative industries. This is doubly difficult to imagine given the likelihood of forthcoming public spending cuts, but given the sector’s contribution to our social and economic vitality it’s a revision which demands to be made. Not least for the UK music industry when record labels won’t or can’t invest.