John Kampfner reviews the Federation's year and considers what the future has in store.
By the end of 2018 Britain’s immediate fate will have been sealed. Barring a dramatic change of heart (and in this current climate drama and politics have become synonymous), the UK will in its final months as a member of the European Union. Will this most open-minded of countries find a new mojo with a wider world? Or will it retreat into 1970s miserabilism, a Union-Flag waving dinghy drifting along into the Mid-Atlantic seeking solace in its ‘special relationship’ with the America of Donald Trump?
Why do I open my introduction to the Federation’s third C-Report with these observations about global affairs? Because since the summer of 2016, they have dominated everything, and will continue to do so. The creative industries are uniquely susceptible to these external forces. Britain’s creativity is our biggest calling card around the world. It is what we do. It is who we are. We are uniquely placed to ensure the best possible outcome.
The more uncertain the times, the more leadership and strength are needed. Unrestricted by a formal relationship to government, the Federation has gripped the issue of Brexit from the first day of the referendum campaign. We have brought the sector together in a way that has never happened before. We are independent, authoritative and fearless. We are not shrill. We are not unctuous. We do not seek to ingratiate ourselves in return for approbation.
We have worked incredibly closely with nine government departments during 2017, alongside the devolved governments and authorities, and opposition parties. This year’s C-Report details the extraordinary work our team has done around the country in advocacy. Our Brexit seminars have delivered business-essential expertise to members; our Brexit round tables from Edinburgh to Birmingham to Cardiff have helped build a picture from our nations and regions of unsurpassed granularity. Our freelance report, launched in the summer by Imelda Staunton, was the first of its kind for the self-employed, who comprise the heart of creativity. Our global talent report in the autumn of 2017 provided the first mapping of the UK’s reliance on an EU- and non-EU workforce, and provided a number of practical recommendations to government.
The one part of the Brexit analysis around which all can surely coalesce is the light it has shone on the inequalities and the missed opportunities of British society. It has become a cliché to talk of the “left behinds”, but the easy rhetoric does not lessen the challenge. The UK’s economy has for decades become progressively unbalanced. Its education and skills agenda has ignored the needs of so many.
The government’s Industrial Strategy is a welcome attempt to address deep structural problems – a failure to invest in R&D, a failure to ensure that businesses plan for the long term, a failure to incentivise growth in our medium-sized and smaller towns. The creative industries are, alongside science and digital, the key to Britain’s 21st century success. The government “gets” the knowledge economy, but so far only in part. It extols the virtues of science and tech – as we do. It pours resource into them, and to the teaching of mathematics, physics and the constituent parts of STEM education. Our sector is the third largest employer of STEM graduates, and we share the desire for these subjects to be prioritised and to be promoted to girls at school and young women. However, as we never cease to say, this is not a zero sum game. Creativity – the teaching of creative subjects and the creative application of the rest of the curriculum – will be central to a strong economy and society. That is why the Federation attaches so much importance to this issue. During 2018 we plan to roll out a national creative careers campaign, alongside our advocacy with Whitehall departments.
As the old spin doctor sage, Alastair Campbell, used to say: it’s only when you’re sick of the sound of your own voice are you even beginning to get through. I spend as much as possible talking to unlikely audiences about the centrality of the creative industries. Whenever I tell manufacturing, or insurance, or accountants that our film, fashion, design, architects, artists, games developers, music, advertisers, publishers and broadcasters contribute £92bn net to the UK economy they gasp. I talk of the 1.9 million direct jobs. These are jobs, real jobs, in many of the towns and cities that this government seeks to revive. The rate of employment growth far outstrips the rate of the general economy. This is the stat I like to recite the most: the creative industries are now worth more to the UK than oil and gas, life sciences, aviation and the car industry combined.
We have come a long way. In 2010, the creative industries weren’t even recognised as a sector. That was the low point, and one of the reasons some of our highest-profile figures, led by Sir John Sorrell, started the work that led to the foundation of the Federation in November 2014. At our Second Anniversary Event in January 2017 Greg Clark announced that the creative industries would be one of five priority sectors. Progress since then has been steady, but tough.
Nobody said it would be easy. It seems that the arts and the creative industries have to work harder than other sectors to achieve our ends. There’s no pointing in complaining. We just have to do it. What will success look like? When ministers devote the same attention to the needs of a TV company or architecture practice as they do to a car factory or bank. For that to happen, the sector needs to organise more professionally (as the Fed is doing). More than once ministers have complained of some arms length bodies and trade associations continuing to indulge in territorial squabbles. Most important of all, the sector should not wait on government, particularly a government with fragile political power, buffeted by events and preoccupied by Brexit (to the exclusion of almost all other concerns).
With ever more members, an expanding team, a new-look Board, and strong contributions from our UK Council and International Council, the Federation is up for the 2018 challenge. Our major events will lay particular emphasis on the skills, competitiveness and global reach of this most amazing of sectors. We seek to bring the most innovative and original brains to the table, so that they collaborate, do business with each other and feed into our work.
We are only as strong as the expertise of each and every member. We’re grateful to all of you, particularly our five Corporate Patrons – Google, Barclays, Bloomberg, Mishcon de Reya and our new entrant, Knight Dragon. Thank you for being with us these past three years. Whatever the turbulence, we’re looking forward to year four.