Monday 24th November saw the birth of a unique body in the UK: the Creative Industries Federation. For the first time, arts institutions, commercial creative companies and cultural education establishments all had their own representative organisation.
The Fed, as those of us lucky enough to be involved in launching it have come to call it, is willing and able to represent everyone involved in Britain’s world-beating creative sector. From the biggest telly and film companies to the smallest one-man band – and I mean literally a one-man band, although obviously it could be a one-woman band as well. This will be no metrocentric group either; from Penzance to the Pentland Firth, from Belfast to Beachy Head, the CIF aims to bring together the skills, experience and network of as many as possible of the 1.7 million people who work in creative industries in this country.
It has promised to be fearless and independent, and determined to make sure that education is at the heart of the UK’s culture and creative commerce. Just as importantly, it will fight to make certain that creativity remains central to our schools. It will work to protect the intellectual property of all those in the sector by upholding copyright in a world of loosening controls.
The Federation wants to be practical and co-operative with other industry sectors and it wants to be judged on its results. At its heart will be an eagerness to puncture any complacency among the UK’s creative community and make sure that membership of that community is open to all.
Why is this necessary? Well, as Paul Lee, the Brit who runs ABC television in America, told us at an Edelman breakfast last week, it’s obvious from his Hollywood vantage point that Britain punches way above its weight in TV, film and so many other sectors, but the rest of the world is hardly going to stand still and let us stay ahead. We have to keep moving. He made the same point at the end of the Fed video.
The keynote speaker at the launch of the Fed was George Osborne. It was obviously tempting for him to claim the credit (or in his case the tax credit) for the Treasury’s role over the past decade in boosting film and TV here, but he resisted (mostly). He brought a bit of news with him by telling us that he was “seriously considering” extending the tax credit regime to orchestras, and to children’s TV.
Yet the thing he said that particularly impressed me was something that Treasury officials and politicians have not easily conceded before.
He began in familiar territory: “The economic contribution means real things for real people. It means jobs – with 1.7m people employed in the creative industries…and we want to support that by investing in skills and apprentices … and attract investment [by] introducing tax breaks and other incentives,” the Chancellor said, as he recited a litany of sound financial reasons to be proud of the CI sector and support it.
So far, so normal, for the man whose hand controls the public purse.
“But the argument I want to end with, which you might think a bit odd coming from a Chancellor of the Exchequer is this: ultimately what makes your industries so important is not actually the pounds and pence you deliver for the British economy. That is important and I am not belittling it, but ultimately what you do is express who we are as a society and a country and you give voice to the people in this country.
“The theatre we produce, the films we make, the architecture we see around, the art, the sculpture we produce, all of this is an expression of who we are as human beings.
“It is a human endeavour worthy of support in its own right, not just because it adds to GDP.”
These last words set experienced Treasury watchers in the 300+ audience all-atwitter. None could remember a Chancellor (particularly not a Tory one in the middle of a huge austerity programme) saying such a thing. Sure, he didn’t explicitly say that government should support that human endeavour, but it would be weasly in the extreme to wriggle out of it that way.
So as they trooped out into a cold London night, the Fed’s members had a new purpose – holding the Chancellor (and his successors, whoever they may be and whenever they arise) to his words, on behalf not only of the human endeavourers in the creative industries, but on behalf of all of us.