Yesterday, Labour called an opposition day debate on the arts and creative industries, and I spoke about their importance to Exeter and the UK’s economy. You can read my full speech below.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) on choosing this subject for an Opposition day and on the timing of the debate, given the important decisions that are about to be made in the comprehensive spending review.
For the Government, arts and culture must never be a fluffy, luxury add-on, but should be central to our industrial and economic policy and to our health and well-being policy, as well as being celebrated in their own right for their unique power to inspire and speak to what makes us human. They are sectors in which Britain excels. They are our biggest export after precision engineering and financial services. No other country in the world has a bigger creative sector as a proportion of its GDP.
During the Labour Government’s years in office, the creative industries grew at more than twice the rate of our economy as a whole and they continued to grow through the global financial crisis. They were central to the industrial strategy that that Government published in response to the crisis. As we have heard from many Members, British culture benefits from our unique combination of a mixed economy of public and private support, respect for artistic freedom and innovation, and the natural creativity of the British people. I see such things daily in my constituency where, in spite of the tough climate, Exeter’s Labour council has sought to maintain support for the arts because it recognises their vital contribution to the city’s economy and quality of life.
With the help of the previous Government, Exeter invested big sums in the redevelopment of our Victorian municipal museum, and was criticised by some at the time for doing so. Last year, that museum won the prestigious national art fund prize for the best museum in the country, and we have seen a huge increase in visitor numbers and spend as a result. Just in the past few months, the museum’s new global reputation helped attract national portrait and wildlife photography competition works on tour, as well as the wonderful British Museum touring exhibition, Warriors of the Plains. Exeter sustains a brilliant edgy theatre scene, an annual theatre festival, galleries, arts cinema, as well as food and cultural festivals to celebrate the city’s diversity. All that cultural capital makes Exeter an attractive place to live and work, provides training, boosts jobs, and helps keep talented and creative people in the city, rather than losing them to Bristol or London.
I believe the Culture Secretary recognises and understands all of that, and if the reports that she fought hard to minimise the next onslaught from the comprehensive spending review are true, I congratulate her on standing up for her Department. That makes a welcome contrast to her predecessor, who almost seemed to take pride in the fact that he offered the Treasury one of the biggest cuts in the last spending review, and that he was one of the first Cabinet Ministers to settle in that review.
May I tell the Culture Secretary, through her Minister, that there are three more important battles that she must fight and win? The first is for the survival of her Department—I hear what she said today but I tell her, through the Minister, that the philistines will come back. The Minister knows the arguments; we cannot have a Cabinet without a strong voice for arts and culture around the table. When colleagues, and others, come back and try to abolish his Department, I recommend he suggests that there are several other Departments it would make more sense to abolish before the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Secondly, the Culture Secretary must go to battle with the Education Secretary because of his apparent desire to destroy cultural and creative subjects in our education system. We are already seeing evidence of the impact that his changes to the curriculum and performance measurement systems in schools are having on arts subjects—a worrying and dramatic decline. Will the Culture Secretary please tell the Education Secretary that a student who leaves school at 16 with two arts qualifications is more likely to get a job by the time they are 19 than one who leaves with two science qualifications? Britain’s fantastic creative economy is built on an education system that has allowed and encouraged creativity and the arts to flourish. If we lose that, we lose everything else we have talked about in this debate.
Finally, the Culture Secretary must get tough on copyright. We know what needs doing; we legislated for it collectively in the House three years ago but the Government have still not implemented those measures. Copyright theft loses the creative industries billions of pounds a year, and it if is not tackled it will have a lasting, damaging effect on our culture and economy. I do not believe that the Secretary of State or the Minister wish to leave such a legacy behind them.