Chi’s speech on ‘building a creative nation’

Building a creative nation: putting skills to work

Chi speaking


Chi’s speech to the Creative & Cultural Skills National Conference 2016 on 3 March 2016. Check against delivery.

It’s a real pleasure to be here at the Creative & Cultural Skills National Conference 2016.

I’m sorry I missed last night’s awards ceremony and can’t stay for the whole conference.

This morning I had to be in Westminster holding the Minister to account on arts access and this afternoon I’m back in Newcastle so this is a flying visit.

But one that I was very, very keen to make.

It’s great to see the Backstage Centre and Production Park, examples of the creative sectors coming together to support each other and local regeneration

So I am the Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy.

Some think that is a strange combination but I would argue that both culture and digital are critical platforms of our future economy and as well as being central to our identity, how we identify ourselves to ourselves and each other.

My background is in digital, as a Chartered Engineer building the networks that now form the internet, all over the world.

I don’t have a formal cultural qualification, just a lifetime’s love of it. Both my brother and sister work in film, behind the scenes, so I should declare a family interest.

I have always admired the power of culture – of art, music, film theatre, dance readings, happenings, street art – to inspire, to bring together, to change minds, expectations, hopes. This centre is a springboard for that

But we cannot it for granted.

Nor can, or should, we depend on the richest in our society to provide so many of our award winning artists and film and music stars.

Just last week it was reported that there are now relatively few working-class actors compared to the population as a whole, and that they earn less than their middle-class equivalents because of a “class-ceiling”.

Opening up the arts to a wider participation, both as creators and consumers, is something that we in the Labour Party will be talking about a lot in the next four years.

It is crucial for our future economy as well as making us who we are, individually.

As a seven year old I first learnt a musical instrument – the violin – as part of a Newcastle City Council programme to increase musical participation amongst underprivileged children.

Now I won’t claim to have made a lasting contribution to the North East musical landscape but it certainly helped make be a more open, rounded and disciplined person.

And I still play the piano, occasionally.

As we seek to open up the arts we face entrenched attitudes in Whitehall and Westminster to culture, the arts and digital and, I would argue, little understanding of the relation between them.

But I believe it is something that we can work together to change.

As i pointed out this morning to Ed Vaizey, you and I support, through taxes, about £70 per year for every person in London for arts and culture.

And London is rightly recognised as a world-leading cultural centre. But for those outside London, the Government spends just £5 per head on culture.

As the capital city it is perhaps not surprising that many national cultural institutions are based there.

That imbalance is a long-standing problem made even worse by cuts to local Government funding.

Newcastle must now find £30m of cuts on top of the £100m it has been forced to make by George Osborne since 2010.

It is not alone.

I know they will do everything they can to protect the arts and culture in their areas.

But how will they truly be able to invest in arts and culture, ensure the budding musician has access to an instrument or the next Eddie Redmayne Oscar-winner can get the lucky chance without going to Eton, when the Government is not giving them enough to ensure basic services are provided for?

I am pleased that treasured national institutions continue to get support from the Government.

That is right.

But culture is so much more than that and many cherished local theatres, museums and galleries must now be worried about their future.

The Government knows there would be uproar if it started closing any of our big, national cultural institutions.

And rightly so.

But Ministers think they can get away with allowing it to happen at a local level in towns and cities all across the country.

A slow drip of closures and cuts in communities across the country.

That is nothing less than a disaster for the arts and culture in this country.

If young people in our communities up and down the country do not have access to culture, it is harder to nurture creative talent and produce a more diverse and ultimately larger pool of talent to support our creative industries.

Your future pipeline.

The people the National College of Creative Industries will educate.

In short, cuts to culture now will choke off the diverse talent of the future.

Before I took on this role as shadow culture minister I held a debate in Parliament on diversity in public sector broadcasting.

I argued that the broadcasters were not doing all they could to ensure that people from different backgrounds.

We want more access to jobs and opportunities to enjoy the arts in all parts of the UK.

More people from working class backgrounds, more women, more disabled people and more people from minority backgrounds represented on screen, on the airwaves and behind the scenes.

Whilst the headlines are often about those on the stage, collecting Academy Awards for example, often the situation behind the scenes is even worse.

The fact is the arts are becoming less representative, not more.

The Labour Party was established and has always been about improving the lives of ordinary people.

Whether it’s the NHS or the minimum wage or free museum access, we have always fought to ensure everyone could benefit.

We believe culture and the arts are a public good in and of themselves.  Culture and the arts are at the core of our national and individual identities, the source of pleasure and enjoyment for so many.

And the basis for a creative industry worth billions.

One which can lead to regeneration as we see here.

I and my colleagues in the Labour Party recognise that when it comes to the arts and science and technology – it is not a question of either/or.

We need a large and diverse pool of creative talent as much in our businesses and science labs as we do in our theatres and studios.

Culture isn’t just about consuming but about people creating things too.

And more and more, culture is consumed and created online.

As the world becomes ever more interconnected, the distinction between online and offline will cease to exist.

In 10 years there will be no ‘digital economy’ any more than there is a distinct economy based on using electricity now.

Young people today experience culture, society and technology as inextricably entwined.

And they will need the right mix of skills to be able to gain the full potential from that experience.

That’s why the absence of any arts or design in the new EBacc  is a betrayal of our future.

In 2016 I will be exploring and discussing these ideas with as many people as possible, and continuing the fight for more diversity more widely, across the cultural and creative industries.

As Jeremy Corbyn has said, “there is creativity within all of us and all must have the opportunity to both participate in, and appreciate the arts along with the many benefits this brings”.

Culture is far too important, to our identity, to our wellbeing, to our economy, to be left in the hands of a privileged few.

I hope that we can work together and that this conference can help ensure that culture is for all.

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