Government’s refusal to fix the Brexit touring crisis exposed
Last week, voters across the UK took part in an array of elections. In addition to choosing representatives for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd and London Assembly, there were also votes for 5,000 councillors, 13 mayors and many local Police & Crime Commissioners as well as a choosing a new MP in Hartlepool. This was then followed earlier this week by the UK Government setting out its plans for new laws in the Queen's Speech.
After the most challenging year in recent history, these events could have a significant impact on how the UK's cultural infrastructure is supported through the current COVID-19 crisis and beyond. They will help shape which institutions and innovations are funded, how pupils in Scotland and Wales can access music education, as well as many other factors which will emerge in the months ahead. For these reasons, we have analysed these events to see what they may mean for the creative industries.
Local elections in England
For the Conservative Party in England, the local election results added an extra 235 councillors and gave them control of a further 13 councils. Although their manifestos varied and there were many locally-specific issues raised, there were common commitments to the creative industries. Many Conservative candidates pledged to support our sector through cultural recovery grant schemes, designed to support tourism and enrich the local community. In other places, newly-elected councils promised to use innovation to improve local events and create new performance spaces in publicly-owned places.
In many mayoral elections, our sector was used as an example of how communities will recover after the current restrictions are eased. For example, London Mayor Sadiq Khan who took the opportunity to discuss how culture can drive tourism and make a major contribution to the economy. Speaking from the stage of Shakespeare's Globe theatre at his second swearing-in ceremony, he said his city "stands ready to entertain, inspire and enthral". Elsewhere former actress and MP, Tracy Brabin became the first woman to be elected as a UK metro mayor, when she won Mayor of West Yorkshire. Speaking as a former Shadow Minister for Cultural Industries during her time in Parliament, as part of her successful manifesto she promised to deliver “a creative new deal to ensure our creative industries are part of the broader recovery strategy”.
While, Khan and Brabin were amongst the eleven Labour mayors that were directly-elected, their Conservative counterparts were equally enthusiastic about the possibilities provided by our sector. Returning Mayor Ben Houchen (Tees Valley) and Andy Street (West Midlands) both praised their local cultural infrastructure. Street pledged to start a "cultural renaissance" by upgrading venues, support arts organisations and support new cultural activities while Houchen pointed to his past record, including £16.5m funding last November.
Scotland and Wales
We work extensively in the devolved nations with both civil servants and elected representatives to help them better understand all aspects of our sector and its needs. These efforts were rewarded in elections in Scotland and Wales, which saw cross-party consensus on many of the key issues around increasing support for performers and introducing greater support for music education.
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party added an extra seat at the election - although they remain one seat short of a majority. Both the SNP and the Scottish Greens acknowledged the importance of our sector in their manifestos. The SNP promised to create a new "Touring Fund" for the arts, improved access to the EU for performers and an expanded city of culture programme. For education, the SNP also pledged to make changes so more pupils can choose to study music, introduce improved teaching standards and renewed support for access programmes. Their political allies, the Scottish Greens, made similar promises, including a commitment to removing charges for instrumental music tuition and to create a fair system for paying artists for music streaming.
Meanwhile, Labour celebrated as they won half the seats in the Welsh Senedd, one seat short of the first-ever majority in the Welsh Parliament. Their manifesto was full of praise for the "riches of culture" and their importance to tourism, the economy and other areas of life in Wales. In addition to a promise to establish a National Music Service that removes barriers to young people learning to play instruments, the party's manifesto had a range of measures to support the wider creative industries. They included funding for cultural institutions and infrastructure, such as founding a Creative Skills Body to cultivate excellence and a research and development fund for our sector.
The Queen's Speech
At the ceremonial State Opening of Parliament, the Government listed its priorities for the months ahead in a speech delivered by the Queen. Usually, this happens once a year but before Tuesday it had not taken place since December 2019, following the general election. As commonly happens, this year's speech included legislation that was not completed before the end of the previous "session" of Parliament last month.
One element of the speech was a Planning Bill which could affect places to create and enjoy music. It is important that efforts to build more housing do not lead to the closure of community assets or prevent the creation of new performance venues. At the same time, by changing the planning process, this new law would change how campaigners protect the spaces that matter to musicians.
The Government has made a number of announcements related to education, particularly for the provision for teenagers and young adults. Unfortunately, some of their decisions prioritise other subjects over creative ones and that could have a negative impact on those studying music in the future. We will be monitoring the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill closely as more details are announced.
Ultimately, once new legislation is developed, we may find that other proposals about entirely unrelated subjects (such as the online environment or tax breaks for employers) may unexpectedly affect musicians in positive or negative ways. When that happens, we will make sure that our sector is understood, appreciated and fairly treated in the creation of new laws across the UK. That is why we promote the importance of music and protect the rights of those working in the music profession to those in government and beyond.