Arts cuts are false economies

Shutting off the talent pipeline into the creative industries risks the UK’s reputation for creativity and its potential for growth, says Anne Carlisle

七月 28, 2021
A broken axe symbolising arts funding cuts
Source: iStock

Last week’s confirmation that there will be funding cuts for arts and humanities degree courses in England was unwelcome news, but it’s not surprising to those of us who caught wind of these plans back in January.

At that time, the Office for Students received notice from education secretary Gavin Williamson warning it that it “may wish to consult” on these proposals. But he prefaced that invitation by noting that the government retained the right to go ahead with these plans no matter what.  

The 50 per cent cut to the subsidy for creative arts, performing arts and media studies is another blow for the creative industries. During the heady days of the government’s GREAT marketing campaign, creativity was presented as one of the UK’s key attractions. The arts, opined then culture minister Matt Hancock, were one of the “forces for social mobility and openness”. But the cut – amounting to a drop of £121.50 per full-time student per year – highlights that such political goodwill has long since evaporated.

Or, at least, it has in the Treasury. On the same day as the cuts were announced, the current secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, as well as the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, wrote a foreword to a report by the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England showcasing and celebrating the economic impact and global reach of the UK’s creative industries

It feels as though the government’s left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Ministers acknowledge and even trumpet the fact that the creative sector in 2018 grew faster than the UK economy as a whole, contributing £111.7 billion to the economy. The cultural industries chipped in £32.3 billion and the film and TV industry brought in £2.3 billion of inward investment to the UK. IT software and games exports ballooned by 84 per cent between 2010 and 2016, adding £2.9 billion to the economy by the government’s own estimation.

Yet such a reductive view of the “value” of creativity seems redundant when we are on a journey towards the knowledge economy demanded by the so-called fourth industrial revolution. Politicians and everyone else must evolve their thinking about what arts, culture and creativity can actually “do”. Creativity reaches across the divide between humans and technology to create meaning, value and innovation. We need storytellers, visionaries and creative innovators to create products, tech and experiences that help to change the story and break new ground.

At Falmouth, creativity does not merely constitute art on a wall or a show on a stage. Our learning, teaching and research are rooted in real-world challenges. The true value of creativity is in its ability to cross boundaries and work with other disciplines to tackle problems and make real impact. Our product design students have found new ways to recycle marine waste, for instance. Our Connected Health Care research project uses satellite technology to improve health outcomes in rural communities. Our ATTUNE research project received £3.8m from UK Research and Innovation to bring together experimental and radical new approaches to treating young people who have experienced adverse childhood experiences. This is vital, necessary and life-changing work. 

As our world becomes increasingly digital, driven by data and AI, creative skills are future-proofed and in demand. The World Economic Forum, Nesta and the CBI are just some of the voices over the years advocating the urgent need for skills like creativity, resilience and enthusiasm. The pandemic has only intensified that need. Shutting off the talent pipeline to feed the creative industries risks the UK’s reputation for creativity and innovation. It could prove to be false economy, catastrophic for our future growth.

Falmouth’s Launchpad postgraduate business incubation programme is designed to foster the creation of start-up businesses across Cornwall and the South West, with support from partners such as Sony Interactive Entertainment, Amazon, Hitachi and BBC Worldwide. One spin-out company, Data Duopoly, develops crowd-tracking technology, with support from the European Space Agency. Codices Interactive has showcased its interactive game show app at PlayX4, one of South Korea’s most prestigious gaming events. Neap has created new digital tools to manage diabetes. But the foundation for these innovations needs to be in place if we’re serious about our promise to “build back better” after Covid.  

There is more than a financial implication for institutions affected by the cuts. These actions undermine the government’s own levelling-up agenda, especially here in Cornwall, where GVA (gross value added) per capita is about 35 per cent below the UK average. As an anchor institution, Falmouth has joined forces with local partners to help make the county the UK’s leading rural creative economy. This is a key feature of Cornwall’s Creative Manifesto – part of a new vision for Cornwall that is aligned more closely with our local economy and plans for sustainable regional growth.  

The Prime Minister and his team seemed very enthusiastic about all this when we spoke to him about it during his G7 visit to Cornwall last month. So perhaps there is hope for us all yet?

Anne Carlisle is vice-chancellor of Falmouth University.



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