Tom Watson MP: Investing in arts and culture will create jobs and regenerate communities

Posted On: 
22nd September 2019

Labour will put creativity back at the heart of our curriculum and our classrooms, writes Tom Watson MP

Pupils from the Globe Primary School build a Lego sculpture at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London
Credit: 
PA

The creative industries are one of our biggest national success stories, worth over £100bn to the UK economy and supporting more than 2 million jobs. We’ve seen how culture can transform communities when it’s given the right investment. During Hull’s time as city of culture, we saw how the arts can create jobs, opportunities and a sense of civic pride.

In the West Midlands we’ve seen how the creative industries can boost tourism, with visitors flocking to see the backdrop of Peaky Blinders for themselves. Visits to the brilliant Black Country Living Museum are up by almost a third since 2014. These successes are important, because every community has the right to tell their stories.

Arts and culture matter – they create jobs, they support livelihoods, and they are the legacy we leave for our children. But the truth is that opportunities aren’t available for everyone. After a decade of brutal Government cuts to local authority budgets, culture spending by councils has been slashed by almost a third.

Communities across the country have seen their theatres close, their museum opening hours curtailed, and the budgets for their local arts centres cut to the very bone. Music venues are being squeezed by developers on the one hand, and rising business rates on the other.

At the last election, Labour promised a flagship £1bn cultural capital fund to invest in our cultural infrastructure. We want to rebalance the creative economy with new creative clusters across the country, and we’re actively considering what more a Labour government could do – from a town of culture award to a potential tourism levy.

The creative industry tax reliefs for film, TV, video games, museums, theatres and more provide a huge boost to the cultural sector. We’ve considering how they could be reformed to improve inclusion across the industry, and we’re looking at how the existing reliefs could be expanded. For example, we’re looking at a model for a tax relief for literature, and at how a similar relief could support emerging mediums such as podcasting.

In the age of automation and artificial intelligence, government must support sectors where work is resilient, where jobs are based on the human qualities that machines will never mimic: creativity, compassion and imagination. Unfortunately, research from the Fabian Society found that two-thirds of primary school teachers in England say there is less arts education now than in 2010, and half say the quality of what there is has got worse.

It’s happening across secondary education too. Indeed, the culture secretary herself oversaw a dramatic decline in arts subjects in schools during her time as education secretary. By the end of Nicky Morgan’s two years in the Department for Education, there were 28,000 fewer students entering design and technology, 7,000 fewer entering arts and design, and 3,000 fewer entering drama at GCSE. Across all arts subjects, exam entries plummeted by more than 50,000 on her watch.

Labour will put creativity back at the heart of our curriculum and our classrooms. We will review the English baccalaureate and introduce an arts pupil premium to give a £160m boost per annum to primary arts education. Having access to the arts in school is good for attainment, good for job prospects, and good for the creative talent pipeline.

Access to arts and creativity also helps to shape engaged, well-rounded citizens. I’m reminded of Emily Brontë’s words when she wrote of the power of imagination. She describes a place “where thou and I and Liberty have undisputed sovereignty”.

Creativity and imagination empower us, they make us conscious of our agency for change. If we teach our children to design new worlds, create new characters, evoke brand new experiences, then changing our world for the better might seem possible for them too. And we need that now, more than ever.

 Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East, shadow digital, culture, media and sport secretary and deputy leader of the Labour party