The Government’s commitment to creativity and creative business is increasingly impressive – Creative Partnerships has now been followed up with creative apprenticeships and a slew of ideas about how to boost creative industries. A lot of us must be thinking ‘great – they’ve finally noticed how important arts, culture and other creative businesses are to the UK economy’ while muttering ‘so what took you so long?’ Looking at ‘Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy’, with its mixture of far-reaching visions and down-to-earth practicality, one thing really sticks out: the word ‘Britain’. The document bears three logos: the DCMS and the DIUS (England only), BERR (UK-wide – including Northern Ireland, not just Britain). Other partners show a similar disparity: the UK Film Council and UK Trade and Investment are obviously UK-wide, but Arts Council England is, er, obviously not. Although CCSkills covers the UK, the much-needed creative apprenticeships scheme is currently just for England, with a pilot scheme in Wales. When Scotland, Ireland and Wales were devolved, they took cultural policy with them. It seems that creative industries policy went too, even though it only then existed as a twinkle in Lord Smith’s eye. So the UK Government is trying to develop a UK-wide strategy with the involvement of neither the arts councils nor the culture or heritage departments of three of the home nations. At least one of those arts councils – the Scottish – is about to undergo a major transformation into Creative Scotland. Perhaps its vision will chime with ‘Creative Britain’: we don’t yet know.
The arm’s length principle is looking increasingly tattered and forlorn, as Government clearly has a new role in mind for Arts Council England: supporting “projects that combine artistic excellence with commercial potential”. The knowledge and skills base of ACE staff may be broad and deep, but what the vast majority of them know about commercial potential or venture capital would leave space on the head of pin. (That’s no disgrace: they’re arts specialists.) This also sounds like a change to the charitable objects of the organisation – supporting and developing artistic excellence and access to the arts. Its leaders have been trumpeting this particularly loudly just recently, so a move to include commercial development needs to be examined with immense caution.
Catherine Rose, Editor