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Creative & Cultural Skills exists to create a fair and skilled cultural sector and is exceptional in its commitment to working equitably across the four nations of the UK, says long-serving former trustee David Anderson.

Flags of home nations


Creative & Cultural Skills (CCSkills) is one of the original sector skills councils established by the government back in 2005 to foster the development of a skilled workforce. In its time, it has run many impactful programmes and events, delivered thousands of advice and support sessions, fostered important cross-sectoral relationships, authored research, established new ways of doing things and, most importantly, listened. 

Its role has always been to connect, create conversations and provide support where it’s needed most. Unusually for a sector body, it commits to ambitious, game-changing ideas and is capable of achieving them. An example is the development and launch of the Backstage Centre at Purfleet in Essex, which is now an independent, internationally significant skills centre with state-of-the-art facilities.

The last few years have been tough for everyone, including our sector. CCSkills is thinking carefully about what practical support it can provide, what knowledge and insight it can share with both employers and educators, and how best it can advocate for a thriving and diverse cultural landscape across the nations, looking to the future.

I was born in Northern Ireland, and have lived in England, Scotland and most recently Wales and have been fortunate - personally and professionally - to experience the different cultural contexts in each of the nations. I first worked with CCSkills in Wales as Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru - Museum Wales, and for two years as President of the Museums Association. 

A focus on the Celtic nations

As most readers will be more familiar England’s cultural sector than those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, my main focus here will be on the Celtic nations.

In Northern Ireland, Belfast is harnessing the power of culture-led regeneration. The Civil War of 1922-23 and the Troubles from the late 1960s inflicted inter-generational trauma on many families, including my own. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the wider Belfast city region, comprising over 1 million people and generating two thirds of its Gross Value Added, is re-imagining and re-positioning the city.

Large areas of Belfast have been redeveloped and the cityscape has undergone significant transformation. In addition to long-standing institutions such as the Grand Opera House and the Lyric Theatre, the city’s more recent cultural developments include the Waterfront Theatre, the SSE Arena and the MAC Belfast. Together with smaller galleries and arts centres, they have transformed the cultural infrastructure of the city. Over the last two decades these cultural spaces, and relatively low rents for studios, have encouraged the emergence of a new generation of young arts, creative and cultural practitioners. 

The creative industries sector in Belfast now comprises over 1,600 businesses, supporting employment of over 11,500 jobs. The City Region Deal signed in 2021 is designed to unlock further investment to develop the city over the next 10-15 years, including strengthening the creative industries. A culturally vibrant city is a key aim of the City Council’s The Belfast Agenda (2017) and its vision for 2035. The City Council’s Our Plan for Inclusive Growth (2020) articulates its aspiration for sustainable development, in which creativity has a key role. 

Filming of high-profile film and TV series such as Game of Thrones and Line of Duty have also raised the city’s profile. Despite these economic benefits, structural economic deprivation, and the high proportion of people with low or no qualifications, continues to hinder the city and its residents. This should remain a major focus for policymakers in their creative and cultural strategies.

Sector predominantly small scale

In Scotland, as in Northern Ireland and Wales, the creative sector is made up predominantly of freelancers, self-employed practitioners and small and medium sized businesses. The challenges they face are around child-care, funding, cash flow, engaging and sustaining professional networks, and building up personal pensions. These and many other priorities in Scotland - post Covid recovery, sustainability, equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as fair access and skills - are shared across all nations.

The Scottish Government wants fair work to be the norm for workers and employers, in all types of organisation and in all locations. Based on the Fair Work First Convention’s Framework (2016), and its Fair Work First Action Plan (2019), it published Strategic Context - Fair Work First: Guidance to support implementation (2021), to support this ambition. 

Employers in Scotland accessing public funds within this framework are required to commit to investment in skills and training of their workforce, no inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts, action to tackle the gender pay gap, genuine workforce engagement such as trade union recognition, and payment of the real Living Wage. 

Culture and heritage public bodies including Creative Scotland, Historic Scotland and the National Galleries, National Museums and National Library of Scotland are all expected to play a leadership role, in promoting and modelling fair working practices across the cultural sector in Scotland.

Demystifying careers

Complementary to the fair work focus in Northern Ireland and Scotland, the Welsh Government’s report, Stronger, Fairer, Greener Wales: A Plan for Employability and Skills (2022) also prioritises fair work for all, and that young people should be supported to realise their potential. And the Young Person’s Guarantee emphasises the Welsh Government’s commitment to under 25s gaining a place in education, training or support getting into work.
In September this year, Creative Wales launched its new Creative Skills Action Plan and Skills Fund (2022) which highlighted ten strategic priorities for the sector. These include the need to demystify careers, and to focus on fairer, more inclusive recruitment to develop a more representative creative workforce.
CCSkills in Wales has recently completed a heritage-based skills project for young people who are not in education, employment or training, and who are non-graduates. The Cultural Ambition project was funded between 2018 and 2022 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Welsh Government, to open up new entry routes for young people in cultural heritage, archives and museums. It supported trainees to work towards a Level Two qualification by immersing them in a cultural setting, enabling them to learn new skills and develop confidence in a practical way, and increasing their opportunity to learn outside a traditional classroom setting.  

Challenges in a period of political instability

Many former trainees are now in university, studying related courses, or in employment in the sector. Although the project only reached a small number - 26 young people - it has had a major impact, and there is room to grow. Now is the time for organisations to formulate such support programmes to change the life opportunities of the next generation of cultural workforce.
A recent survey of creative and cultural organisations across the four nations identified that the main recruitment challenges are lack of applicants from under-represented groups, and lack of suitable applicants with the right skills, qualifications and/or experience. The main skills challenges are lack of funding for continuous professional development of staff to address skills gaps and shortages, and lack of capacity to support trainees such as apprentices and paid interns. These needs have not gone away.

CCSkills’s priorities are to keep focused on its four nations remit; ensure equity of pathways into the creative industries; attract more people of diverse and representative backgrounds; collaborate with employers to address skills gaps; influence policymaking shaped by the knowledge and expertise of the sector; and ensure that the economic and social importance of the creative and cultural sectors is recognised.

The distributed model of CCSkills, led by staff embedded in the nations and deeply engaged in their development, has proved remarkably flexible and resilient. In this period of unprecedented political instability, which may ultimately lead to the reframing or break-up of the UK, CCSkills is well placed to continue to work in partnership with each of the nations, whatever their political journey.

David Anderson is Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru - Museum Wales and is a former trustee of CCSkills.
@CCSkills | @David_ACNMW

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