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In a hustings held by Creative UK, Labour said it would review arts and culture funding and seek to encourage philanthropic giving.

Composite image showing Chris Bryant, Lucy Frazer, Peter Bazalgette  and Jack Lenox
Composite image showing (clockwise from top left) Chris Bryant, Peter Bazalgette and Jack Lenox

Creative UK

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer was accused of being “disingenuous” on the government's track record for cultural funding during a hustings on the creative industries ahead of next month’s general election.

The question-and-answer session, hosted by Sir Peter Bazalgette for Creative UK, featured representatives from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Plaid Cymru and touched upon subjects impacting the creative industries, including AI, university funding and climate change, with speakers often broadly in consensus on many of the issues raised.
During the event Frazer, who apologised for not being able to get her camera working, faced challenges from Labour's Shadow Minister for Creative Industries Chris Bryant on her statements about the furlough scheme and funding for the arts. 


Questioned on “severe funding cuts” to public bodies, including the Arts Councils for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Creative Scotland, Frazer noted that the government had provided ”significant funding” and had commissioned a review of Arts Council England to ensure it “does its job as well as possible and shows excellence across the country.”

She also referenced DCMS funding for libraries and museums and an additional £600m that was made available to local authorities earlier this year - primarily to help fund children's and adult social care - as other “extremely important avenues of funding for the creative industries and culture across the board”.

In his subsequent answer, Bryant said it was “utterly disingenuous ... to suggest that there's been all these different bits and pieces of money”, adding, “every single one of those [avenues of funding] has been cut over the last 14 years."

Concerning what actions Labour would take to protect creative workers experiencing precarious work conditions and whether the party had considered a universal basic income for artists, Bryant stopped short of offering specific measures. 

“It would be very easy for me to make all sorts of promises about spending money here, there, and everywhere,” he said, “And I honestly wish I could, but the truth is if we get to form a government on 5 July, we'll probably have the worst financial hospital pass in British history. We have to be very responsible about the promises that we can and we can't make.”

“The only promise I can make around funding is we've got to review the whole package.”

Later, Bryant commented that Labour also wanted to “look at philanthropy,” drawing a comparison with America, where he said, “Any decent billionaire philanthropist gives away half their total funding before they pass away, much of it going to the creative industries.”

Jack Lenox of the Green Party agreed but questioned why Labour wasn’t considering a tax on millionaires and billionaires as a means of redistributing wealth. He also cautioned against aspiring to the US arts funding model, warning that the country’s lower reliance on public investment means that for performances like opera, “ticket prices are astronomical”.

Action on AI

Asked how the Conservatives planned to enforce their commitment to guaranteeing creators are appropriately protected and paid for their work, Frazer said the issue was “the most important question” that a government should be asking because “if we don't get AI rights for the creative industries and for rights holders, we're going see a fundamental change in whether they can survive”.

She pledged the Tory party would provide creator protection and remuneration by “working with the tech companies and the creators to ensure that we get the position right” before adding: “It's very clear and stark that the Labour Party have not made that same commitment in their manifesto”.To which Bryant interjected: “That is a lie, a flat out lie.”

“It's not good enough for Secretaries of State to come on something like this and flat-out lie,” he later continued. 

“We have very openly in our manifesto for the creative industries, which we produced in March, said that we will protect creative industries when it comes to artificial intelligence, and Lucy knows that.”

Frazer responded: “If it's in your manifesto that you've published recently, then I take that back.”

During his question on the subject, Bryant said there was already a need for “some degree” of legislation on AI, noting the Conservative's attempts to deliver a voluntary code of practice between AI developers and rights holders ended earlier this year in a failure to reach an agreement. 

Liberal Democrat Lord Tim Clement-Jones also took issue with Frazer's comments, saying it was “cheeky” of her to call the subject “paramount in her view” because the government had “absolutely failed to regulate, for AI in any form, whatsoever”. 

He said, “It's absolutely clear that when large language models ingest copyrighted material, that that is a breach of copyright,” adding that he felt there could be transparency and regulation “without harming innovation”.

Tax reliefs

There was also disagreement on Frazer’s characterisation of the government’s pandemic furlough scheme as providing support “across the board” and representing an example of the Conservatives ensuring that the UK’s creative industries remain globally competitive by being “responsive”.

“First of all, the furlough didn't apply to everybody in the creative industries because so many people in the creative industries are freelance,” said Bryant. “They had next to no support or no support at all during Covid.” 

On that point, Lenox added: “The idea that the furlough scheme covered everyone across the board is obviously not true. 

“[Some theatre performers] had no support whatsoever. And lots of those people who came out of the industry haven't been able to come back into it again because it's now much poorer than it was before. It's smaller than it was before. Those roles haven't come back.”

Discussing support for UK creative industries in its role as a global exporter of goods and services within the context of the Conservatives' no return to freedom of movement, Frazer said the government had bilateral agreements with most countries “where touring is most important”, and she had had discussions with foreign secretaries “to ensure that we continue to push those really important issues with the EU.”

Citing the Conservatives' creative tax reliefs as another means by which her party had supported UK creative industries in the global marketplace, she accused Labour of not committing in their manifesto to “making sure that our creative sector tax incentives remain competitive”.

In response, Bryant said, “Of course, we're going to keep the tax reliefs. We invented the idea of tax relief right at the beginning.

“Of course, you've got to keep elements of them in under review so that they're as competitive around the world as is possible."

On freedom of movement, most speakers recognised Brexit as having a negative impact on UK artists touring to Europe and laid out plans to simplify the process. Both representatives for Labour and the Liberal Democrats said they would renegotiate a cultural touring agreement with the EU, while the latter raised plans to re-establish links with EU arts funding body Creative Europe, as did Plaid Cymru's Heledd Fychan, whose party is also seeking to get the freedom of movement reinstated.

Fychan said: "Brexit has been disastrous. Can we please be honest about this, and why wasn't this thought out at all?

"And we're now seeing the impact on the ground, the impact it's having on companies here in Wales and businesses, being able to generate income and also attract talent to Wales."

Lenox's Green Party would seek to rejoin the customs union in the single market "as soon as possible". He added: "I completely agree with almost every speaker, maybe except Lucy, that we would like to see artists of all types be able to move around the European Union freely, as they once were, and to tour". 

A headshot of Mary Stone