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Labour leader sets out his plans for creative education, improving conditions for freelancers, and his hope to boost funding for arts and culture organisations across the country.

Keir Starmer speaking at the Labour Creatives Conference
Starmer says he wants art 'woven into everything our children learn'

Labour will reform school accountability frameworks to include arts subjects in its first days of government should it win the next election, party leader Keir Starmer has vowed.

Speaking at the Labour Creatives Conference held at Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London today (14 March), Starmer said all children will be able to study a creative arts subject or sport until they're 16.

“Every young person must have access to music, art, design and drama. That is our mission. Because we know that for our creative industries to flourish,  every child needs to be given a chance,” he said.

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During a 20-minute speech Starmer recalled his own experiences of the positive impact arts and music had on him as a young person, attending weekend lessons at Guildhall School as a talented flautist.

But he said a lack of focus on the arts by the current Conservative government has made it increasingly difficult for children to engage with the arts with subjects being “diminished and devalued” in schools leading to a big drop in GCSE enrolments.

‘Crisis in creativity’

Starmer said that while Labour welcomed the investment and tax reliefs announced in last week’s budget the government “doesn't have a strategy for the arts”.  

“[There is] no recognition of its fundamental role in the economy, health, education or our global standing,” he said.

“No plan to harness the potential of creative industries and no ambition to safeguard its future and support the next generation.  

“Because actually under the Tories, we've seen a crisis in creativity in our schools. And it's working class kids who bear the brunt of that collapse in the arts.”

Starmer criticised existing school accountability measure in which the English Baccalaureate valued Latin and Ancient Greek more highly than music, drama or art.  

“Seriously, in what world does learning to act, dance, sing or paint count less than learning a language from more than a thousand years ago?” he said.

“So from day one, day one, Labour will reform the school accountability framework to make sure that arts count. 

“We're going to update the Progress 8 [school] performance measure and use it to help all kids study a creative arts subject or sport until they're 16.  

“And we will review the curriculum more widely. So art is woven into everything our children learn.”

Freelancer rights

Starmer said that, under Labour, creative skills “won't be treated as a luxury, but as a necessity”, adding they are “essential to our economic growth and our national identity”. 

In an industry dominated by freelancers and small and medium enterprises, Labour wants to “make sure that work always pays. Otherwise it becomes the preserve of the privileged,” he said. 

“And that's bad for the industry, as well as bad for the people who work in it.  

“So we'll level up workers rights, crack down on late payments, end unpaid internships, and do our bit to support the arts and creative industries, to create more opportunities for working class kids and more secure jobs in the sector.”

He also pledged to crack down on ticket touting by introducing a cap on resale values and introduce a Growth and Skills Levy to "train the young creatives of tomorrow".

Arts funding

Answering questions from the floor following the speech, Starmer also outlined his plans for boosting public funding for the arts.

He said, if elected, Labour will inherit a “broken economy” and would be unable to “simply turn on the tap straight away”.

Instead, Labour will push to try to secure additional private sector funding for publicly-funded organisations.

“We do need to grow the economy and I don't see growing the economy and arts and culture as two different buckets. They're one and the same thing, and that will then allow us to provide the funding in due course that is much needed and the support that is much needed.

"I want to make sure we can provide that funding in the right way, but it's going to take time before we can turn those taps fully on for reasons that I think you'll understand. 

“But we want to work with you from day one.”

Practical support

Musicians' Union General Secretary Naomi Pohl said that over the past decade funding and opportunities for British musicians and creative young people have diminished. 

"Many venues have closed, arts organisations are cutting back due to funding cuts, freelancers are leaving music and both international and domestic touring have increased in cost and difficulty," she said.

“A Labour government would deliver better conditions for freelancers, would support music spaces, boost music education and address issues with touring in Europe.

“They have made promises on many of our key issues and, while we know the economic environment is incredibly challenging, they have committed to practical support that will put us on a better footing to grow the music industry and nurture musical talent.”

Trevor MacFarlane, Director of policy and advocacy organisation Culture Commons, said Labour are offering policies to "feel excited about".

"We’re looking forward to helping the shadow [culture and levelling up] teams to put some flesh on the bones of their plans for devolution and increased local decision making to make sure they work for the creative, cultural and heritage ecosystem.

"New powers for local areas have to be backed up with the infrastructures and support they need to utilise it. 

"If we get this right, local leaders can bring citizens closer to decision making about their own creative lives locally, which could in turn see a really positive shift in the makeup of the creative and cultural sectors - who’s in them and where they flourish.”

Jon Collins, CEO of LIVE (Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment) said Labour's plans deliver on his organisation's manifesto proposals on touring and ticketing.

"Live music’s potential has been limited by the current touring arrangements with the EU, and the updates outlined in Labour's plan could unlock a surge in economic and cultural exchange with more artists touring in Europe. 

"We also welcome Labour’s commitment to clamp down on ticket touting to ensure more tickets end up in the hands of fans and not bots."

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