DCMS report: COVID is biggest threat to creative industries in a generation

The UK’s arts and cultural sectors are facing an “existential threat” because of the pandemic, say MPs, but the government has been “too slow” to respond.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic poses the biggest threat to the UK’s cultural infrastructure in a generation, according to a report published today by the Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee.

Covering COVID-19’s impact on the creative industries, as well as tourism and sport, the report states that the government has been “too slow” to respond to the needs of DCMS sectors.

This, coupled with the department’s relatively small budget and staffing capabilities and a general misunderstanding of the creative industry’s needs and contributions, has left many organisations facing an “existential threat”, the committee has found.

“Falling through the gaps”

Earlier this month, the government announced an emergency fund for the arts sector, supposedly worth £1.57 billion. While the amount was unprecedented in size, its announcement so far into the pandemic – when many institutions had already been closed for months – left creatives wondering if it was too late.

This latest report asks whether the funding will be enough to safeguard the cultural sector. The answer depends entirely on how long institutions will need to remain closed for. Significant digital steps have been taken by arts institutions during lockdown and while these have been welcomed by audiences around the UK, they have also laid bare the inequality of resources on offer.

The report explains that small institutions, which don’t have access to the same level of digital infrastructure, are among the most at risk. With no concrete guidance in place for many areas of the creative industries, the DCMS Committee says it is concerned that freelancers and small companies, many of which are contracted and supported by the creative sector, will continue to suffer.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Design Week has covered how the coronavirus has impacted the UK’s creative sector and has highlighted how many designers have been among those “falling through the gaps” when it comes to government support.

“Flexible, sector-specific” solutions

The report implores the government to “learn from the shortcomings” of previous support packages, naming the charity support scheme as an example.

Ensuring the money offered to the creative industries goes beyond the “well established, high profile institutions” will be a crucial step to support freelancers and small companies, it continues. And this should be coupled, MPs say, with “flexible, sector-specific” versions of the SEISS and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

This would mean that while designers and other creatives continue to experience uncertainty in their jobs, their income could be protected. Without such action, the future of the country’s creative workforce will remain at “significant risk”, the report warns.

The “highly interconnected nature of the creative industries”

Something those in charge do not appear to adequately understand, according to the report, is the UK’s unique “creative environment”. This consists of creatives working across various sectors because of the “highly interconnected nature of the creative industries”.

Designers working with different organisations, for example, will bear the brunt of continued closures many times over as contracts continue to dry up.

The government might have so far been content with dragging its feet, but the report suggests that continually doing so will “undermine” its “levelling up” agenda, as set out by chancellor Rishi Sunak in his inaugural Budget statement back in March.

Inaction will also compromise Arts Council England’s next 10-year strategy and “reverse decades of progress in cultural provision and diversity and inclusion that we cannot afford to lose,” so says the report.

This is a sentiment echoed by Creative Industries Federation CEO Caroline Norbury, who says: “Inclusion and diversity must not become a “nice to have” but must be central to the rebuilding of the sector.”

“We need this change and we need it to begin today”

Reacting to the report today, Norbury adds: “[The government] must put creativity at the heart of our social and economic regeneration.

“The overwhelming crux of this report is the need for long-term systemic change in how our creative industries are supported. We need this change and we need it to begin today.”

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