Creative industries “dismayed” as UK pulled from European Capital of Culture 2023

Industry professionals react to the European Commission’s decision to stop the UK from hosting the cultural programme as a result of Brexit.

Dundee was one of five UK cities bidding to become European Capital of Culture 2023. Photo courtesy of Dundee 2023.

The creative industries are “disappointed” and “dismayed” that the UK can no longer take part in the European Capital of Culture 2023 due to Brexit.

The UK was due to host the programme, with five cities bidding to take on the duty in 2023 – Dundee, Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Belfast/Derry.

But the European Commission has now confirmed that the UK will not be allowed to hold the role after it leaves the European Union (EU) in 2019.

Prior to the announcement, the bidding process was almost complete. All five cities submitted their final bids to host the event in October.

Two UK cities have previously held the title – Glasgow was Capital of Culture in 1990, and Liverpool was in 2008.

Government in “urgent discussions” with EU Commission

A UK Government spokesperson at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) says they “disagree” with the European Commission’s stance and are “deeply disappointed” that the decision has been made this far on in the competition, adding they are in “urgent discussions” with the organisation about it.

“The prime minister has been clear that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe,” the DCMS spokesperson says. “We want to continue working with our friends in Europe to promote the long-term economic development of our continent, which may include participating in cultural programmes.”

The creative industries have previously expressed concerns at loss of access to EU-run cultural programmes and funds following the UK’s departure from the EU.

This includes Horizon 2020, an €80bn (£72bn) project that will provide funding for research and innovation across Europe until 2020, and grants from organisations such as the European Cultural Foundation. It is not yet clear whether the UK will be able to participate in these funds after 2019.

Not in “the spirit” of the competition

Jack Tindale, manager for design and innovation policy at cross-party think-tank Policy Connect, says that the timing of the European Commission’s decision is “hard to justify”, given the expenses the five cities have so far spent on their bids against “serious pressures on local authority budgets”, and also the fact that bidding took place after it was clear the UK was leaving the EU.

But he adds that while the decision to pull the UK from the cultural scheme is not in the “spirit” of the European Capital of Culture, it does follow the “rules” around hosting rights for the initiative.

“The timing is disrespectful”

However, the Creative Industries Federation says that non-EU countries have taken part in the scheme before, and says it will “work feverishly” with the Government to “reverse this decision”, adding that it is “dismayed” and “gutted”.

“The UK cities have invested an enormous amount of time and energy in developing their bids,” says a spokesperson at the Federation. “The European Capital of Culture scheme can help transform cities, deliver economic growth to local areas and make them better places to live and work.”

The Dundee bidding team has confirmed that it is “hugely disappointed” by the “bombshell” news and says that many resources have already been used on the competition.

“The timing is disrespectful not only to the citizens of Dundee, but to people from all five bidding cities who have devoted so much time, effort and energy so far in this competition,” a spokesperson for Dundee 2023 says. “It’s a sad irony that one of the key drivers of our bid was to further enhance our cultural links with Europe.”

Should we benefit from an EU scheme?

But some creatives think that the UK Government needs to set clearer terms on the position the UK will hold in the EU following Brexit before it can make demands on the European Commission.

Jack Renwick, who is creative director at Jack Renwick Studio and originally hails from ex-Capital of Culture Glasgow, says: “It seems like a petty decision but we need to have a clear understanding from our own Government whether we are still ‘citizens’ of Europe, or just ‘citizens’ of Britain.

“If just Britain, then there’s no point in denying EU member countries the chance for their own cities to benefit from the opportunity,” she adds. “As EU members, we benefit from the rights and opportunities that brings – if we’re not EU members, then we don’t.”

Further discussions on the European Capital of Culture 2023 decision are likely to come in coming weeks. The accolade is separate from the UK City of Culture scheme, which is currently held by Hull.

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  • Neil Littman November 28, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Why is anybody surprised at this turn of events? This is what our government has got us into along with the rest of the mess that the ‘B’ word encapsulates. On the radio the other day, somebody was saying how in the 1980’s the then Tory government refused to give aid to Liverpool and instead they received funding from the EU and consequently became city of culture some years later and have achieved a great level of regeneration.

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