White Paper draws a blank - Patrick Kelly



If ‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word for the government at the moment, then

‘creativity’ can’t be far behind. The word was notable by its absence in the 332-

page document that is the Government’s White Paper on ‘levelling up’, the

signature policy that is meant to define the government’s purpose.


One also looked in vain for any real mention of the ‘creative industries’ in the

document. Not until Page 167 do we hear that the creative industries have a

‘critical role to play’ as ‘drivers of growth and productivity.’


But anybody waiting for some flesh on the bones of this bold statement would be

disappointed. The next paragraph promises an expansion of the Creative Scale Up

Programme of business support (for small creative businesses who want to get

bigger) from its current £4m to £18m. £8m will go to the video games industry,

though it’s not clear whether that’s included in the £18 million. Oh, and there’s a

plan to formulate something called a Creative Sector Vision sometime in 2022.

Apart from that vision, the government has also detailed proposals to insist that

Arts Council England spends most of its grants outside the capital and to give cash

to London-based national arts organisations which want to work in other parts of

England.


They have also promised to increase diversity in audiences, employees and boards

of arts and cultural organisations. And finally, the White Paper also repeats a

previous promise to spend £40 million on 50 cultural projects involving cultural

assets, libraries, museums and creative industries. Again, most of this will be spent

outside London.


And that is more or less, it. Apart from a commitment to relocate some staff from

the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport to Manchester and Darlington.

One could be forgiven for thinking that yes, someone in Whitehall has looked at the

figures and studied the reams of research which do indeed prove that the creative

world plays a major role in the UK economy but then couldn’t for the life of them

work out what a government should be doing to boost that role in all parts of the

country.


Instead, they settle for a few of the usual bromides. Culture gets a nod as

something that will help meet one of the White Paper’s 12 ‘missions’ aimed at re-

balancing the UK economy towards the areas (like the North) which have been left

behind over the past few decades. That mission, though, was not the one that will

lead to well-paid jobs or improved education and skills, or boost research and

development or create a better transport infrastructure. It was the one which

promises to restore ‘pride in place’. By 2030, people’s satisfaction with their town

centre and engagement in local culture and community will have risen in every area

of the UK, thanks to ‘levelling up’.


So once again, ministers double down on the view that creative and cultural

industries do the things that make people feel good about their locality but have

little or nothing to do with the ‘real economy’.


The ‘real economy’ at least in the minds of the panjandrums of Whitehall and

Westminster, still consists of the automotive business, windpower, or science and

technology and of course, that old favourite, research and development into ‘the

products of tomorrow’. All of which get much more attention in the White Paper

than the creative sector.


The links between creativity and all those other ‘proper’ industries is not

acknowledged, nor is the data which demonstrates the impact of a thriving cultural

sector on other types of private investment. The unique export potential of the

creative and cultural industries, compared to say, cars, is ignored too. This is a

failing apparent in another recent report, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on

Northern Culture. Which, although it does understand the prominence of culture in

all aspects of our lives, social and economic, misses out on the global potential of a

dynamic Northern cultural sector to rival the National Theatre or Royal opera

House.


But let’s end on a positive note. Just because Whitehall doesn’t get it, there’s no

reason why we should let them get away with not getting it.


A White Paper is a prelude to legislation, which comes with a consultation period.

Let’s use that time to correct the errors and fill in the omissions in the report. Let’s

get together with like-minded organisations from across the region and hammer out

a new report which makes the case for Northern Culture as a central part of a new

creative economy. Let’s deliver a report which says in effect. “You missed the point

of creativity. Never mind. Here’s what you meant to say.”


Patrick Kelly is an arts journalist based in York.


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