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Parliament Enquiry on Inequality: Huge Private School Sector Advantage in Arts Access

Arts Policy Report

Select Committee on Communications , House of Lords , December-09-17
Arts Policy Report by Select Committee on Communications The House of Lords published its report “Skills for theatre: Developing the pipeline of talent” on 3rd May. The full title from the Select Committee on Communications is “3rd Report of Session 2016–17 HL Paper 170.” The professional adviser was Jen Harvie, Director of the Research School of English and Drama at Queen Mary College, University of London. The election cut short the work of the Committee and it was published as an interim document.

“Despite a number of concerns raised by our witnesses, we felt that we had not received enough evidence, in advance of the unexpected announcement of a General Election and the dissolution, to develop conclusions and recommendations for the Government and others...We believe that it clearly highlights issues that merit further consideration. We do not expect a formal response from the Government, but we look forward to a debate.” It is a complex document, 43 pages in length, with much recorded input from witnesses but, as the authors say, far from any point of conclusion.

The Committee states that its work relates to England, culture being a devolved area. Nonetheless its issues apply and are relevant across all the nations. The spread of content across education, apprenticeships, industry structure and equality are substantial and of a difficult complexity. The principal issues arising from the statements of witnesses start with education.

“Witnesses felt that changes, specifically the introduction of the Ebacc...has had a detrimental effect on the status of arts subjects in state schools...theatre is first encountered at school. The disparity between the access to art subjects between children in state schools and those in fee-paying schools was a primary concern for our witnesses, who felt the resulting pipeline of talent would become ever-more dependent on the affluence of parents.” A student comment was summarised as “Schools are very grade-oriented and drama is not seen as a realistic lifestyle. This is reinforced through the curriculum, career advice and parental anxiety.”

The economics of the multiplier effect are restated. “In a 2014 report, Arts Council England claimed that, for every £1 of salary paid by the arts and culture industry, an additional £2.01 is generated in the wider economy through the creation of jobs and supply of services needed to sustain it.4 In 2015 there were a total of 642,000 jobs in the UK cultural sector, an increase of 17.8 per cent from 2011.

"The estimated number of UK jobs in music, performing and the visual arts was 286,000, including both creative and support roles.” The aggregate turnover of business in the UK arts and culture industry was £15.1 billion in 2013, according to the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR).7 The CEBR also estimates that the arts and culture sector contributes £7.7 billion to the UK economy annually.”

Sixty percent of theatre revenue is derived from London. “The Society of London Theatre’s results for 2016 showed that in 2016 its member theatres generated a combined gross revenue of £644.7 million, up 1.7 per cent compared to 2015. Ticket sales just in London generated £107.5 million in VAT receipts.”

The other key number outside direct grant-giving is given. “ACE also noted that between 2010–11 and 2014–15, “local government funding for the arts, museums and libraries declined by 17%, from £1.42bn to £1.19bn. Local authority investment in theatre in that time fell by 18%, a loss of £31m.” In terms of audience numbers Julian Bird, the chief executive of both SOLT and UK Theatre, made the comparison “more people go to shows in our venues than go to all league football games in the UK”.

The Committee noted the interconnectedness within the sector. “Theatre plays an important role in supporting the UK’s wider commercial creative industries, such as film production, advertising, design and crafts...One witness told us that the TV and film industry feed off the theatre industry’s “content, artists or technicians”. Julian Bird told the Committee, “Hollywood is packed with British technical and creative skills, 90 per cent of which have come through regional theatre.”

The Committee reported the perspective from Equity. Christine Payne, General Secretary “noted that there had been a lack of contribution to theatre from film and television: “Just as we have talked about subsidised and commercial theatre being very close, the overlap between theatre, film and television should not be underestimated. The film and television employers could do more to support our members, in particular, and the industry. The theatre industry has a very proud record of supporting developing actors, not so much for the film and television side. It has not shown a great support for our members through Skillset, CCSkills or even Drama UK, when it existed. They could do a lot more, to be honest.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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