March 20, 2008
Mark contributed to a debate tabled on the creative industries in Westminster Hall. The debate was inspired by the government?s recently published strategy on the creative industries: ?Creative Britain?New Talents for the New Economy.? The creative industries are a key part of the UK economy, contributing 7.3 per cent. of UK gross value added, and have been growing at 6 per cent., which is double that of the UK economy as a whole. They export £14.5 billion of goods and employ nearly 2 million people, forming a key part of our knowledge-based economy, on which our future prosperity depends.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The City of London is famously home to the UK’s financial services industry. The hon. Members for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) have somewhat gleefully pointed out that its pre-eminence in the UK economy might not be quite so pronounced in the years ahead, but they are right to focus on the creative industries. In addition to financial services, central London has every reason to be very proud, as it is at the forefront of creative industry. I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) will forgive me if I do not talk too much about ceramics, as I shall focus on areas that the public tend to associate with the creative industries, such as film and TV. That is not to downplay any of her comments, however, and I hope that the Minister takes on board the concerns that she voiced in this interesting debate.
English is now the universal language of business and the creative culture in London and the UK assists in reinforcing the global competitive advantage that we have with our creative industries. In my constituency, particularly in Soho and the west end, lies the heart of the British media, TV and film industry. We also have great success in design. Good design is ever more at the forefront of consumers’ minds. That is a strong sign of a democratic?that word has been used by several hon. Members today?active society that values choice and consumerism. It also leads the whole debate on design, which requires active input from the public at large?from the old and young alike. We must consider not only what is esoteric, but what is significant, in relation to design issues. With those elements, the UK creative industry is at the forefront of many international developments.
We have great expertise in elements of information technology and much originality in the computer games industry. With Japan, we are world leaders in that area. I had the opportunity to visit such a company in Soho only a few months ago. Its offices, in a Soho back street, seem very unassuming from the outside, but inside it is enormously energetic. The offices are open plan, which is how those young, energetic businesses run themselves. They are not exclusively young, but given all the state-of-the-art technology, the people working there are generally in their 20s. There is a sense of energy in the midst of the roads that are made up of cafés, restaurants and seemingly faceless offices. It is amazing to think that those enormous, energetic, world-beating industries are just two or three miles from where we stand. When I met the people who work there and who run those businesses, I was struck by their passion and commitment to reaching the highest level of technical skill. They have a real determination to ensure that nothing is left to chance and that excellence is maintained. Without that excellence, our creative industries would suffer.
It is both positive and negative that many young people who are not UK citizens work in those industries. Clearly, we are a beacon for young computer programmers from the Indian sub-continent, in particular, and from eastern Europe, but the downside is that too many among our indigenous population have insufficient skills. I shall focus some of my comments on that issue, and I hope that the Minister will take them on board.
There is little doubt that the creative industries as a whole rank as the next most important economic driving force after our financial services industry. It would be wrong to exaggerate some of the problems that the financial services are suffering at the moment, but there is no doubt that in a world in which leisure will become ever more important, we have enormous potential. The middle classes in India and China are increasing enormously, by 20 million or 30 million people a year, and those people will be global consumers in the years ahead. That is not to say that Bollywood will not remain important?it will be an increasingly important film business in the decades ahead?but our advantages in areas such as computer gaming and many creative industries will ensure that we can export tremendous skills and passion to many overseas shores.
In the worlds of broadcast and new media, the tremendous combination of British flair and innovation plays a leading role in creating new products and exporting expertise to the developing world as a whole. We must ensure that the vibrancy in the creative industries is fully recognised at home and promoted to an outside world that is ever more hungry for developments in that field. To do that, we need to ensure that we have a rigorous education system in the creative arts and its allied subjects. A depressing element of life in the summer is the predicable reaction to the announcement of A-level and university results. Commentators who really should know better?some Conservative and some Labour?bemoan the emergence of media studies and film and TV courses at the expense of traditional, academic, higher education subjects.
It is important to encourage the uptake of demanding courses at our universities, but that should not be the whole story. We must also promote the best vocational courses. The flurry of disapproval of those who do media studies or other so-called soft courses is very disheartening, especially as that is where many of the employment opportunities and openings of the future will lie. Indeed, graduate employment statistics bear that out: unemployed media studies graduates are rather less in evidence than unemployed graduates of many more traditional degree subjects. The real issue is not the number of A-level or degree students doing media studies but ensuring that the courses on offer are rigorous enough. Far more needs to be done to involve companies and people who work in the creative industries to ensure that the courses being studied are practical and effective. As several hon. Members have commented, this is a fast-changing world, and such courses must change accordingly.
We should encourage our creative industries to work closely with our universities to make media studies, and other courses in the fast-growing roster of related courses, a fast track towards the skilled and creative industry openings that I have mentioned. That should not mean, however, that we forget the importance of energy, innovation and flair. It is important that we do not take an overly bureaucratic approach. Having worked in the creative industry, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire is probably aware that it is taking a slightly schizophrenic approach to say that we want to have structures, because the very nature of working in the creative industries is that the lifestyle is unstructured. That is not to say that when such people get to their 50s and 60s, they do not regret having had an unstructured lifestyle which may mean that they do not have a pension. Nevertheless, we must avoid stifling the flair and innovation in the acting, music and other creative industries by being too rigorous. That inevitable tension and strain will surround any policy making in this area, because creativity, rather like entrepreneurialism, cannot simply be taught in the classroom. We can ensure, however, that the skills picked up during a degree or diploma course are made as practical as possible.
We must remember that most of those who work in our creative industries are employed in small businesses?often start-ups and one-man or one-woman shows. With that in mind, some of the changes to the capital gains tax regime are especially bad news for some small, start-up businesses. It makes a mockery of the warm words and positivity in the Government’s creative industries document if, at the same time, young, innovative fashion designers and other artists face greater barriers to the development and expansion of their businesses under the capital gains tax regime that is in place. I support the simplicity of an 18 per cent. rate, but many start-up businesses that are going to be sold off in a relatively short period of time would have qualified for a taper relief down at 10 per cent. Again, in fairness to the Government, that taper relief has been in place only since 2002. It is not as though they are throwing away many years of tax advantages, but it is to be regretted that, in many ways, some of the biggest losers are not those whose voices are the loudest.
As the Member who represents the City of London, I have spoken openly of some of my concerns about vocal complaints from the non-domiciled community about changes to their tax, many of which I believe would be supported by the public at large. But in respect of small, start-up businesses, particularly in this important sphere, there will be many young, creative entrepreneurs who will have good reason to regret that the capital gains tax regime has been changed to their detriment.
Our nation has been at the heart of global trade and the financial and commercial services fields for some centuries. As I mentioned earlier, there is the rapid emergence of two enormous markets today, let alone in the decades ahead: India and China, with more than 2.5 billion consumers. They will undoubtedly be the economic superpowers of the future. For Stoke-on-Trent, North, certain elements of that will probably result in somewhat heavy hearts, but there could be tremendous advantages for the creative industries.
In answer to my earlier intervention, the Minister rightly pointed out that the real challenge for our creative industries is to ensure that they can add value by employing the highest skills possible. It is all the more important, therefore, that we promote spheres of excellence and comparative economic advantage. We need to maintain our place as one of the world’s great innovators in film animation, computer games and all other parts of the creative industries. That will happen only if we encourage our young people towards creative university degree courses as well as the more academic options that are available. In that way, we will continue to compete with the growing capabilities in the Indian sub-continent and the far east, and I suspect that the benefits to our nation will be clear not just today but hopefully for generations to come.