Brexit could prove disastrous for our creative industries
Increasingly frightening talks of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit should be taken seriously. Whether threatening the disappearance of the rights of three million EU Citizens to live and work in the UK, the imposition of huge tariffs on goods, or the dismissal of countless EU regulations and funding, this is something which would effect nearly every aspect of life on our estranged island. Indeed, recent findings reveal the grave danger Brexit places on an aspect of the UK economy very close to our hearts, identity and heritage - the creative industries. The status, quality and viability of our famed theatrical, cinematic and technological institutions hang on a cliff-edge.
According to a survey of 250 creative companies, a hard Brexit, terminating freedom of movement, could risk causing ‘catastrophic’ damage to the UK’s world-leading culture sector. The study, published by the Creative Industries Federation on October 19th, found that the UK leaving the EU could constitute a crisis in skills shortage, funding and exports that could severely compromise an £87bn industry.
Leaving the EU will expose many pre-existing holes in the UK creative economy that have hitherto been filled by European workers and EU funding. Brexit could exacerbate what are already long-standing skills shortages in the UK culture sector workforce. Of the companies surveyed by the CIF, 75% employed EU nationals and two-thirds stated they could not fill those jobs with British workers. The creative industries, which include diverse sub-sectors from advertising to performing arts, from software and video game tech to publishing, have suffered from deep-rooted skills shortages for years. This is due to inadequate education that is both creative and technical in our schools and as a result, technical ability in fields such as graphic design and animation is lacking.
This has lead to a heavy reliance on international talent, with EU workers instrumental in filling the needs of the industry. In our visual effects industry, 25% of all workers are EU nationals as well as 20 - 30% of all UK video games companies. The skills gap, and our subsequent reliance on a European workforce, is only set to increase in the coming years. The fact that the number of students taking GCSE design and technology fell by 41% between 2007 and 2014, and that the lowest number of entries for arts subjects were recorded in 2016, shows Britain’s culture desperately needs, and will need, EU talent.
Losing this talent represents a risky gamble on arts companies currently operating in the UK, who may be attracted to relocation overseas, where international talent and a broader market are more accessible. To stop this ‘brain drain’ of companies and talent which have been a cornerstone of our economy for years, workers and performers need to be granted easy and flexible entry to the country. Plunging blindly into the chaos of a ‘no-deal’ option jeopardises any arrangement of this kind taking place, leaving the creative sector vulnerable and unprepared.
Brexit could also bring an end to the various EU funding streams our museums and theatres depend on to stay afloat. The European Regional Development Fund, aimed at addressing imbalances in regional prosperity, has been invaluable for many UK museums, investing £2.9bn in various cities and communities throughout the country between 2014-20. Its extensive achievements include financing the building or development of the Sage Gateshead, the Wales Millennium Centre ‘Film City Glasgow’, the ‘HOME’ theatre in Manchester, Falmouth University and more. Without it, cultural and economic revival in deprived areas, seen in the creation of the Museum of Liverpool in 2011, would be made much more difficult.
The ‘European Capital of Culture’ scheme has also helped the city; the granting of the title to Liverpool in 2008 saw its visitor numbers increase by 34% and more than £750m generated for its economy. Media coverage became more positive than negative for the first time in years and in a survey 85% of Liverpool residents claimed the city was a better place to live as a result of EU funding.
The UK is also a main beneficiary of ‘Creative Europe’, a culture funding scheme which has provided £40m to arts projects and companies since 2014. It supplied distribution fees for 84 British films in 2014 and 2015, and has supported international box-office sensations such as ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘The Iron Lady’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. A hard Brexit will likely deprive UK creative industries of this stream of vital cash, ‘affecting the viability of investments and employment’. These are just three of many funding streams British culture is set to lose out on at the point of exit.
The continent is also the main market for the UK’s creative exports, which account for 24% of the sector’s GVA. In 2014, UK creative industries exported £19.8bn worth of services, more than 40% of which were to Europe, and this figure is growing year by year. Hard Brexit could hugely complicate trade and intellectual property rules, undermining the progress made in this sphere.
As well as injecting £9.5m an hour into the UK economy, the creative industries are the nation’s fastest growing sector. Since 2000 employment in the financial sector, a sphere constantly discussed in Brexit proceedings, has fallen from 4.27% to 3.5% in its share of UK employment. In the same time, the creative industry’s has risen from 5 to 7%, exhibiting remarkable resilience during the financial crash. More attention should be paid to British culture and the damage it may incur, with implications that are not just economic, but may dull the vibrancy, diversity and proud artistic heritage of our country. Though hardline Brexiteers often lamented that authentic British culture was slipping due to immigration and EU regulations, the reverse is seen to be true: The EU enriches UK culture.
In a recent hearing, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley spoke to the contrary. Challenging evidence of industry anxiety over the proceedings in Brussels she said: “I have met a number of people in the creative industries - I'm not going to say who they are as it wouldn't be appropriate for me to say - who have told me that they're not worried about the loss of freedom of movement because they believe the sector will thrive," she said. It’s not “appropriate” for her to say, perhaps, because it isn’t true.
It is clear that from the trauma of a hard, or even ‘no-deal’ Brexit, Britain’s famed creative sector would face losing its standing worldwide, curbed by a skills shortage, a loss of crucial funding and of an export market. Our already turbulent economy would also suffer from a loss of revenue. Effects have already made themselves apparent, with many industry leaders speaking out on the disturbance they’ve incurred in recruitment and trade partnerships. If the culture sector is to perform at its current standards, post-exit, May’s government would be faced with the tremendous task of not only replacing extensive EU funding streams, and of expanding markets in the US and Asia, but also of tackling the skills shortage through new education reforms.
Successful negotiations could go some way in limiting damage; agreements permitting flexibility in rights and visas for workers, and acknowledging the important role of EU organisations in the sector, could protect the creative industries from regression. With talks in Brussels continuing on their current trajectory, however, the future of UK culture is increasingly doubtful.