With the economy in flux and a recession looming, it’s surprising to see evidence that the current British Government is missing opportunities to harness sectors of the UK economy that have a proven track record in delivering growth. For example, the creative industries (which has a strong intersection with technological development) was worth more than £115 billion to the UK economy before the pandemic, making up as many as one in eight businesses across the country - and yet, according to a new report by the House of Lords Communications Committee, is largely being ignored by the current administration in charge.
To put this into context, the UK’s creative industries, which includes everything from visual arts to software, marketing and design, in 2019 contributed more to the economy than aerospace, life sciences and automotive industries combined.
Not only this, but the Committee’s report highlights how the government is seemingly failing to understand how the advancement of digital technologies could impact the creative industries in the near future - and is not putting in place regulatory frameworks to protect them.
The report argues that if the UK’s creative industries are not put at the heart of the government’s future growth agenda, or risk losing its leading position in this fast-growing industry.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston, Chair of the Committee, commented on the report’s findings and said:
The UK’s creative industries are an economic powerhouse and have been a huge success story. But the fundamentals that underpin our success are changing, and rivals are catching up. The Government’s failure to grasp both the opportunities and risks is baffling.
International competitors are championing their creative industries and seizing the opportunities of new technology. But in the UK we’re seeing muddled policies, barriers to success, and indifference to the sector’s potential. We acknowledge the Government has introduced important programmes in recent years, but we are concerned past success has bred complacency.
Our report sets out some immediate challenges that the Government can address now. These include improving R&D tax policy to stop excluding innovation in the creative sector; abandoning plans to relax intellectual property rules which would undercut our creative businesses; making the Department for Education wake up to the reality that the future lies in blending creative and digital skills rather than perpetuating silos; and urging senior figures across Government to take the creative sector’s economic potential more seriously.
A changing creative landscape
The report makes a number of recommendations for the government, but also takes time to acknowledge the likely impact technology could have on the creative industries over the next five to 10 years - recognizing that there is a balance between risk and opportunity.
For instance, the Committee describes how new fields are emerging in developing creative content using digital tools, as well as the shift to digital platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also points to the potential for creators within the much-hyped metaverse (although does so with acknowledgement that this could just be ‘hype’).
However, the government is failing on a number of fronts to recognize looming digital threats too. These include:
Text and data mining - the government’s proposed IP laws, which aim to protect creators, are currently considering an exception that would allow text and data mining for any purpose. This would mean that creative work that sits in large datasets could be used by AI tools to create new products by any organization for commercial commercial gain, without any sort of payment made to each individual creator. These proposals have generated significant concern within the creative industries and the Committee is calling on the Intellectual Property Office to put a pause on the proposed changes immediately.
Performers’ rights - advancements in AI technology mean that performers’ work can now be reproduced digitally - including the likeness of a performer’s image or voice. These techniques are becoming more sophisticated and affordable. This is raising concerns about compensation for the real performer, as well as their rights over AI-generated content. To counter this, the Committee is calling on the government to ratify the Beijing Treaty on audio-visual performances, which provides intellectual property rights for performances used in films, TV and other recordings, at the earliest opportunity.
Intellectual property and international trade - the UK’s copyright framework is recognized as an international ‘gold standard’, but the Committee heard evidence that this is being put at risk as a result of trade deal negotiations. It is urging the government not to water down these laws and commit to maintaining the UK’s existing standards of intellectual property rights in all future trade negotiations.
AI and jobs - while AI has the potential to create a whole range of new work opportunities in the creative industries, it will also likely reduce them in others. The Committee argues that this is particularly true for those on lower incomes or insecure contracts. For instance, some film extras can now be computer generated and audiobooks are being narrated by AI, rather than human actors. The report calls on the Government’s Sector Vision to set out a clear plan for ensuring that its encouragement of technological change is accompanied by complementary plans to help the creative industries sustain quality jobs and promote a diverse workforce.
In addition to the report taking into account the intersectional changes happening between digital and creative sectors, the Committee also laid out a number of other worthwhile recommendations. These include:
Improve tax policy to boost innovation - the Government’s definition of R&D for tax relief is narrow and restrictive, the Committee argues. It should be changed to include more of the creative sector. The report adds that the Government should also benchmark other creative sector tax reliefs against international competitors to address the UK’s declining competitiveness.
There should be a cross-Government focus on skills shortages in the creative industries, the Committee adds. The Department for Education should encourage students to learn a blend of creative and digital skills; improve careers guidance; reverse the decline in children studying design and technology; change lazy rhetoric about ‘low value’ arts courses; and make apprenticeships work better for SMEs in the creative industries.
UK Research and Innovation should identify options to continue the most successful parts of the Creative Clusters Programme after March 2023. The report states that discontinuing support would be a needless waste of a programme that is exceeding co-investment expectations by 600 per cent.
For some foolish reason, the current government seems unwilling to foster creatives in the UK - those that have driven a successful, world leading industry for decades. Not only this, whilst the government talks a big game when it comes to advancing technology development in the UK, it seems to miss the point when it comes to how this will impact certain industries. The stats speak for themselves and it’s clear the positive impact creative industries have on the UK economy (not to mention life in the UK in general). Will the government listen? I’m not sure it’s priorities are currently well positioned to do so, but one can hope.