Monday, 22 May 2017

Exploring the GE2017 Manifestos: The Arts, Media and Sport

As a satirist and an Arts graduate, I care deeply about improving access to Arts subjects in schools and preserving our cultural heritage for future generations. I also care about improving pay and conditions for creatives who are employed in a precarious "gig economy" where they do not often receive the support from the Government needed to help grow their businesses to give them enough money to be able to live a comfortable life. Accountability in the media is becoming an increasingly important issue, with voters beginning to notice political bias in our mainstream media outlets that is extremely unhealthy for our democracy. I don't want to censor free speech per se (but free speech always has consequences) but for millions of people living in the UK, they genuinely feel that they see little representation of their views in the newspaper and on news programmes. Sports fans also feel their access to their clubs is reducing, with ticketing prices rising on an annual basis and some of them feeling "ripped off" when they obtain a ticket through a third-party. So with all this in mind, I decided to explore the manifestos of the three mainstream parties in the UK (Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives) and benchmark them against the framework that I constructed a few weeks ago (you can view the framework here:

  • £160m Arts Pupil Premium to invest in projects that support cultural activities -e.g. putting on plays, musical instruments etc. 
  • Labour would review the EBacc performance measure, possibly leading to the addition of a performing arts option alongside the modern foreign language option.
  • Labour would put in place a creative careers advice campaign in schools so that students are aware of the different kinds of job opportunities that are available in the UK's creative industries and the skills required to enter those industries (including costume design, make-up, theatre production and game design). 
  • A £1bn culture capital fund would be established that will fund much needed upgrades to existing cultural and creative infrastructure "to make them ready for the new digital age". The investment would be provided regionally and be administered by the Arts Council, with the fund being made available over the next 5 years.
  • Labour are committed to ensuring that creatives are paid fairly for the goods and services they provide so that working class people can consider a career in creative industries. To achieve this, Labour would work with trade unions and employers to "agree sector-specific advice and guidelines on pay and employment standards".
  • Labour would maintain free entry to museums and a cultural capital fund would focus on projects to help increase income for museums and galleries so they do not need to resort to charging entry fees to pay for running and maintenance costs.
  • Labour would also "reduce the value gap" between those who produce creative content and digital services who may profit from use of that content so that digital artists are rewarded fairly for their work. 
  • Labour is committed to "increasing diversity on and off-screen", with the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport working with the film industry and public service and commercial television and radio broadcasters to improve representation (I hope it includes improving non-binary and trans representation on screen).
  • Labour would continue with events to mark the centenary of the First World War, honouring the memory of all soldiers who served in the conflict, including Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Jews.
  • Labour would give local communities more powers to protect their local amenities, including sports clubs and pubs. Labour would also stop the local authority funding cuts in the budget to "support the provision of libraries, museums and galleries".
  • Labour would "widen the reach of the Government Art collection" so that more people in the UK get to appreciate and enjoy seeing it. 
  • Labour would protect libraries from closure so they are "preserved for future generations" and ensure libraries have wi-fi and up-to-date computers. Library standards would also be reintroduced so that councils receive the advice and guidance from government on how to deliver the "best possible service" to local residents. 
  • Labour would set up a review of local pubs to "examine the causes for their large-scale decline" (such as whether the smoking ban has significantly reduced footfall) and would set up a taskforce to look into providing advice to keep local pubs sustainable in the future.
  • Labour would also support small music venues, with a review into extending the £1000 pub relief business rates scheme to small music venues and the introduction of a "agent of change" principle in planning law that ensures that any new housing developments can co-exist with existing music venues (i.e. they accept that they are building houses near a music venue and that homeowners would need to understand the level of noise may be higher between 7pm and 3am). 
  • Labour would reduce the amount that can be bet on a Fixed Odds Betting Terminal to £2 and "legislate to increase the delay between spins to reduce the addictive nature of the games".
  • Labour would keep the BBC in public hands and uphold its independence. 
  • Channel 4 would be kept in public hands under a Labour Government.
  • The Welsh Language broadcaster S4C would be fully funded.
  • Labour would implement the recommendations from part one of the Leveson Inquiry and also "commence part two which will look into corporate governance failures that allowed the phone hacking scandal to occur" in the first place.
  • A national review into local media and mainstream media would be held under a Labour Government.
  • Ofcom would be given strengthened powers to "better safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership" and have clearer rules in place on ownership credentials needed before you can own a TV station or radio station.
  • Sports club supporters would be given a greater say in how their clubs are run with legislation put forward to create accredited supporters trusts who "are able to appoint and remove at least two club directors and purchase shares when the club changes hands".
  • Sports clubs would be asked to "make rapid improvements" to make venues accessible to fans who have physical disabilities.
  • Labour would ensure the Premier League does invest 5% of its television rights revenue into grassroots clubs and projects to help support the growth of future coaching and player talent and to help improve grassroots facilities. 
  • Labour would "enforce anti-bot legislation" and "implement the recommendations of the Waterson Review" so that fans do have a fair chance of securing tickets to see their sporting heroes. Recommendations include making sure sellers on secondary ticketing platforms fully observe the rules set out in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (providing necessary information such as the face value of the ticket) and ensuring that traders can be contacted by secondary platform operators providing contact details directly to consumers (see more here: 
Lib Dems:
  • The Lib Dems are committed to reducing the "proliferation of betting shops" and capping the maximum amount that can be bet on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2 (same as Labour).
  • The Lib Dems want to ensure that students can still choose to take Arts and creative subjects in the National Curriculum and "remove barriers to pupils studying those subjects" (although no information is given as to what the barriers may be and how they may remove them). 
  • The Lib Dems would support growth in creative industries by continuing to support the Creative Industries Council,  provide tailored industry-specific tax support and provide solutions to address barriers that Creative SMEs face in accessing finance to expand their businesses,. Creative skills would also be promoted.
  • The Lib Dems want to see more modern, flexible forms of patent, copyright and licencing rules.
  • The Lib Dems would maintain free access to museums and galleries.
  • The Lib Dems would encourage football clubs to introduce "Safe Standing" across the board, with the Sports Ground Safety Authority preparing guidance on how best to introduce the policy.
  • The Lib Dems would protect the independence of the BBC as well as setting up a "BBC Licence Fee Commission".
  • The Lib Dems would keep Channel 4 in public hands.
  • The Lib Dems would maintain funding levels for Welsh language broadcasters and respect their editorial independence.
  • All sports and arts funding provided by the National Lottery would be protected.
  • Current Intellectual Property standards would be protected, working with the EU to continue territorial licensing of rights. 
  • The Lib Dems would create "creative enterprise zones" to help regenerate cultural output across the UK.
  • The Lib Dems would "examine the available funding and planning rules for live music venues and the grassroots music sector" with a view to protecting venues from any further closures.
  • The Lib Dems would commence part two of the Leveson Inquiry "as soon as is practicable". 
  • The Lib Dems would order Ofcom to conduct an investigation into UK mainstream media plurality and review the "fit and proper persons test" (like Labour) and see whether "the communications regulator and the Competition and Markets Authority really have the appropriate powers in place to deal with over-concentration of power in the digital economy." 
  • The Conservatives say they want to protect people who are working in the "gig economy" but are awaiting findings from the Taylor Report commissioned to look at changing labour market conditions before they make any firm commitment. 
  • Mobile phone customers will be informed by companies of the date when they have paid off the cost of their handset. 
  • The Conservatives would continue to support S4C because they understand the importance of promoting Welsh language and culture and point out that a Conservative government first protected it.
  • Channel 4 would continue to be publicly owned with the headquarters "being located outside London".
  • The Conservatives would work with "the nation's most eminent museums and galleries to ensure their works and expertise are shared across the country" (does this mean that the Government Art Collection would be made more accessible across the country too?)
  • The Conservatives would "maintain free entry to the permanent collections of our major national museums and galleries". That means local galleries and museums and special collections within major national museums and galleries will still be able to charge an entry fee.
  • The Conservatives would continue to promote British culture around the world by placing the BBC World Service and British Council "on a secure footing" (how much funding would be given to each?)
  • The 2nd phase of the Leveson Inquiry will not take place under a Conservative government.
  • The Conservatives would repeal Section 40 of the Crimes and Courts Act 2014 so that newspapers do not need to pay their opponent's legal costs related to libel and privacy actions even if they win in court if they aren't signed up to an officially-recognised regulator. 
  • The Conservatives would ensure that online content creators are "appropriately rewarded" for the content they put online. 
  • The Conservatives would ensure that most of the funding they provide "is based outside of London" including introducing a "new cultural development fund to use cultural investment to turn round communities" (but there is no idea of how much that fund would be).
  • The Conservatives want to hold a Great Exhibition of the North in 2018 to "help celebrate achievements in innovation, the arts and engineering" (but again no idea of how much it will cost to hold the event).
  • The Conservatives want to help a UK city make a bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 (maybe Cardiff or Belfast?)
  • The Conservatives would "support the development of the new Edinburgh Concert Hall" to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival.

The Arts do get a mention in the manifestos but there are differences between Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives on how they wish to help protect Britain's cultural heritage and expand the creative industries sector in the UK. The Lib Dems talk about protecting all funding for the arts and sport that comes from the National Lottery as well as setting up "creative enterprise zones" in areas across the UK to help creative small and medium sized businesses to grow. I like the idea of a future Government continuing to work closely with the Creative Industries Council and the proposal to bring in industry-specific tax support sounds great in theory. There's also a proposal to help live music venues and grassroots music clubs that will go down well with independent music venue owners. However there's no funding available to help expand Arts provision in primary schools and no real information given on how they would remove barriers to access to the creative industries for aspirational students (for example, would there be specific careers advice services/work experience placements/paid internships to be made available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds or under-represented groups?)

What's very clear from reading the manifestos is that the Conservatives are more than a little weak when it comes to talking about sport. There's no mention of Safe Standing or asking the Premier League to invest in grassroots football or improving the accessibility of venues to help disabled people. To me that's quite a shocking omission. Another aspect of the Conservative manifesto that seems odd to me is the lack of costing given to key policy proposals. For example, voters have no idea how much it will cost to hold a Great Exhibition of the North 2018 and no idea whether funding for existing arts projects would be squeezed to pay for it. Voters certainly do not know how much it'll cost to create the cultural development fund and whether the Great Exhibition of the North would be paid out of that. I guess the idea of helping a UK city make a bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games is a nice one but I wonder whether English cities would get preference or whether Wales or Northern Ireland may be given a chance to take on the bid. The 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games were a great spectacle and residents loved hosting the event. 

Another omission from the Conservative manifesto that warrants attention is that there's no talk about the urgent need to address Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Surely it would be better to reduce the risk of addiction and risk of people falling into debt by reducing the maximum they can bet on a terminal from £100 to £2? There are far too many betting shops on our streets and I agree strongly with the Lib Dem's suggestion that there needs to be a reduction, whether that being capping the number of betting shops that can be on one street or in one town or city. The Tories claim they want to help break the cycle of addiction but put no real policies in place to address it!

Labour have the most policies to offer voters who want to see improvements to Arts funding. There's a clear commitment to introduce a £1bn cultural capital fund and I love the idea of there being a £160m fund to ensure that schools can provide primary school children in England with real access to the Arts without having to worry financially. On top of that, providing tailored careers advice to secondary school and sixth form college students could help expand the horizons of working class students who may never have dreamed of considering a career in gaming or theatre production. Labour's promise of banning unpaid internships could help improve access to the creative industries and creative industry Apprenticeships could become more prevalent as our creative industries continue to expand under a Labour Government. There's also commitments to protect local libraries by stopping local authority budget cuts and undertaking a national review into local and national media, along with the guarantee that the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, looking into unethical media practices will take place. Finally, there is a commitment to try and help small music venues by extending the pub relief business rates scheme and changing planning laws. That's before we even get to the possibility of sports fans having more of a direct say on how their club is run (although I am sceptical of whether allowing them to directly appoint or remove 2 directors is practical or a good thing).

On the positive side, all three parties have committed to a publicly owned BBC (with Labour and the Lib Dems stating it will remain independent) as well as keeping Channel 4 in public hands although the Conservatives want to see the studios move out of London. Channel 4's chief executive David Abraham has said that the Conservatives demand would be "highly damaging to their business model" and diminish their investment in creative industries ( Abraham instead suggested that more commissioning of programmes outside of London would help improve representation, yet Channel 4 already has more than 50% of its original programming coming from outside London. All three parties have also committed to funding S4C, which means that viewers will be able to access Welsh language programming.

Have the parties answered my framework questions?
  1. Will you match funding currently coming from the EU (including EU Social Fund) for community arts projects? I still don't know whether funding levels would kept exactly as they are but there are commitments to creating Arts Funds which may be used to help fund community arts projects.
  2. Will you commit to re-staffing our public libraries and ensuring every library has free computer access for 0-18 year olds? Labour are committed to protecting libraries and upgrading computer services as well as providing Wi-fi access (which I am guessing would be free) whereas the other parties do not mention library services directly in their manifestos.
  3. Will you increase funding to Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council? Labour would directly increase funding to the Arts Council but no idea as of yet whether funding would be made available to the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Lib Dems and Conservative funding doesn't seem directed towards the Councils.
  4. Will you introduce an Arts premium for primary school children in England? Labour would introduce a £160m Arts Premium; the Lib Dems and Conservatives would not. 
  5. Will you recognise the importance of Dance and Art to the secondary school curriculum and ensure that arts materials are available to every state-maintained school in England? Labour wants to reform the EBacc performance measure to potentially include Arts subjects as an option and the Lib Dems want to protect access to Arts and creative subjects on the current National Curriculum. The Conservatives do not mention Arts subjects in their education plans; a glaring oversight. 
Based on the manifesto commitments I've seen and the 5 questions I originally had when it came to the Arts, my vote would go convincingly to Labour. The funding commitments are great and there are innovative ideas to try and help the creative industries to grow across the UK. A "Great Exhibition of the North" may sound like a nice idea from the Tories but there's no costing estimates attached and no idea of what types of arts projects would be included. That and the lack of commitment to reforming gambling and improving Arts access in schools and abandoning the second part of the Leveson Inquiry would be reason enough not to even consider voting for them.