A Conversation with Government – Help!

As many of you will know I was lucky enough to be given the title of UK Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year by the British Council in 2008. This has resulted in me being involved in all sorts of opportunities including some recent visits to India and Qatar.

In addition to developing relationships abroad the British Council’s Creative Economy Team have also created regular opportunities for those shortlisted for any of their YCE Awards to get together, debate issues and where possible have access to events many of which have policy makers and politicians present. At these events we are always encouraged to ask questions and get our views across to those who make policy – with the ultimate aim of influencing future and current government policy (it’s worth a try isn’t it?). These are usually pretty sparky sessions as we have usually plenty to say!

Well the latest opportunity is a chance to go to Downing Street next week to talk with senior civil servants (and possibly the odd policy advisor or Minister) in a 90 minute session to tell Government how they can better help creative entrepreneurs and where things are working and where are they failing.

I thought it would be interesting to see what questions you think I should be asking and in general what sort of constructive messages you think this group of policy makers and shapers should hear from creative businesses.

I’m not the only person who has been asked by the British Council to do this but I’m probably the only person from the the West Midlands so if you have ideas of how the government could help creative businesses in the future – leave me some comments and I’ll let you know which points I take with me and how I get on…

I have my own ideas on this but I’d love to go along with a broader understanding of the ideas, struggles and questions that others in the sector have. As you know I go with a music hat on personally but I think some of the issues for music are the same for other ‘creative industries‘. So if you run a creative business and think there is a burning issue I need to be aware of when I walk into Number 10 – let me know!

I’m going next Wednesday so you can suggest ideas right up to that time but ideally I could do with your thoughts by Monday morning (1st March) so I can have time to digest them and take them with me!

15 thoughts on “A Conversation with Government – Help!

  1. Stef Lewandowski says:

    Hi Claire,

    A fantastic opportunity. If I were in your shoes I’d have one thing on my mind – talking about the Digital Economy Bill.

    Whilst it was originally intended to ensure the future prosperity of the UK’s creative industries I’m of the opinion that for the bill to pass would be a retrograde step for all of us, particularly people who work in the music industry.

    It’s a piece of legislation that is based on attempting to secure old business models which by the day are proving less and less relevant. I want to see a UK that thrives on innovation and creativity and that allows for surprising new ideas and ventures to emerge at a time when music is going through an amazing re-think, but I think that it goes against that spirit.

    I’d say to the those at Number 10 that you’ll be meeting – don’t stamp on the music entrepreneurs of the future. We cannot predict the future, but it is clear that there will be massive change and disruption to many business models over coming years, not least music.

    By suggesting legislation be put in place that could limit the ability of the UK’s music entrepreneurs to innovate and try out new ideas we could very well miss out on the next Spotify and see our cultural net worth as a society diminished as a result.

    What we need is more ambition with the government’s plans for our digital economy to support a coming generation of yet more talented, experimental and creative people and for them to have the environment in which to thrive – faster broadband access for all, not a litigious culture where the government will be monitoring our internet connections and turning them off if the way that we distribute our music is out of pace with the law.

    A hundred years ago, if you had asked a musician what they would have thought to a system that would allow anyone in the world to immediately hear and share their music with other people who might like it, rather than having to pay for recordings to be made, and physical copies of them to be shipped to each individual, I’d say that most would have jumped at the idea.

    That’s where we are today, and it’s a huge opportunity for innovation and creativity, but many would hold us back because of vested interests in the way things have been done to date.

    Now is not the time to protect the ideas of the past but to push forward the ideas of the future.

    That’s what I’d hope you’d say, anyway.

  2. Andy says:

    Hi Clare

    Saw your ‘tweet’ RTed. Your Twitter biog was enough to think of this. Don’t know whether you heard PM on Radio 4 on Monday. There was a report near the end from the American Association of Science conference, with studies to back up what many people know already – that learning a musical instrument, and playing music together improves kids’ abilities to learn other things. Not just kids – stroke victims, and other people.

    The report talked to researchers who’ve proved some of this.

    Another aspect of this has a potentially good effect on CO2 emissions – that’s right. If future generations are more enthusiastic about playing, making and buying music – they’re part of an activity that’s not burning much energy. It’s enhancing communities. It’s countering that thing that almost everyone over 40 says – ‘I wish I’d learned a musical instrument when I was young’.

    Finally – ‘consuming’ music, whether live or recorded (connection here to Stef’s comment above) – is the sort of economic activity that’s good for GDP – AND – good for the environment.

    The extract from PM on Monday is here (3.9Mb MP3 format):
    [audio src="http://www.bigbuzzard.co.uk/music/Music4learning-BBC-PM-22Feb2010.mp3" /]

    I’d love it if you managed to persuade some policy makers of this – more music in schools – and not just the campaign to get everyone singing that’s already happening – good though that is, it’s not enough…

    Do I teach the sax? Of course, but that’s hardly the point 🙂

  3. sarahabgee says:

    Great opportunity Clare! I suspect that many of my thoughts will be in line with yours, so won’t go into the ususal stuff about education in schools, need for nationwide high-speed internet access, etc.

    One thing that would be worth flagging is that the issues with the banks lending to SMEs are even worse for creative SMEs as very often the business models are not understood. That doesn’t mean that they are flakey business models, but that banks often can’t see us a part of the service industries. We’ve been very lucky not to need such investment to date, as we’ve chosen to reinvest in the company, but we’ve explored various options and been turned down. How many other £250k turnover and profitable companies have suffered similar fates?

    Good luck!

  4. Nick Dunn says:

    Hi Clare, this is great work and I hope this will be a very useful meeting. I have some ideas that I think would be helpful to business and young people and in summary these are:

    1. Tax credits to people under the age of 25 who are working hard to start their own business.

    2. Passport to Export and other similar schemes should be continued, expanded upon and available to all businesses that are not trading internationally. Some regions are not giving the same international support as others and I do feel this should be even in all parts of the UK.

    3. Young / new businesses and entrepreneurs should be given support. Established businesses should not be able to get grants to keep themsevles going.

    4. All regions would benifit from having business mentors available to any business for one to one advice. In Leicestershire the Creative Industries have a dedicated business mentor and the scheme works well. There is no paper work or no means tests. Its advice when you need it, concentrating on what you need.

    5. For young / start up business, the ability to access subsidised accommodation would be helpful. The scheme in Birmingham that gave new creative businesses free rent for a year is wonderful. For a business going into new accommodation for the first time, a full concession from business rates for a year would be a big help.

    Good luck and enjoy.

  5. Ed King says:

    Hi Clare,

    Its issues that have concerned me and my activities, but as far as supporting the creative industry and it entrepreneurs on a regional basis, I could break it into three:

    1) Heightened efficiency of Council press teams on a national reach

    A partnership with your local Council can add a stamp of authority to a project. Call it endorsement, call it support, even use the dreaded sponsorship moniker if you’re brave enough, as sexy as it can be made to seem you’ll pretty much still be running it on your own. Fine. Good, probably for the best. After all the Council should be too busy making sure my rubbish gets collected on time, and quietly. After all, what are they supposed to know about organising and marketing art and music events?

    But press liaison… I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have a PR team at regional Council houses that work on maintaining strong links with national media. Oh sorry, I mean one that ACTUALLY does this, just to be clear. They’re the government after all, an administration that survives through media profiling, headline policies and carefully orchestrated spi… sorry, campaigns. They’ve got the national contacts, filtering them down to a regional level is an easy and obvious way to empower communities outside the M25.

    It wouldn’t even cost much, I could train a standard SAE/AM to do it, you don’t need Clifford, Freud and Chomsky to manage the brief. For the money that is hemorrhaged on ‘Feel The Heat’ campaigns and brochures about Birmingham that don’t make it further than the Central Library, there’s already enough funds being wasted in someone’s kitty.

    Everybody goes on about publicising Birmingham, Birmingham competing nationally, Birmingham global, well that’s great, and we’ve got enough people, promoters and product to do that. But unless you feed in case studies, event previews, development news, spokespeople and press introductory activity to the national media who’s going to notice, or care, that you’ve got so and so coming to do the first something that some industry has ever done somewhere.

    The flow of information, and therefore the return stream of interest, needs to be maintained. Not by the head of PR, not by a Councillor, by a managed representative who’s sole purpose in the Council is to maintain, I’ll say the key word again, maintain, a fluid link to national press. If BCC opened up their PR budgets, agendas and staff roster I bet you could set it up with what they’ve already got.

    2) Mixed use areas

    The clue is in the title, MIXED use. I don’t need to drag this one out, I can say it in two words; Eastside – Southside.

    In a city that has a vibrant city centre, culture rich suburbs and a passion, history and public mandate supporting the arts, there needs to be a objective team, free from alternative agendas, dealing with issues that arise between operators and developers.

    Not. The. Planning. Department.

    Erm, perhaps, and I’m just throwing it out there, maybe there is a slight outside chance that somewhere a spec of a self interest, a slip of an individual agenda, could possibly, perhaps cloud a planning departments’ autonomy when sensibly addressing regeneration issues that arise, especially with licensed premises. Close ’em all down and you swap an ongoing revenue stream that could be sustained for decades for one rent cheque that will probably bounce and a building that no one wants to live in. Go down to Digbeth, or up to the Jewellery Quarter, throw a stone and you’ll find bricks and mortar to illustrate my point.

    3) Outdoor events

    Clare, I don’t have to tell you about this one. I’m just going to stand behind you and nod my head.

    Independently organised arts events; music, melas, street theatre productions make a city buzz as much as a new Dorothy Perkins or JD Sports shop on the high street, possibly more (in my crazy world anyway). Urban living is not all about consumer spend and development tenders, we need to use our city for more culturally enriching distractions.

    If there is a team supporting grass roots street activity, and working alongside established event organisers to aid and support large scale activity, they need to be given more room to breathe. There could be a lot happening on Birmingham’s streets artswise, let’s stop comparing ourselves with Manchester and Edinburgh and actually put a schedule in place that reflects the city’s cultural ambitions. There’s enough drama, music and art collectives in Birmingham to bring the city centre screaming and kicking to life every weekend.

    It’s not all about shopping. For the love of god there is more to a city than shops.

    And that’s me done, intrinsically selfish but hopefully helpful.

    Good luck at Number 10,

    Ed K

    If you can slip in something about the train line to Moseley…

  6. Nick Booth says:

    Procurement is clumsy. It is a process which would rather allow a major corporation a million pound deal than an innovator and entrepreneur a £25,000 experiment.

    If you want better government and more creativity find new ways to help experimenters experiment – please.

  7. Dave Harte says:

    Nick – Re: Procurement. Dept. for Business Innovation and Skills are trying to address the procurement issue through an initiative called Forward Commitment Procurement which allows for procuring outputs rather than goods. It gives space for companies to R&D. There’s some forward thinking finding its way into procurement locally around this. One to watch/lobby on.

    Clare: I think the government did something really worthwhile with ‘Creative Britain’ (strategy paper published March 2008). Basically it talked to the creative industries over a period of 3 years and then published a document full of really positive stuff (initiatives, funding opps etc.). It had actually planned to publish a white paper that would lead to legislation but it clearly realised that in general, the creative industries were doing good stuff, getting on with it and partly, left well alone.

    With Digital Britain it seems that the consultation has been less wide due to the rush to publication (announced Sept 2008, published only 9 months later). Consultees were more corporate, less grassroots. The result is the heavy hand of legislation rather than a more nuanced approach that might have identified those areas where legislation could rightly offer protection to livelihoods, and those where legislation will kill innovation stone dead.

    When Lord Carter came to Brum last June he understood the issues around copyright; that there were no easy answers. Where he was talking nuance, Mandelson can only think sledgehammer.

    So if there is a single message then it’s to look back on how they have been treating Creative Industries up to this point. As a sector well able to sort out its own issues rather than need the heavy hand of government to sort it out.

  8. Norman Perrin says:

    Thank you for the opportunity to add a thought Clare. Good luck with your meeting.

    For young people with learning disabilities, there are huge barriers to both “employment” and being an “entrepreneur” (of any kind) – especially the ‘target outputs’ nature of much funding.

    I would urge the Government to look to “micro-enterprise” to engage this very excluded group to become economically and socially active.

    Be glad to comment further – if anyone in Downing Street were seriously interested.

  9. Maya says:

    My suggestions:

    Digital Economy Bill – do they really believe this encourages the growth and sustainability of Creative Businesses – many would argue it has the opposite effect.

    Copyright of publicly paid for content – this should be easily accessible and reusable by the public who have funded it. Use of more permissive copyright licences such as the Creative Commons licences which would encourage greater creativity by allowing legal remixing of content should be adopted for publicly funded content.

    Greater clarity and simplification of copyright law as applicable to digital content is urgently needed.

    More awareness raising about rights and obligations under copyright laws as it applies to the digital context is needed. Greater awareness of Creative Commons licences as a means for the copyright holder to exercise their copyright should be encouraged and facilitated.

    They need to address the lack of understanding of the Creative Industry business models amongst the “purse holders” of public funds and traditonal lenders such as banks

    There is large scale unfair competition from public sector spin offs and “special purpose vehicle” organisations
    where organisations such as RDAs & local authorities syphon monies into these to deliver projects instead of adopting normal procurement and competitive tenders. Often SMEs from the creative industries would deliver these projects to a higher standard, more cost effectively, whilst addressing sustainability but are denied the opportunity as the public sector bodies appear to be more concerned with getting money out of the door rather than ensuring value for money for public funds. Creative businesses are seriously disadvantaged by this practice.

  10. Robin Valk says:

    Hi Clare

    This is thrilling, and I am deeply impressed and pleased for you.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve just worked through my first ever funding application process, and it was an education. Judging by my experience, and those of friends and colleagues who have been down this path many times, I would say that there is a disconnect between many aspiring aid/grant applicants and the people on the ‘other side’, the gatekeepers and dispensers of aid. And sometimes it is so wide that it can not be bridged.

    I’d like to see this disconnect resolved, of course. It alarms me. Probably the best way to work towards this is for each side to try to understand the motives of the other. By the way, if I am talking about the blindingly obvious here, if this is already a matter of concern, then please excuse me – as I said, I’ve only just come through the whole process for the first time. I am sure that many people will agree that this can be a very emotive process.

    There is a skill to writing a compelling application. Not all of us have this. Some of us, of course, will become better creatively for working through the discipline of framing an application document the ‘correct’ way. Others will benefit from viewing their project through different eyes.

    The big danger is that the struggling newbie, who may have an artistic vision of beauty and great creativity, will not have the skills to correctly frame their application. So they fail, and give up.

    Many of our Arts gatekeepers do take the responsibility of guiding applicants patiently through the bid process. I benefited, certainly. But gatekeepers are only human, and strictly speaking, I don’t think it’s their job to teach people how to apply.

    So there is a danger: the better you are at writing applications, and the more practice you have, the greater your chances seem to be .

    Is this the right way to do things? I’m not saying that it is wrong to dispense repeat funding to the same organisations. Nor am I saying that getting support should become any easier – there is not enough funding as it is, and frankly, we are in a competitive world. I’m just saying that we run the risk of losing some of our best creative talent at the very start of their careers, and I don’t see a solution.

  11. Adrian says:

    Hi Clare,

    As a photographer the burning and potentially hugely destructive issue of the “Digital Economy Bill” would be top of my list, as mentioned by Stef an Maya in their comments.

    If this bill goes through it would defiantly have a massive affect on pro photographers and amateurs alike, meaning the end of photography as a profession……if that all sounds a bit dramatic then take a look at the link.


  12. Jon Morley says:

    Hi Clare,

    As someone working within the “BME” arts community in Birmingham, one of the most multicultural cities in the UK, I’m perturbed at the almost total lack of references in the Arts Council’s current consultation document to concepts like diversity, ethnicity, multiculturalism and community cohesion. We’re talking, like, 2 or 3 mentions of “diversity” in the entire 40pp document – “carbon footprint” has more of a presence. Is this not something of a u-turn? What are the policymakers and politicians planning to do for Black and Asian communities?

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