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Creative Industries: North-east

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2022

I will call Julie Elliott to move the motion, and then the Minister to respond. As is the case with 30-minute debates, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the contribution of the creative industries to the North East.

As ever, it is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. Today I will speak about the significance and impact that the arts and cultural sector has on our communities and on the economy and, in particular, the huge benefits that Sunderland has seen from recent developments. Sunderland and the wider north-east has always been a hub for culture and creatives. The recent growth in investment and attention shows just how significant the potential of that sector is, and gives a good indication of where we are headed. The many partnerships that the creative industries have developed in the area over the last few years have boosted the opportunities for jobs, the development of skills, and community engagement, as well as bringing people in from near and far. That benefits the local and regional economy.

The creative industries and cultural sector combined are worth just under £1.5 billion in gross value added to the north-east economy. That shows how much the sector contributes, and, more importantly, how much room there is for growth and how far investment has the potential to go. We have seen a 43% increase in the economic value of the creative industries in the north-east over the last 12 years, since I became a Member of Parliament, and a 10% increase in the cultural sector. That is at a time when the Government have cut council budgets, which has in turn been passed on to the creative and cultural sectors, and the pandemic set the sectors back across the north-east and the country.

There are some 3,500 people employed in the sector in Sunderland, and there are tens of thousands of job opportunities across the north-east. Sunderland is a city that has a creative and cultural sector steeped in history, from historic institutions like the Sunderland Empire—a landmark of the city, dating back to 1907, that welcomes over 300,000 visitors every year and attracts many west end shows—to modern collaborations such as Sunderland Culture.

Sunderland Culture, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, was founded by a collaboration of the University of Sunderland, Sunderland City Council and Sunderland Music Arts and Culture Trust. It has delivered programmes in the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at the National Glass Centre and, most recently, the new Fire Station theatre—the opening of which I had the privilege of attending. It is a stunning auditorium space that has created a home for many of the talented performers of Sunderland. More importantly, it has redeveloped a former fire station, which was a heritage building so has attracted heritage funding. It is beautiful to see that the bars and restaurant attached to the new auditorium are actually the former fire station. The father of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) used to work in that fire station, so it is particularly special when he visits.

The Fire Station theatre has already been host to a range of incredible events, and half of those who have come to visit the venue have been from outside the city. That boosts the local economy by bringing people into the city centre who are going to the bars and restaurants and bringing revenue. In the first four years of its existence, Sunderland Culture can boast that the city has attracted 3.5 million visitors to its venues and programmes. It has helped to host over 1,000 exhibitions, performances and events in the city and online, seen almost 40,000 school visits to cultural venues and had over 150,000 participants of all ages. That is truly an incredible achievement.

The cultural investment in the city does not stop there. We currently have the Sunderland Festival of Light down by the seafront and in Roker park—not the former football ground, but the Victorian park. There are ongoing projects, such as Culture House, a project for learning and creating that will sit in the very centre of the city. Yesterday, we also had a formal announcement of a huge new project in the city. Pallion Engineering announced that it had made a planning application for the development of a huge new production space at Pallion shipyard on the banks of the Wear. This is a sensitive subject for people in Sunderland, as we have a long history of shipbuilding in our city, but the river has changed. Many buildings have been built and the possibility of building ships on our river went when the shipyards were closed by the Government in 1988-89. Tyne and Wear Development Company, which did not need planning permission under the Thatcher and Major Governments, was created. That meant many buildings were built on our riverside, making it impossible to build ships again on our river unless buildings were pulled down. Sadly, although I totally understand the emotion of wanting to bring shipbuilding back to our city, it is not realistically possible. The opportunities in that area with offshore wind and refitting are better placed at our port, a little further down the river.

The building that is the subject of the planning permission application was built in the 1970s and closed in 1989 for building ships, although there has been fabrication work there since then. The history and the new production space are both incredible testaments to the history of our city and its contribution to the world, and also an example of the city’s future. The plans are for 500,000 square feet of creative space, maintaining the existing huge structures, with plans to have the largest covered water studio in the world. That will be a huge thing not just for Sunderland and the north-east, but for the country. There is the potential for creating 1,000 new jobs. Although during the second world war, we were the most productive city in the number of ships built, we can once again be a world leader, with the biggest water studio in the world.

Although developments are in their early stages, the plans are being led by production company Metalwork Pictures USA, Broadwick Live, Pallion Engineering and Kajima Corporation of Japan. This is a great opportunity for regeneration of an area that needs it. It is a great opportunity for the growth of our creative sector and a perfect opportunity for the development of skills and training in the local area. The wheels are already in motion in some of these areas, most notably by the opening last year of Fulwell 73’s new office in the University of Sunderland. An organisation co-founded by Sunderland-born Leo Pearlman, it has produced an incredible list of films, TV series, adverts and music videos, not least the famous Netflix series “Sunderland ’Til I Die” about our beloved football club. It is an incredibly welcome addition to the cultural ecosystem of the city, and forms part of a commitment to upskilling and reskilling in the city. That forms part of a plan to ensure that the sector continues to grow. The transferable nature of skills that have been learned in industry or in apprenticeships over to the creative sector is huge. The latest developments by big production companies provide new opportunities for local people to train and work in the creative industries.

I must also pay tribute to North East Screen, a film agency supporting local productions, helping to drive local talent. It supports incoming productions by connecting companies with crews, filming locations and a host of other north-east creatives, helping to develop the many broadcasting projects coming to the region. Last month, for example, an initiative promoting opportunities for comedy creators was announced, as the first development opportunity of its kind, giving comedy creators in the area the chance to pitch their ideas to the BBC, and gain support in bringing their projects to life. The BBC also announced £25 million investment in the region, drawing on partnerships with local authorities, working together to create growth in skills, talent and creative industry infrastructure.

The importance of public service broadcasting and its commitment to regional programming cannot be overestimated. This is another example of its benefits, in addition to the increased allocation of Arts Council funding for the 2023-26 investment round announced last week. I must at this point praise the commitment to our city from Darren Henley, who is regularly a visitor to our city. In fact, in Select Committee, he has said, “I love Sunderland.”

I believe that the success that we have seen in Sunderland and the wider region and the very good examples of collaboration will be for the benefit of the creative industries as a whole, but there is undoubtedly still much more work to do. Although local partnerships are flourishing and we are finding investment through private initiatives such as the one proposed at Pallion shipyards, per capita investment for Sunderland remains well below that for equivalent cities. There is a long way to go on the levelling up to which the Government are committed, to balance investment across the country.

I would like to ask the Minister today about Government support for skills and training to support the sector in Sunderland, the north-east and, indeed, the wider country. I am aware that there is a cross-over in responsibility between Departments, but I believe that it is the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s responsibility to make the case for the cultural and creative sectors to those other Departments. I look forward to a commitment on that issue from the Minister today, to ensure that the growth is sustained, that local people have access to the new opportunities that my city is gaining and that the benefits of the growth are shared. I also ask the Minister what plans she has to support the growth of the creative industries as a whole in the region, to ensure that schemes that bring vital boosts to the local economy are successful and have the support to be sustainable contributors to local economic growth.

What plans do the Government have to support arts training programmes, and to support young people entering the sector? Reskilling and retraining for those already well versed in skills such as construction and those trained as electricians—accountants are in demand in this area as well—is an extremely valuable resource for the creative sector. We need to look not just at bringing people through school, education, higher education and so on, but at some of those transferable skills that, with small tweaks and small training programmes, could be very effective in this area. The University of Sunderland has done an incredible job, now in collaboration with Fulwell 73, to provide an extremely high-quality training programme for young people, but the number of students starting arts courses has fallen in the last 10 years. That simply must be rectified. The value and contribution, and the potential, of the sector must be recognised.

Covid-related issues are ongoing. Many freelancers in this area of work went on to find other jobs at the height of the pandemic, because they slipped through the net of a lot of the support that was available. They have left the industry and are not coming back. We need, and the Government need, to look to see whether that can be addressed to encourage some of those people back with the opportunities that are available.

Some incredible projects have been launched in Sunderland recently, and there is potential from yesterday’s announcement, but there is still a lot of work to do. I look forward to the Minister getting behind the growth in the region’s drive to grow its creative and cultural sector, and I look forward to hearing what she has to say.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) for securing a really important debate. It is a great opportunity to showcase her tremendous region, and she has very cleverly articulated just how much vibrancy and life the arts can breathe into parts of her city that have previously fallen into disrepair or where there were industries that have declined. I had the pleasure of spending some time with my family on holiday in the north-east not so long ago, and I saw the amazing contribution of heritage and the arts to the vibrancy of the region.

I was glad recently to present to the hon. Lady’s Committee; she is a very engaged member of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. We spoke on local journalism, and I hope to write to the Committee shortly in order to update it on some of the conversations that I have had specifically with the BBC on the local democracy reporting service, which it provides. She is a stalwart supporter of the creative industries, and I am grateful for her passionate campaigning on behalf of the sector but also the place that she represents. I congratulate Sunderland on being chosen as the national e-sports performance campus by British Esports this year. I was really interested in the water studios project that the hon. Lady spoke about. It sounds absolutely incredible, and I am keen to hear more about it as it develops.

The hon. Lady is right to be so supportive of the creative industries. They are an economic powerhouse: they contribute almost £116 billion to the country’s economy and employ more than 2 million people throughout the country. Although the north-east may not have some of the biggest clusters of creative businesses, the sector there employs about 45,000 people and contributes £1.1 billion to the economy. It is built on a foundation of venues big and small, from the Forum music centre in Darlington to the Sage Gateshead in Newcastle. The Government are committed to supporting creative businesses. We supported them through the pandemic, and we are now trying to help them with future growth, because it is such an important sector to the economy.

As the hon. Lady may be aware, we are developing a creative sector vision, and we will set out our 2030 ambitions to drive even more growth and employment in those world-renowned creative industries. At the heart of that vision is £50 million of investment from our Department to drive growth across the country through the Create Growth programme, the UK games fund and the UK global screen fund. In addition, UK Research and Innovation is providing more than £100 million of funding for the Circular Fashion programme, the CoSTAR virtual production infrastructure programme and the Creative Catalyst scheme. Those investments demonstrate our commitment to supporting the industries across the UK.

As the Minister for those industries, I am always looking for new opportunities to encourage growth. On Friday, I announced the six regions that will receive funding from our £17.5 million Create Growth programme. I am pleased to say that that includes the north-east, which will be getting £1.28 million in grant funding. That will allow businesses to access a further £7 million investment fund and support to build local investor networks. Working with Innovate UK, the North of Tyne Combined Authority will collaborate with local and industry partners, including New Writing North, North East Screen, which the hon. Lady mentioned, and Creative UK to develop a bespoke package tailored to the needs of local creative businesses.

The hon. Lady rightly asked about skills. I have been advocating that agenda across the Government, working very closely with the Department for Education. We are lucky that our new Secretary of State has deep experience in the education space.

I am always keen to show that creative careers are a stable and fulfilling choice for young people, contrary to the stereotype that parents might have about them. From directors to designers, cameramen, creative technicians and, as the hon. Lady says, accountants, there are many exciting careers in the creative industries, which can be very lucrative. To target young people from under-represented backgrounds, we will relaunch the Creative Careers programme to raise awareness of the wide range of exciting careers that those industries can offer. I am pleased to say that parts of the north-east are included in our 53 priority areas, where we will be delivering this programme with our industry partner, ScreenSkills.

Getting a new generation of talent into the creative workforce is absolutely vital if we are to mitigate the reported skills gaps and shortages in the sector. A lot of people in the sector speak to me about them regularly. We also recognise the importance of providing opportunities for current workers to upskill and retrain. The hon. Lady spoke about those in the construction industry.

There is a range of technical education pathways available to enhance the skills of the creative workforce, and I am pleased to say that we have been developing a range of new qualifications that will be on the horizon, from creative T-levels in 2023 to creative higher technical qualifications in 2025. They will provide people with high-quality vocational skills training and work experience from the age of 16.

Of course, apprenticeships also play a very important role in upskilling and retraining. There are now five Government-funded apprenticeship pilots under way. We are testing new, more flexible approaches to that training pathway for our industries. It has been a particular challenge to get an apprenticeship that fits the creative industries, which use freelance work, so it can be quite difficult to get the right placements. That includes the northern apprenticeship pilot, which will be trialling 60 flexible apprenticeships across the cultural and creative organisations in the north.

The hon. Lady also spoke about the importance of BBC investment. That supplements what we are doing in the north-east. For instance, as she said, last year the BBC announced investment of £25 million in the north-east, which will support the creation of more jobs and more regionally made independent programmes. The Department recognises that the creative industries in the north-east have an enormous amount to offer, and we are dedicated to nurturing that. She also talked about the importance of public service broadcasters; we are developing a range of reforms to support our PSBs legislatively.

I also pay tribute to the great work of the British Film Institute. Through its delivery of national lottery funding between 2017 and 2022, it has played a really important role in reaching creative businesses and audiences in the north-east, delivering more than £2 million of funding in total. The north-east is just one region benefiting from what is a booming film industry, and it is great to hear some of the examples the hon. Lady has shared with us today.

I am proud and excited to say that creative industries are often at the forefront of innovative technology, with potential applications across the economy. I have recently enjoyed hearing about XR Therapeutics in Gateshead, a company that uses virtual reality to help people to conquer phobias. It was supported by UK Research and Innovation’s healthy ageing challenge to push those immersive technologies in the healthcare sector. By using the latest digital technologies in creative ways, the creative industries are trailblazers in delivering the social, economic and environmental benefits that come from innovation.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s £70 million CoSTAR programme is also open for applications. The programme seeks to support researchers in developing new technologies such as virtual production and many more applications. I very much encourage businesses in the north-east to look at that fantastic opportunity so that they can be much more involved in this cutting-edge work.

I recognise that, as the hon. Lady mentioned, this has not been an easy time for creative businesses. We are still working to recover after the pandemic, and the sector faced particularly difficult challenges. Although some were able to make it into an opportunity for innovation, others were not in a position to do so. The coronavirus job retention scheme did a good job at protecting the vast majority of businesses across the country, supporting just under 60,000 employees in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors. We also supported freelancers directly through the self-employment income support scheme, which received about 312,000 claims from self-employed people in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors.

The Government went above and beyond that, investing in some 5,000 organisations through the culture recovery fund, which supported both commercial and non-commercial organisations, including venues such as the Auxiliary Project Space in Middlesborough. The fund also indirectly supported freelancers by helping to ensure the survival and operations of the organisations with which many freelancers work.

On Friday, DCMS also announced that the Arts Council has kicked off its latest round of long-term investment to help creative industries grow in the regions. I am glad to hear the hon. Lady speak so positively about Darren Henley. We have been working hard to try to spread Arts Council England funding across the regions, and it is great to hear that the hon. Lady’s region has benefited. As she will be aware, we have had new investment in Sunderland Central, with the Arts Council offering annual funding of £230,000 to Southpaw Dance Company and increasing its investment in Sunderland Culture, which runs a number of organisations including the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.

The north-east is undeniably a real hub of activity and I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting the work in her area. The north-east would not be the dynamic, innovative place that it is without advocates like her, in this House and beyond. Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has been an inspiration, working with the combined authority cabinet to develop a £16.5 million programme for the long-term recovery of creative and visitor sectors in Teesside. The pandemic has shown that we need creative content in our lives more than ever, and that brilliant package helped many businesses to survive a very difficult time.

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing forward this debate and providing an opportunity to showcase her fantastic city and all its thriving arts organisations. It is important that we continue to highlight regions like hers that are working hard to make a tremendous difference to people’s lives. The north-east in particular sets a fantastic example for other local authorities in how to support local creative industries. I am also grateful for the opportunity to set out the Government’s extensive programme of support for the arts and creative industries in the north-east and across the country.

Of course, I am aware of how difficult the pandemic was for many creative workers and how it has resulted in some people leaving the sector. We are aware of that, and we are trying to develop ways to get people back because of the severe skills shortage that the hon. Lady has referenced. I truly think, though, that the best way to bring those people back is to generate growth in the industries. That is why we are focusing a lot of our efforts on that, so that people understand the valuable job opportunities there are and the fact that they can have very fulfilling, exciting careers.

That is why, as I have set out in my speech, the Government are investing millions to support creative businesses’ growth ambitions. I firmly believe that these investments, combined with our work with the sector, will develop the right training opportunities and ensure that our creative industries and creative workers are able to thrive. I look forward to continuing to work with partners in the north-east, including the hon. Lady, to support an absolutely fantastic sector and look at further opportunities for creative businesses in the region.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.