Westminster Media Forum policy conference notes: Next steps for funding in the creative industries

19th April 2022

“acute skills crisis” … “the sector is on its knees” … “exodus of talent”… “severely depleted workforce”

These are just some of the alarming comments made in policy discussions and keynotes about funding for the creative industries that included the following panels: Maximising the role of the creative industries in local economic growth and wider social benefits for communities, and linking with the levelling up agenda; Skills development, innovation, long-term investment and positioning the creative industries for the future.


Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), UKRI

Caroline Norbury, CEO at Creative UK

Ben Walmsley, Professor of Cultural Engagement at the University of Leeds and Director, Centre for Cultural Value (CVA)

Francesca Sanderson, Director, Arts Investments and Programmes, NESTA

Mark Davyd, Chief Executive Officer, Music Venue Trust

Alison McKenzie-Folan, Chief Executive, Wigan Council

Horace Trubridge, Senior Executive Officer, Musicians’ Union

Mark Leaver, Impact & Partnerships Lead, MyWorld Bristol

Eva Rez, Investment Manager, Edge

Seetha Kumar, Chief Executive, ScreenSkills

Vicky Ireland, Chair, Action for Children’s Arts

Phil McKenzie, Chief Operating Officer, Goldfinch

Gerwyn Evans, Deputy Director, Creative Wales Greg Thompson, Researcher, Westminster Forum Projects


Caroline Norbury, made three key recommendations in considering opportunities, challenges and priorities for the future:

  • Get creative subjects back into the core curriculum
    • Advocate confidently as a manifesto issue
    • One size does not fit all. Increase apprenticeship and other on-the-job pathways which positively impact inclusion and diversity of the sector
  • Establish a UK wide Creative Industries Investment Bank & Creative RnD Tax Credit
    • Creative enterprises are less likely to be able to access finance. There are only very few specialist creative industries investment funds. Need to widen access for start-ups and new ideas.
    • Calling for wholesale investment in the sector and finance structure
    • Offering a suite of products to cater to different stages of the growth journey
    • Ref. model for Big Society Capital
    • Opening opportunities to ‘mingle capital at infrastructure level’
  • Establish a Future Workforce Commission
    • A compact between: big business; government and workforce
    • Develop adequate safety net for freelancers

Professor Ben Walmsley, considered what the ingredients of a successful cultural ecosystem are in his keynote about the Centre for Cultural Value’s extensive assessment of impact and implementation of the Cultural Recovery Fund are, with the following key points made:

  • Cultural strategy and infrastructure – providing a mandate for culture.
    • During Covid, areas with pre-existing strategies and networked infrastructure fared better e.g., to collaborate over funding.
  • Learning from good practice. Sharing good practice from Council to Council.
    • Addressing issues of dissemination and infrastructure
  • Strategic redistribution. Ref. Levelling Up. Must be targeted and timely.
    • Not just cutting funding in London e.g., National Theatre to take 15% cut when it is working across the nation.
  • Holistic, systemic approach
    • Centre for Cultural Value is investing in a living archive of qualitative evaluation. Multi-media and people-centred, with voices of lived experience.
  • Update the Social Security System
    • So better able to support freelancers. Too many fell through the gaps of the Cultural Recovery Fund

Concluding the conference, Professor Christopher Smith, reflected on next steps and priorities for R&D funding, suggesting that these should be closely informed by the growth model of a creative business. He also noted three interlinked values arising from conference discussion: People and Skills; Place; Co-creation.

People & Skills

Freelancers are a third of the creative industries workforce (sixteenth of whole workforce).

  • Freelancing is a desired and necessary status to meet the reality of employment by multiple engagers. It enables agility and responsiveness.
  • The profound precarity of freelance status was revealed by Covid
  • The UK social security system doesn’t adequately serve the needs of freelancers. A radical overhaul is needed, France and Germany were referenced as having better models. Also, Margaret Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme & New Labour’s New Deal for Musicians better were referenced as better.

Talent pipeline. We need to better understand and define the talent needs of the future in order to sustain growth.

  • Big challenge is the security of sustained investment
  • Consider whole pipeline from early years education (VI)
    • 2020 survey reveals British children significantly more unhappy than European children
    • More emphasis on imaginative play and healing rather than testing and ‘catching up’ after Covid
  • Creative industries need general creative skills e.g., problem solving, inter-disciplinarity – alongside vocational/ technology enabled skills. “Skills specific and discipline agnostic” (CS)
  • Certain skills come only with “getting hands dirty”, which is why e.g., film industry tends to hire based on previous production experience (PMc)

Mismatch between what is taught at universities and what industry needs

  • CS noted a nervousness around provision of creative subjects at Uni level, not just secondary school
  • CN calls for Universities to better join up with creative businesses and across sectors, referencing the ‘communities of interest’ model in Creative UK roundtables
  • Creative Industries can do more to showcase the range of employment opportunities to the education sector, e.g., not just immediately creative roles
  • Universities can do more to support better digital delivery and its commercialisation (SK)

Mentoring. A clear appetite for more mentoring was noted by several contributors.

Horace Trubridge referenced New Labour’s New Deal for Musicians in ‘90’s for its mentoring scheme, which was helpful in bringing new talent through and making sure existing talent can stay in business.

Film and TV. Phil McKenzie explained that investment has dropped after a period of boom. UK independent companies are at risk and the industry is in danger of becoming a servicing industry for productions incoming to the UK.

  • More favourable fiscal structures would encourage investors back in
  • More opportunities could be opened for incoming productions to use UK talent
  • A key advantage of UK indy companies is that they are more diverse and agile

Edge Investment is a specialist investor in category-defining creative teams & emerging technologies. Value driven – to “facilitate social mobility” (ER).

  • Education & Skills is one of three ‘buckets’ of investment offered by Edge
  • Edge Investments is investing in start-ups and SMEs to have a role in development of the digital metaverse, not just as content providers

Ben Walmsley called for an end to models of over-production. Do less better/ more equitably.

The role of intermediary community organisations in helping to resource start-up ideas and develop creative skills at grass-roots level was noted, e.g., MyWorld, Bristol facilitates access to training and skills within the creative hub.


Studies show culture is driving people back to town centres, acting as a catalyst for revitalisation.

Christopher Smith spotlighted the Creative Industries Clusters Programme to learn how to live well in our places.

  • Successful in enabling alignment of creative sector projects with national and local government agendas, e.g., Levelling Up
  • The Clusters programme is urban, and attention is needed towards creating networks across rural and coastal towns
  • Clusters are beneficial in attracting investment
  • Link: RnD funding; local need; investment

MyWorld, Bristol is a UKRI creative hub for screen-based media

  • Building ecosystems around the new business models they want to create and to effect local economic impact
  • Create a community that enables access to tech and services for SMEs
  • Their RnD framework, ‘Creative Continuum’, shows how process of investment is not linear

‘Intangibility’ of what the creative industries do is said to be problematic. Christopher Smith calls for this narrative to be flipped.

  • Champion support for intangibles such as the creation of conducive environments and methodology rather than objects and things. RnD supports ideas. Shift focus from achieving certain outputs to how environments can be created and sustained in which ideas can flourish – what kind of places, people, projects do we need to support building a better society.
  • Arts are instructive in the interconnection of systems. There are too many zero fund games. We need to think across systems in funding.
  • Notion of regeneration can be helpful to change narrative


The importance of co-creation, collaboration and co-production chimed across several contributions. Eva Rez from Edge Investment noted that, ‘facilitation of collaboration’ is one of three ‘buckets’ of investment that they offer. Mark Leaver from MyWorld, Bristol cited co-production as essential to its story of impact, most specifically as a means of audience engagement. Francesca Sanderson, Director of Arts Investments and Programmes at NESTA said that community engagement is at the heart of proposals to the Arts Impact Fund.

Wigan Council bought a shopping centre and worked closely with the local creative sector (and Arts Council) to pilot a ‘Creative Improvement District’ linking to Community Wealth Building agendas – giving rehearsal spaces, start-up support etc. and with a focus on youth access to culture.

To mitigate the negative impacts of short-term music venue tenancies, The Music Venue Trust is setting up a ‘Smart Investment’ model, based on the Community Shares model, to purchase property freeholds and offer back to landlords with friendly rents and long-term leases.

  • Music venues offer an instructive view of cultural ecosystem
  • 90% of venue managers are operating on short-term tenant leases
    • Preventing long-term investment e.g., to adapt to climate change or accessibility needs.
    • Most of the Culture Recovery Funds went to the landlords

Influencing Policy Notes

Throughout the conference, pointers were given for policy change.

  • Cultural Recovery Funding went to where it had always gone, raising issues of equity
  • The “persistent scepticism of government” was noted, including negative attitudes to creative freelancers e.g., tax dodgers
  • DCMS is recipient of ideas but do not join these up beyond the department e.g., with Levelling Up agenda, a problem which is enhanced by churn of Secretaries of State
  • There is a current window of opportunity for political vision
  • The challenges of adequately telling a complex place-based impact story were noted
  • The Community Ownership Fund could be opened up to benefit cultural venues

Calls for research

Several specific calls for research were also made –

  • to better understand ‘creative skills’ (SK)
  • to better understand how creative industries connect across other industries (creativity is a horizontal not just vertical value) (CN)
  • to map the significance of freelancers to the Creative Industries

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