Opinion: Lara Carmona – the Spring Budget 2024 and the Beautiful Game

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By Lara Carmona, Director of Policy and Engagement at Creative UK

Let me set the scene. Smack in the middle of the biggest political day of the year in the UK (so far), we’re hosting our Big Creative UK Summit. We’ve got the UK Government’s Culture Secretary, Lucy Frazer KC MP – and the Shadow Culture Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire MP, in the room with us. It’s just weeks since we again met with the Treasury.  

The tension is real – and when the Budget is finally announced, the outcome is largely positive (in certain areas). The challenge, then, is how we respond next. 

The Cultural and Creative Industries have become much stronger at speaking with one voice. But we need our voice to be heard by those outside of our own bubble. So, in this blog, I’m trying something new. I’ve been kicking around metaphors – a powerful way to convey important ideas to new audiences.  

Football is one of most popular games in the world, with at least 40% of the UK population watching. And while I’m not the most learned lover of the beautiful game, I’ve been thinking about how the days after any UK Government Budget always feels like the aftermath of a long-awaited Premier League title race.  

Months of anticipation. Thousands of hours of preparation. One wild frenzied moment on the edge of your seat, millions watching. Squeaky bum time. Here in the stands (aka, glued to devices), my Creative UK colleagues and I spent the last 48 hours on the phone, watching the replays, picking apart moment by moment.  

Well sports fans, the results are in. And it turns out this Budget had some good news for the creative economy. We saw the tightening of a handful of fiscal measures that will stimulate growth in film, TV and visual effects. By making Theatre Tax Relief permanent, the live performance sector has clarity on a cliff edge that was fast looming. Orchestras, museums and galleries are given some certainty. Poorly designed criteria on high-net-worth investors have been dropped. 

Moves to increase devolved power, to introduce greater flexibility in pension investment, to stimulate regional growth – these are all actions thousands of organisations have been clamouring for and will have a knock-on positive effect on our sector. So, to see support for independent film baked in and touring productions referred to as of ‘vital importance to our national life’ was cheering. Our team – and our fans – are being heard in some ways. 

Yet while the Cultural and Creative Industries are a key player in our economy, without a risk-taking strategy in place for the next season, we’re in danger of scoring more own goals. 

We stimulate massive growth – £126bn in GVA estimated for last year. We employ 2.5 million people. Our pace is outstripping so many other sectors. We underpin so much in the economy. And yet to our industries – music, advertising, architecture, fashion, theatre, museums and more – small wins often feel like small change. No one yet seems to fully grasp that we’re one team. 

We go into a new season with a little bit of hope. But there is so much more work to do to drive forward the transformative change that will really unlock the growth potential we have. There is little disagreement from those paying attention that we need radical interventions on how the levels and flows of funding come into and move across the creative economy. We have solid evidence about what works in innovative finance, and yet there is a major issue with access to finance for most creative organisations and businesses. That we’re not able to leverage public investment to trigger private investment at the scale we know is needed is like having your best player benched indefinitely. 

The best football academy pipelines are a key feature of great teams – and our team is no different. The most critical early-stage interventions are in people, and ideas. Which is why every time Creative UK receives news of yet another UK-based organisation having to flog equity and intellectual property elsewhere because they can’t raise sufficient development capital in the UK, it hurts. Like many teams, we are watching our rising stars being sold too early to leagues in the US, China and Europe, currently resigning our team to the lower league. 

The Spring Budget moved us up the field. But we’re not there yet. It’s fair to say that we have yet to see the kind of coherent financial plan that really understands how central the cultural and creative industries are to our economic prosperity, our national resilience and our place in the world. The next big money moment – whichever UK Government leads its direction – shouldn’t keep us in second division any longer.  

Because this is anything but a game.

You can also read Creative UK responds to the Spring Budget 2024, by Caroline Norbury OBE, Chief Executive of Creative UK.

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