Creative industries vital to Sunderland and UK economy - but education system is letting them down, claims Sunderland MP

Julie Elliott MP
Julie Elliott MP
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The Government must protect Britain's status as a "world hub" for creative industries by ensuring arts subjects are not "sidelined" in schools, a Sunderland MP has urged.

Julie Elliott, who represents Sunderland Central, led a debate on the issue in Parliament, highlighting the role Sunderland has to play in the nation's cultural economy.

From West End shows at the Sunderland Empire and gigs at the Stadium of Light, to the revamp of Sunderland's old fire station as a cultural hub and a raft of creative and cultural activities, Wearside is abuzz with the arts.

It is also bidding to be City of Culture in 2021.

Nationally, the creative industries were worth £84.1billion to the UK in 2014, while growth in the sector has outstripped that of the economy as a whole. There were just shy of two million jobs in the creative industries in the UK in 2015, up by almost 20% since 2011.

But Ms Elliott has suggested that in order for that prosperity to continue, the Government must make sure the arts are not neglected in the education system.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, she described the UK as a "world hub for the creative industries" and praised them for showcasing the "best of our country" and for being "outward looking, innovative and successful".

She also pointed out that more than 60% of jobs in and around the creative sector are skilled to degree level or above.

"It's therefore highly concerning that the University of Sunderland in my constituency has reported that there has been a reduction in the number of applications that they have received from students wishing to study arts, culture and creative subjects," she said.

"Last month Ofqual announced that entries for GCSEs in arts subjects have fallen by 46,000 this year compared with 2015."

Tory former culture secretary Maria Miller intervened to stress that it is not only arts graduates who contribute to the creative industries.

Ms Elliott accepted the point and said: "But it is a worrying sign that creative applications have gone down.

"I would sincerely hope that the Government will act to promote creative subjects at GCSE, A-Level and BTEC and champion the many universities that offer thriving creative programmes."

She later said: "In order for the creative industries to continue to thrive we need to ensure that creative subjects are not sidelined in our schools and that our universities continue to aid students' creative development."

Chris White, the Tory MP for Warwick and Leamington, echoed a similar sentiment as he said skilled people will be needed to maintain the high levels of growth in the sector.

He said: "We must not allow a skills gap to be created in this sector.

"Whether it's from the primary school level through to our colleges and universities I urge for a nurturing of creative talent to allow the UK to become renowned internationally as the place to do business in the creative sphere."

He also bemoaned the fact that investment in arts and culture in the UK is below the European Union average.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, however, rejected suggestions that arts education is being excluded from schools.

He said: "I think that people think an increase in focus on science and technology, which has perhaps not been as strong as it could have been over the last few years, somehow means that the arts must suffer.

"Actually, no-one is stopping a headteacher from focusing on the arts and culture - indeed, I'd encourage it."

On the EU, Mr Vaizey said a senior official from his department has been seconded to the Government's Brexit unit.

He told MPs: "We must make sure that in a Brexit world that we work with the arts and creative industries.

"They are the calling cards of this fantastic country and we must ensure that they're part of the debate, we must ensure they have a voice in a practical way."

A motion noting the Commons had considered support for the UK's creative industries and its economic contribution was passed unopposed.