By Ed Vaizey
Minister of state for culture and the digital economy
Our creative industries are one of the success stories in recent years.
The numbers of people working in our film, TV, fashion, design and computer gaming industries is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the economy.
So it ought to follow that Britain’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are part of this success story. Disappointingly, though, this has not been the case.
Lenny Henry made the dispiriting point, back in 2013, that although the TV and film industries here were employing more and more people, a closer look at the statistics revealed that the BAME part of the workforce was shrinking.
I found this very depressing. It seemed to me obvious that the success of box-office smash hits such as Bend It Like Beckham and Slumdog Millionaire, the on-screen success of actors like Archie Panjabi, Dev Patel and Naveen Andrews, and the behind-the-camera work of Gurinder Chadha and Sanjeev Bhaskar, would translate into a surge in employment for people from BAME communities more widely.
But what Lenny Henry said – and his call for something to be done to redress this imbalance – struck a special chord for me. I had seen him on stage in a number of productions and noticed that the audience he attracted was different. It seems an obvious point to make, but audiences want to see performances and productions where the actors on stage reflect the country that we live in.
After seeing Lenny on stage, and reading what he had to say, I asked him to come in to talk through the issues and suggest what we in government could do to make things better. Following that meeting, we held the first of several round tables to talk about the issues. And it was clear that people wanted to see action.
This all happened a year or so ago and you will not be surprised to hear that what we are doing is very much “work in progress”. But we do now have the attention of the industry and what looks like genuine engagement from the top to putting things right.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the regulator Ofcom are working together for the first time ever to produce guidance and best practice that will help the television industry understand what it can do within the existing equality legislation to encourage more BAME representation.
And I’m very pleased that the latest figures for the creative industries, as a whole, are starting to tell a very positive story. In terms of overall employment and value of exports, these industries are continuing to flourish. As far as employment goes, the sector is growing at twice the rate of the rest of UK industry, with 1.8 million people employed, a figure which is itself 16 per cent more than was the case in 2011. Better yet, the proportion of that total coming from the BAME communities has increased – to 11 per cent – which is the same level as for industry as a whole.
I recognise this is only the start, and I certainly do not intend to let go of this agenda. What’s been achieved so far is good news for BAME communities, great news for our Conservative long-term economic plan, and wonderful news for Britain itself. And the fact that the black, Asian and minority ethnic section of our population is taking an increasing share – and doing so on the basis of a voluntary drive from industry, not imposed quotas – seems especially satisfying.
I’ve put the focus in this piece on film and TV because those are the areas with perhaps the highest profile, and where the success – or failure – of our efforts is going to be most obvious.
But the creative industries are much broader than that. Theatre, music, fashion design, computer graphics, video games and all the other sectors where imagination and innovation are at a premium are in the mix, too.
The thing that’s crystal-clear to me, however, is that there is talent in all these areas from every part of our communities. We’re fantastically good at them and, thanks to our success in these branches of the creative industries, we now have a national reputation – and a business infrastructure – that will make it easier for all our home-grown talent to succeed.