Thangam Debbonaire MP
Thangam Debbonaire MP

[Delivered on 11th March 2024]

This evening I will be telling a positive economic story, one that is about commercial growth and success alongside community benefit—a strong story of what Labour does in power in partnership with the private sector—but let me say first that there can be no avoiding the catastrophe that is this Budget and, indeed, this Government for the people of Bristol and for the whole country. A record low for living standards, GDP per capita lower since the Prime Minister took office, debt tripled—nothing in the Budget will change any of that.

As we have heard from Members including my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western), for West Lancashire (Ashley Dalton) and for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), everything is broken. Working people are struggling under the cost of living crisis, public services are in turmoil, crime is making our streets unsafe, housing costs are high, mortgages are rising and homelessness is increasing as a direct result of Government actions.

My constituents—our constituents—are living through this, experiencing rising rents and soaring food prices because of the shambles that is this Government. Their failure to take responsibility almost beggars belief. Had we not lost nearly two decades of wage growth, the average worker would have been £1,400 better off in 2023 than in 2008, not according to me but according to the Resolution Foundation. Just imagine what families up and down the country might have done with that money, but could not. Imagine the holidays they have not taken, the shows they have not seen, the matches they have not been in the stands for—the joy that we have collectively missed out on. However, it does not have to be like this.

Culture and sport are part of what makes life worth living. In the UK we sing spectacular songs, write spell-binding stories and make first-rate films. Our remarkable architecture gives us a sense of place, heritage and history, and our games industry immerses us in worlds of the future and the past through frontier technologies. International companies base themselves here so that their staff can enjoy the UK’s rich and diverse cultural scene. Everyone, everywhere in the country, has some stake in culture and sport, whether it is the first song at their wedding or getting caught up in the drama of watching the Lionesses play in a World cup final. My colleagues from different parts of the country have highlighted the importance of music venues, and I thank them for that.

Culture and sport bring us joy, and they bring us together. Culture, sport and media also have a significant contribution to make to the health and economic growth of our great nation. I have seen that when campaigning for and visiting Labour’s candidates—Keir Cozens in Great Yarmouth, Heidi Alexander and Will Stone in Swindon, Jayne Kirkham in Truro and Falmouth, and Josh Fenton-Glynn in Calder Valley. Labour parliamentary candidates have shown me around their cultural and sporting organisations. They really get this. They are already champions in their communities. Simon Opher in Stroud, Catherine Fookes in Monmouthshire, Rachel Blake in Westminster and Claire Hazelgrove in Filton and Bradley Stoke, as well as so many others, have talked to me with passion and knowledge about what they see as the detrimental effects of 14 years of Tory rule: Government cuts to playing fields, local venues, local charities and youth services. I cannot wait to see those candidates in this place, standing up for their communities.

On this side of the House, we know that culture, media and sport are economic powerhouses. If they are given true champions, as all our candidates would be, these industries can still soar higher. For example, the creative industries are already worth £125 billion to our economy. They are a major employer, supporting 2.5 million jobs across the UK. The Edinburgh Fringe is worth about £1 billion to Scotland. The English premier league and its clubs contributed £8 billion to the UK economy in 2021-22, and accounted for broadcast exports of

£1.4 billion in 2019-20—to say nothing of its soft power abroad. Our public service broadcasters—the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, S4C and Channel 5—invested £2.9 billion in new UK-based content in 2023, despite cuts from the Conservative party. The video game industry in Dundee has brought with it a 57% increase in productivity in the city. Imagine that, or even just a fraction of it, across this country—what we could do.

The 16 major sporting events supported by UK Sport in 2023 generated £373 million in direct economic impact. The UK won 226 medals at those events, which included the first ever blind football world championships for women. Film making in Northern Ireland pumped £330 million directly into the regional economy between 2018 and 2022. Basketball in the UK is already experiencing unprecedented growth: the British basketball league has seen a 200% increase in viewership and sells out arenas. Audiovisual media in Cardiff has an annual turnover of over £540 million across more than 1,300 firms, and it is to Cardiff that I want to take us today with a story.

In 2015, Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner launched Bad Wolf, which I visited last week. I got to step inside the TARDIS, which is really cool. The prelude to this story is a decision taken in 2005 by those same women. While working at the BBC, Jane and Julie took the decision to produce the newly rebooted “Doctor Who” in Cardiff, which changed Wales. Cardiff University researchers have pinpointed that decision as the moment when south Wales’s creative cluster shifted to world-recognised excellence. It paved the way for the first purpose-built drama studio in Wales and a BBC broadcasting hub in Cardiff, with multiple UK and international creative companies choosing to base themselves in south Wales, but I am giving away the ending to the story.

In 2015, 10 years after the decision about “Doctor Who”, Julie and Jane set out to start their own company. They wanted it to be based in Wales, because they knew the place, trusted the crews and knew that traditional investors did not have the same level of trust. Private investment is usually contingent on a company being based closer to traditional production centres such as London or Los Angeles, but they were committed to Wales because it made good business sense and because they saw an opportunity to be transformational for communities. Julie and Jane could create job opportunities that span generations, and give south Wales a local economy that it could be proud of and rely on for the first time since the mines closed, so they partnered with Wales’s Labour Government to set up in Cardiff. Poetically, they used the site of a defunct factory that previously manufactured glass tubes for televisions.

Wales’s Labour Government and Bad Wolf then built on their partnership to create Wolf Studios Wales. The aim was to expand Welsh production capacity to help continue to achieve cinematic production values on television budgets, which they have most definitely achieved. They ensure that production is consistent across the year, offering job security and career development across careers. In the five years between 2015 and 2020, Bad Wolf spent £121 million in Wales and generated £114 million of gross value added for the Welsh economy. In that five-year period, the company employed 3,405 people in some of the highest-paid jobs in the country. It has sustainability and circular economy principles at the heart of its business, broadening access to careers in the creative industries through its training programmes with Screen Alliance Wales. Bad Wolf has been a magnet for many kinds of company, from special effects to logistics, and 38% of local suppliers have felt confident to relocate or locate to south Wales because it is there.

Bad Wolf has also brought joy to millions of us. “Doctor Who”, “A Discovery of Witches”, “Industry” and “His Dark Materials” are all down to that incredible team, but the Labour Government in Wales played a pivotal role. The reason I tell this story in some detail is because that is what we could do across the country with real champions and partnerships between a Labour Government, the private sector and creative people. People make art; Governments do not. But what the Welsh Labour Government did in this case was to support an environment where creative people and businesses could thrive, and in doing so they brought jobs and economic development to Wales. That meant bringing the TARDIS, the city of Cittàgazze, the sonic screwdriver and Canary Wharf into the heart of south Wales.

Great things start with stories, whether they are dreamed up or played out on the pitch. Great drama is unsurpassable—one of our key strengths in this country. Instead of fluctuating between ignoring, denigrating and occasionally recognising our world-leading cultural and sporting institutions, as the Conservatives do, a Labour Government would celebrate them. A Labour Government would work in partnership with them to support their growth and the great jobs that that growth would bring. We want British fashion, theatre, sports, architecture, journalism, gaming and publishing to enjoy a decade of national renewal and growth so that they can do even more for British workers and audiences.

The Government try to make this look like a giveaway Budget for the creative industries, but continuations of what already exists—glad as I am to see them—and one-off capital injections are not a panacea. They do not make up for the last 14 years and they do not come close to making up for soaring energy bills and high inflation. Uncertainty, instability and economic mismanagement have made the UK less attractive for investment.

The Government treat arts, culture, sport, media and the creative industries with disdain, and there is no better illustration of this than the fact that there have been 13 Secretaries of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 14 years. That is the highest turnover of any Cabinet-level post, which for this Government is really saying something. The now Chancellor is the only one who made it over the two-year mark, and the right hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) did not even make it to six months. Another Secretary of State was the former Member for Mid Bedfordshire, who after making frankly wild statements, disappeared and left the next two postholders to try to roll back her decisions. Her irresponsible decision to sell off Channel 4 was stopped, but she fractured the relationship between Government and the creative industries, and it will take so much longer to heal than it did to break.

The Government have consistently failed to recognise and realise the growth potential of the creative industries and of sport. They have prevaricated over bringing forward the football governance Bill, which has been lost down the back of the governmental sofa, thereby failing to put football fans first and support the beautiful game. On their watch, local journalism has declined, reducing the ability of our media sometimes to call us out but always to scrutinise us, and their half-hearted attempts to protect creators in a changing technological landscape have largely disintegrated. In tolerating this litany of failure, the Conservatives and the Prime Minister are failing to grasp the opportunities for growth.

Part of that growth will involve harnessing the power of AI and other new technologies. Labour believes in both human-centred creativity and the potential of AI to unlock new frontiers. Copyright and intellectual property rights are how we protect the raw materials of the creative industries—creative output and imagination—and we will support, maintain and promote the UK’s strong copyright regime, including in trade deals with other countries.

While the Conservatives are in power the cultural life of this country gets hollowed out because elitism does not bother them, but as my hon. Friends have said, there is no reason why a young person born in the poorest part of this country should be any less capable or have any less potential than those born in the richest parts. The investment that Jane and Julie made in Bad Wolf was followed up with time, investment, teaching and engagement with young people to show them that there were exciting well-paid jobs on their doorstep and beyond and to make them feel part of this. Today my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) showed that we will put this into practice at school with subjects such as music, art, sport and drama, which help to build confidence, communication skills, critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork.

Creativity and physical activity are not optional. They are essential. They bring us joy, and it is joy that makes life worth living. Everyone, everywhere should be able to share in that joy, and a Labour Government will foster a decade of national renewal with art, sport and creativity at its heart. Together, we will paint, perform, play, sail, swim, film, sing, run, dance, design and write a new, more prosperous and more joyous story for Britain.

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