Yesterday, 18th June 2015, Lord Lloyd Webber joined the debate raised in the House of Lords on the economic importance of the creative industries in the UK.
Here is what he said:
“My Lords, first, I wish to apologise to my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft. I have been working in America and I am afraid that, because of my timing, I missed the first couple of minutes—I am so sorry. I congratulate her hugely on bringing this debate. How thrilling it is to hear the word “investment” rather than “subsidy”. As I am sure all noble Lords know, the creative industries grew, according to the DCMS figures, by 10% in 2013, which is three times greater than for the wider economy. We employ 1.7 million in the creative industries—or we did in 2013—which is 5.6% of total employment in the UK. The speakers preceding me have dealt with the various issues that I wanted to talk about so eloquently that I will now restrict myself to talking about the world of theatre and music.
“Once again, I have boring statistics, but they are interesting—the West End received 14.7 million visitors last year and paid nearly £104 million in VAT. Others, I am sure, will work out how much of that came back to the arts but I am afraid that I do not have those figures. Broadway lagged a little behind with 13 million visitors but its gross paid admission for last year was a staggering $1.36 billion. That makes one realise how extraordinary it is—and how lucky I am—to be working in live entertainment, which of course you cannot pirate. Therefore, I completely support the views of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, about how we must protect all forms of intellectual copyright. Luckily, in theatre, that is not so much of an issue.
“As I have been working in America now for the past few months, I thought that I would remind the House of our representation on Broadway. I quickly note—I apologise if I leave any out—that we have Les Misérables running on Broadway, Matilda, The Audience, Skylight, Wolf Hall, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mamma Mia! and some musical about a bloke in a mask. I was really interested to see how the Tony awards went this year. The award for best play went to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and best musical went to a musical called Fun Home. Next year—much to my chagrin I am afraid, as I have a musical coming to Broadway next year—I know that it will be won by a musical called Hamilton, which has already been tried out at the Public Theater in New York and is, in my view, a ground-changing musical that will change many people’s attitude about what the musical can achieve. I mention that because all these shows have something in common. Fun Home, Hamilton and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time all started in publicly supported, or subsidised—or I should say “invested in”—theatres. The Public Theater and the Circle in the Square Theatre, where the two American shows started, are somewhat dissimilar to our system because, although there is some public finance available, support comes, on the whole, from philanthropists.
“This is all by way of saying that it is absolutely vital that we realise the importance of the investment that we have in the arts. Five of the eight British musicals and plays being staged in New York came from either the Royal Shakespeare Company or the National Theatre. We have to consider, as other noble Lords have said, that every pound we spend will come back over and over again.
“That brings one to education, because music in education is something that I feel extremely passionate about. I have seen the amazing impact that music has had on students at Highbury Grove School in Islington where, as I am sure many noble Lords know, every child is, in their first term, given a free violin. Through music, that school, which was considered to be pretty much at the bottom of the heap a few years ago, has now turned around and had its first child enter Oxford, which is a pretty extraordinary achievement. It is now a school that everybody wishes to attend. Music in education is absolutely vital. It concerns me that, when I was a junior at the Royal College of Music, it was free, but now you have to pay.
“That leads me to my real concern—on which I ask the House to support me—that we must make sure that our young people have access to the training that they need in music and theatre and all areas of the creative industries. It is extremely worrying that, to go to a stage school or theatre college, you now have to pay such an enormous amount of money that it is being left to foundations and others to fill the funding gap with scholarships. It concerns me how many people may be slipping through the gap. The other night, in New York, an extremely well-known film director—I will not mention his name, although the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, will probably be able to guess; he is of the same political persuasion as the noble Lord—said to me that he was worried that the best stage school in Britain was Eton. We must address the fact that funding is vital now for young people in all the performing arts.
“Finally, picking up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, about the concert hall in Britain, I use the opportunity to remind noble Lords that one of the difficulties that we face in the West End is that many of our theatres were built in the Victorian era. A very positive thing that the Government could do would be to look at perhaps relaxing the guidelines on the listing of these buildings to make them more appropriate to today’s use. As I said, there are difficulties when you consider that many of our theatres have galleries, with separate entrances for those galleries. However, they are not really fit for modern performances, and that is an issue that one day will have to be grappled with in a major way.
In conclusion, once more I say passionately that the word “investment” should be substituted for “subsidy”.”
For more on the debate and to read other contributions, please feel free to look at the whole Hansard for the day, HERE, starting from the section at 1.35 pm, “Economy: Creative Industries” moved by Baroness Wheatcroft.