Melvyn Bragg: Arts education is the engine of growth

Lord Bragg, in the House of Lords debate, 1 February 2024, chaired a motion and examined the value of the creative industries and arts education. He described the arts, 'they are not the cherry on the cake, they are the cake.'

The debate began with Lord Bragg outlining the value of the arts and creative industries: 'The creative arts generate more revenue than the life sciences, aerospace and construction industries combined. 

'In 2023 there were over three million jobs in creative arts and industries. But there could be more... They create one and a half times more revenue than the wider economy. We have the skills and vision.... But, we are sleep walking into permanent state of mediocrity.'

Lord Bragg, also cited the decline in creative arts teaching hours and teachers. He described education as, 'the engine of growth... but of course education needs more investment.' 

Drawing on the industrial revolution, Lord Bragg asked, 'Why don't we have a revolution for the arts – it's possible.' 

The benefits of the arts for health were also shared. Evidence from 2018, by the World Health Organisation (WHO) was noted: where 3,500 studies and research showed arts education, visits to galleries, dance and singing in choirs brought neurological improvements and benefit to child development.

Lord Bragg concluded that the cuts to arts subjects, the stunting and slashing of the arts will stop the arts positively impacting on everyone. He ended: 'Minds and feelings are moulded by the arts – we could create a brave new world, why not? And, why not now?'

Also taking part in the debate was Baroness Bonham-Carter, Liberal Democrat (2.04pm Hansard). She said the funding system for the arts is broken at central, local and Arts Council England levels, citing the '40 per cent reduction [in funding] since 2008.'

The Earl Clancarty, vice chair of The APPG for Art, Craft and Design in Education (1.02pm in Hansard), gave three reasons why we may never achieve the creative industrial revolution described by Lord Bragg: ‘the triumvirate of crisis areas – arts funding, arts education and Brexit – is now causing firefighting on a daily basis in terms of cost, red tape and feasibility.

'Look to the recent report by the Lords Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee that recommends the EBacc be scrapped and Progress 8 reformed. One should bear in mind that the EBacc was set up to cement the then Education Secretary Michael Gove’s vision of a narrowly academic bias to school education, not the properly rounded education that all students deserve and that would most benefit society.'

Arts Minister (conservative), Lord Parkinson concluded the debate: 'The arts are a vital part of that mission. In 2022, the arts sector contributed £9.5bn in output to our economy; that was a sharp rise from £7.4bn the year before. 

'We also saw increases in the workforce of the arts sector, which has grown at over 3.5 times the rate of the UK as a whole over the last decade.'

Responding to the debate, Michele Gregson, general secretary NSEAD, said:

It's heartening to hear all sides of the House of Lords recognise the contribution the arts make to the UK. But, whilst we have seen other jurisdictions build art schools; invest in the creative economies and its workforce – for too long, this government has devalued and diminished arts education, i.e. the very foundations on which the creative industries are built. It's time that a corner is turned, and policy makers look to a future where we repair and rebuild arts education – and time for what Lord Bragg describes as a creative industrial revolution and "a brave new world".'


Read the listen to the House of Lords debate: 'The contribution of the arts to the economy' here. 

Read the debate on Hansard 


Image: The contribution of the arts to the economy: House of Lords