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Culture Secretary considering new export office to mitigate Brexit damage to creative industries

By | Published on Monday 22 February 2021


UK ministers are considering setting up a government-funded creative export office that would help performers navigate and tackle all the new visa and permit issues that have been caused by Brexit. Such an office might then also run other projects and initiatives to support British creators and creative businesses looking to pursue export opportunities into new markets.

The UK government has come under significant criticism from the music and other creative industries ever since it became clear that visa-free touring had not been included in the post-Brexit UK/EU trade deal. That means that British performers touring Europe will now need to fulfil the different entry requirements of each individual EU member state, some of which will require artists and their crews to secure travel permits and/or equipment carnets.

The extra administration and costs that will create will make some tours completely unviable, or will result in British artists hiring crew based in EU countries, to reduce the amount of extra admin and expenditure. All of which will put further pressure on performers, crew members and live entertainment business that are already on the brink because of COVID-19.

The UK blames the EU for the trade deal not including provisions for visa-free touring, while EU officials have blamed their British counterparts. UK ministers insist that the door remains open for new talks with the EU on this matter, although culture minister Caroline Dinenage recently admitted that it’s likely to be easier to agree bilateral deals with individual EU countries to remove the need for permits and carnets than a new EU-wide arrangement.

She expressed that opinion during the latest Parliamentary session on the post-Brexit touring shambles which took place last week at the instigation of the culture select committee. During that hearing she and Alastair Jones from the Department For Digital, Culture, Media And Sport were asked if the government would provide financial assistance for performers facing these new bureaucratic challenges when touring Europe.

Dinenage initially pointed to existing government-funded export initiatives for the creative industries, like the Music Export Growth Scheme, though – when pushed – Jones said “we are absolutely looking at our options”. And although that was pretty non-committal, this weekend the Telegraph reported that a new government agency was now being considered by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to “facilitate tours and assist artists with international gigs”, including with things like visas and permits.

Quite what role such an agency would play in that domain remains unclear. Would it mainly provide information or advice – possibly via a website like the one Dowden previously discussed with Elton John – or would it actually help artists secure and pay for travel permits?

Given that Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson and his cronies have been so keen to stress all the glorious good times, positive benefits and financial savings Brexit would deliver for Britain, you’d think some of that supposed Brexit windfall could be used to subsidise the cash-strapped artists and crew members whose livelihoods have been jeopardised by the PM’s big fuck-the-foreigners experiment.

Who knows? Probably not. Not least because the windfall is fictional. Though, optimists might see the launch of a creative export agency – alongside urgent bilateral talks with those countries that are both key touring markets for British performers and currently problematic in travel permit terms – as at least a way to mitigate the worst of the damage Brexit is set to cause the UK’s creative communities.

Any new export office could ultimately offer much more than just visa support too. A number of other countries have formal export offices that successfully support their music and/or creative industries in an assortment of ways when seeking opportunities abroad.

While the UK’s Department For International Trade does already fund various initiatives in partnership with music business trade groups, including the aforementioned Music Growth Export Scheme, some in the industry have long called for more extensive government support to help the British music community fully achieve its global potential.

UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin welcomed the reports that an export office is being considered this weekend. He told the Telegraph: “We should be doing everything we can to support and strengthen the British music industry as a key global exporter and spread British success internationally. The British music industry can help fly the flag for Britain globally and is a great example of the UK’s soft power due to the huge influence of British music across the world”.

“However”, he added, “new Brexit rules have put barriers up and made it harder for British musicians to work and perform abroad. A new UK-wide export office for the music industry or the wider creative sector could play a crucial role in helping drive our post-pandemic recovery”.