Why are the creative industries so concerned with immigration policies?
In July 2017, the Home Secretary commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to assess the impact on the UK labour market of Brexit and how the UK’s immigration system might best align itself within a future-oriented industrial strategy. At the end of last month, they released an interim update on their findings about EEA workers in UK industries. The creative industries in particular are concerned with what post-Brexit immigration will look like, insofar as they rely significantly on high-skilled EEA workers to fill the domestic skills shortage in the industry. The ramifications will undoubtedly be significant to the sector if post-Brexit EEA workers become akin to their current non-EEA counterparts, as costs will increase and the ease and availability of skilled workers within the creative industries will dwindle.
These industries are generally highly skilled, with 62% of employees educated to a degree level, in comparison to 34% of the national population and employ close to 2 million people according to PACT. They are responsible for creating a significant amount of new jobs, employing 215,000 more UK nationals in 2016 than in 2011, as identified by the British Screen Advisory Council (BSAC) in their submissions to the MAC. The recent success of the creative industries in the UK is correlated with the free movement of EEA workers across the channel since 2004. As MAC's Chairman Allan Manning suggests from their initial findings, these workers are often high-skilled and employed across industries "because they are the best available candidates."
There are myriad challenges posed by no longer benefiting from their free movement within the EU, the chief one being that the UK simply does not have the necessary domestic skills bank to draw upon to fill those of EEA workers currently employed in creative industries. Certain areas are more heavily reliant on EEA skills; Film London's submission to the MAC affirms that the games, VFX and animation industries will be particularly affected in the capital. The UK Screen Alliance also pointed out from its own evidence that the VFX operational workforce is made up of 33% EEA and that both EEA and non-EEA migrant numbers have gone up since last year. In industries like these, there is simply not enough local labour to fit the bill without migrant workers.
A more overarching concern is that producing high-calibre creative content for wide-ranging audiences is often contingent on cultural perspectives which necessitate foreign labour. This concern was strongly underscored in BASC's submission, pointing to the reality that 22% of the UK's global broadcasting revenue is generated by the EU audience. Producing appropriate content therefore requires a significant amount of staff that has in-depth understanding of European markets. This was echoed by the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA)'s responses to MAC, who stated that "international channels that are based [in the UK] need access to people with a deep knowledge of local markets and culture that cannot be readily acquired through training."
How can these risks best be mitigated?
Broadly, two suggestions were put forward in order to mitigate these concerns, which mirror the recommendations put to MAC by PACT. The first is a longer-term view to continue expanding investment into the creative industries' skills and talent pipeline, which already benefits from a host of initiatives such as the Creative Skillset's Skills Investment Fund and the BFI Future Film Skills Programme. At the start of April 2018, measures outlined to support the development and use of immersive technologies were contained in a new 'sector deal' struck by the government and the Creative Industries Council. In a promising move, more than £150 million will be jointly invested by government and industry in the coming years to help the country’s world-leading cultural and creative businesses thrive. Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, announced that "this ambitious deal will make sure [creative industries] continue to thrive as we build a Britain fit for the future."
The reality is that without benefitting from the single market and free movement of workers therein, it is difficult to say whether significant domestic investment will suffice to make the UK's creative industries futureproof. Indeed, the second leg of PACT's recommendations regard ensuring an immigration system that minimises burdens and business cost. Unlike longer term investment, this issue will be critical over the next few years and is one not resolved by the new deal. As the British Film Institute suggests, "the screen industries feed on the cultural diversity of London’s workforce and its talent which is very much at the heart the capital’s reputation for cultural excellence and the success of the stories London generates." This necessary diversity is something no amount of new investment in the domestic market can generate.
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