DUBAI, 11 November 2021 – The UK’s creative economy remains celebrated worldwide as an exportable strength for the UK, and a vital source of employment and wealth creation, Nigel Huddleston MP, UK Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society, said during a visit yesterday (10 November) to the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.
His comments came as the UK Pavilion hosts ‘In the Future… How will we Create?’, five consecutive days of activities from 9 November onwards, gathering some of the great minds from the UK’s world-renowned creative industries to explore how creativity can tackle some of today’s major challenges.
Yesterday’s agenda also saw Huddleston give a keynote speech at the UK Pavilion on how the creative industries are adapting to the changing landscape, and how the UK can deliver sustainable change and cultural advancement to the world.
Can you describe your role within the UK Government?
I am the Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society, and a few other things. But I am really here as a representative of DCMS [The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport], which encompasses a lot of the things that we are showcasing here in the UK Pavilion, but actually at Expo – creativity, culture, digital opportunities, all of those kinds of things. So, it’s an interesting department to work for. It’s a really important part of the economy and a growing part of the world economy.
What are the major strengths of the UK’s creative economy?
[The UK] has always been an innovative country, going back really to the Industrial Revolution. We like to lead the world on technology and technology development, and to a large degree [we] still do in many areas. We put a lot of money into research and development, we’ve got amazing universities. But we also produce some of the world’s most creative – famously creative – talent, whether that’s music or film, design, fashion and all sorts of other parts of the creative industries.
It’s things that we’re really good at, are historically very strong at, and are investing in as a government and as a country. So, we’re playing to our strengths. Of course, you see here the opportunities for sharing knowledge and insights that we’ve got around the world, [alongside] the massive opportunities for the economy, exports and employment. That’s important as well because […] what we often forget is that [creative industries] are major contributors to job creation and wealth creation. We should not hide that fact; it’s really important for economic growth in the UK and around the world.
It seems like this touches on the UK’s ‘soft power’. The world is opening up again post-pandemic – are we seeing a rejuvenation of that ‘soft power’?
Sometimes I [somewhat] object to the use of soft power because I like to focus on the jobs and the economic activity that go with it. That said, I know what it means. And actually, it’s quite right. It is about influence, how you portray yourself, how you’re perceived around the world and how important you consider the creative sector – arts, culture, heritage and so on. It does send a message about what’s important to you as a nation and I think [the UK is] well known for taking all of those sectors very seriously – and genuinely exporting our knowledge and insights around the world. When there are those various global rankings, it is interesting that the UK is always at the top or near the top, [with] a little bit of healthy competition with France and a few other countries. But it is meaningful and it’s important. It’s important for our foreign policy as well. So it is important, but I would never take my eye off the ball in terms of the job opportunities and the economic value of the sectors as well.
In the context of the pandemic, how have the dynamics of the creative sectors shifted?If
you talk about the creative industries more broadly, the DCMS sectors have all been hit differently. The museums and heritage sectors in the UK, and big institutions like National Trust and so on, were hit pretty hard. Similarly, around the world, many of these institutions would close down, at least for a period of time. And government[s] often had to step in, as we did in the UK with a Cultural Recovery Fund  to make sure that they were sustainable when we reopened again. And had it not been that government intervention, I think many of these entities would have closed probably forever. Heritage institutions literally lost future generations.
That’s a similar pattern around the world. I talk to ministers [from] the G20, in particular, and others. We have regular meetings and there was a real concern about what’s happening to the sectors that were hit particularly hard. But I would say there is a strong recovery now and strong interest and enthusiasm for people to go back and visit the stately homes, visit the heritage sites, visit the museums, and visit arts and culture in a way that we haven’t seen. That is somewhat reassuring. Other sectors, like film and TV production – hit to varying degrees – actually did pretty well. And of course the boom in TV viewing and other initiatives have in some ways helped and strengthened them.
One force that’s probably happened though is digital, [which] really progressed probably 10 years in one during the pandemic. So entities like the heritage sector really put a huge effort into making sure that whatever they had was on display for the world to see. [For example], total viewings at the [National Theatre] was equivalent to 11 years of attendance, which is just remarkable. All of a sudden some of these things were actually exposed in a good way, in a way that they would not have been able to. And I think the investment in digital and technology has been quite impressive. So they were hit really hard, but actually some [are] coming out of this stronger than ever.
What is the significance of the UK Pavilion’s various creativity-focused events this week within the wider global context of COP26?
What has really struck me here today, in all the conversations I’ve had, is awareness of the environment and climate change, [which have] come up in every single conversation. Sustainable, responsible growth in the sectors [has] dominated the conversation. And I think it’s important because the sectors that we’re talking about recognise that they do want to grow and there will be more economic activity. But it needs to be done in a sustainable and responsible way.
It is quite reassuring to see everybody, all stakeholders [in the sector], recognise that they’ve got a responsibility, whether they’re private sector individuals, government, third-party entities. [Whoever] they are, they all recognise they’ve got a responsibility to the environment. And it’s a ‘live conversation’ now, literally when COP26 is actually happening. But actually these are conversations have been had certainly for a few years. But what you’re seeing is that this is part of the conversation now going forward.
So in tourism, for example, [which is] hugely important to the UK, hugely important to Expo here. Yes, it’s tourism and it’s still flying around the world and seeing people face to face, but doing so in a more responsible way and being aware of the impact that we have. And making sure that we think very carefully about how we grow going forward. So actually I would say the environmental aspects have dominated conversations in the way that I haven’t seen for quite a long time.