I was delighted to be confirmed as the new chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group (APWG) when Parliament returned at the start of September 2020. I joined the APWG after I was first elected as MP in 2017, having previously been an actor, involved in running theatres and writing for film and television. So, I’m really looking forward to championing issues at Westminster that are crucial to our creative industries through the AWPG, as well as through the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Theatre, which I am also honoured to chair.
With my experience of working at many levels of the creative sector, I’m concerned that opportunities could be lost across the country if we do not act to support the individual creators who underpin our success. In current circumstances, the work the APWG does is more important than ever to ensure that we back the UK’s authors and writers throughout our fantastic creative industries.
We have seen through the APWG’s inquiry into authors’ earnings last year that writers were already facing difficulties, and this has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 outbreak. The pandemic will continue to have a huge impact, of course, as our creative and cultural sectors try to get back on their feet. So, over the course of this year, the APWG has made several submissions and suggestions to the Government that we deem crucial to recovery during these difficult times.
Joining with others across the sector, we’ve also appealed for better ways in which the Government can listen to representatives of the creative workforce, not least the concerns of freelancers. The role of our Arts Councils, too, is crucial as the arm for the disbursement of the government’s £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund. But while the survival of our great venues is vital, individuals must also get better access to grants.
Looking ahead, I believe the following priorities should be pursued further to secure a better future for creators, writers and the whole of our creative industries.
Working cross-party, the APWG welcomed the Government’s initial support schemes, but big gaps quickly became apparent, meaning many creators are falling through the net. People affected need support now, as every day we are at risk of losing creative talent permanently. As a result, along with other creative representatives, the APWG outlined these concerns to wide-ranging Covid-19 inquiries held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Treasury Select Committees before the summer, and they stood with us. Our aim going forward is to ensure there is comprehensive coverage of support for freelancers and the self-employed, in particular, so they can continue to survive and thrive with their creative work.
Too often, opportunities in the creative industries are tied to London even though creative talent is found all over the country. As it stands, too many communities are left out and talent is missed.
This is an issue close to my heart. As the MP for Clacton, far too often I see policies and industry practices that leave many behind in my own coastal community. It’s not fair, so inclusivity, diversity and better opportunities for all will continue to be a priority for the APWG.
Public Lending Right (PLR)
Established in the 1970s after a hard-fought campaign by the Writers Action Group, the Public Lending Right (PLR, as it’s known) ensures authors receive compensation for the use of their works. Their books fill the shelves of our libraries, at no cost to libraries themselves. Total funding for PLR, however, has long been frozen and an increase would be an ideal way for the Government to support writers and do it fairly, especially at this time. PLR payments are based on library loans, but with limits on pay-outs, the scheme ensures that the money reaches a wide range of authors beyond top sellers, to reward them for their contribution to an essential public good.
These are precarious times and it is vital we do everything possible to limit the damage wrought by the pandemic and ensure the future prosperity of our cultural and creative industries. Writers span their length and breadth. In the beginning, middle and end, there is the word. So, I look forward to taking up the challenge and making our contribution through the APWG.
Giles Watling was first elected as MP for Clacton in June 2017. With a background in the performing arts, he continues to champion the arts and formed the first All-Party Parliamentary Group for Theatre. He also joined the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group to ensure writers’ rights are recognised and rewarded.