Trade 'baffled' by exclusion from Cultural Renewal Taskforce

Trade 'baffled' by exclusion from Cultural Renewal Taskforce

The government has announced a Cultural Renewal Taskforce to help the creative sector bounce back from the coronavirus crisis—but book trade leaders have said they are "baffled" that no current representative of the industry has been appointed.

Chaired by Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden (pictured), the taskforce includes chair of Arts Council England Sir Nicolas Serota, former BBC and ITV chair Lord Grade, former footballer Alex Scott and founder of and current chair of the Women's Prize for Fiction Martha Lane Fox.

Entrepreneur Neil Mendoza, who founded the Forward contract publishing firm in 1986, before selling it to WPP in 2001, is also joining the force and has been appointed as Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal.

The taskforce is one of five being set up by the government to lead the response of different sectors, helping them to reopen as the lockdown eases and cope with future developments. Another taskforce will look at non-essential retail.

The government said its work would be supported by eight working groups chaired by DCMS ministers which would include representatives from key sector bodies and organisations. However, while it said areas to be focused on included sport, entertainment and events, museums and galleries, heritage, tourism and libraries, there was no specific mention of the book trade.

After the announcement was made, Isobel Dixon, president of the Association of Authors' Agents, told The Bookseller she was “taken aback” to see the lack of direct trade experience on the taskforce.

She said: “The last few months have seen an escalated level of shared experience and communication between publishing trade associations like the Association of Authors’ Agents, the PA, IPG and BA, also with the Society of Authors and other author organisations – and we’ve all been sending information to Government and DCMS, and lobbying around trade issues. Focus on support for the cultural industries is vital and we welcome the news of the new Culture Commissioner and the Cultural Renewal Taskforce announced yesterday. I’m glad to see Sir Nicholas Serota of the ACE there, also recognising the ACE support for the independent publishing sector, writers and writer development agencies – but I was taken aback to see no direct publishing, agenting or bookselling experience represented on the taskforce now.

“Books are fundamental to entertainment in so many forms – the basis for much of Britain’s incredible international impact across literature, film, TV, theatre and other media, with iconic stories and characters beloved around the world. Like music and arts venues and libraries, bookshops are also vital cultural community hubs and author event spaces too. I’m also concerned that the taskforce doesn’t seem to represent a full national regional spread, and I do hope that Oliver Dowden has a plan to draw in more voices from our sector and represent the full range of culture and creative enterprise in the United Kingdom. We’ll certainly continue making our views known to him and DCMS.”

Meryl Halls, m.d of the Booksellers Association said the lack of representation was “baffling” She explained: “Given how crucial books and reading are to the cultural landscape of the UK, and how essential reading has become to the mental health and well-being of the country during lockdown, we’re surprised and disappointed – as is the rest of the book industry – not to see any book trade organisations included in the taskforce. With the publishing industry accounting for over 10 per cent of UK creative industries employment, and contributing over £11bn per year to the UK economy (with bookshops contributing over £1.9bn), it is a vital part of the cultural economy in the UK, and a significant employer.

“We have a good working relationship with the Arts Council and government departments, and with our fellow book trade bodies and will continue to feed into all and any work in order to ensure that bookshops come out of the pandemic in as strong a position as possible. The BA is actively working with BEIS on its consultations about safer working guidance for shops, and will continue to respond to all and any input from government – but the lack of books in the DCMS task force is baffling and disheartening.”

Society of Authors c.e.o. Nicola Solomon commented: "I very much welcome the move but am concerned that there are no creators on the taskforce. We have been liaising closely with Nick Serota about measures to help the recovery of the publishing industry -  as well as performance and scriptwriting - and will continue to do so."

The cultural taskforce was described as “crucial” in supporting the renewal of the leisure and recreation sector, helping to develop secure guidelines for the re-opening of public places and businesses.

Dowden said: “We are determined to do all we can to help our sectors that are such an incredible part of British life in their recovery. The taskforce is made up of some of the brightest and best from the cultural, sporting and tech worlds. Experts in their fields, they’ll be instrumental in identifying creative ways to get these sectors up and running again.”

The group will focus on developing coronavirus guidelines, developing ways to drive the return of sectors and allowing key figures access to ministers.

It meets tomorrow (22nd May), the first of a series of weekly meetings. The rest of the taskforce is made up of Tamara Rojo from English National Ballet, Edward Mellors of Mellors Group Events and Mark Cornell of the Ambassador Theatre Group.