UK Creatives’ Union Equity Visits 10 Downing Street Seeking Protection For BBC & European Workers’ Visas

10 Downing Street

Equity, the UK union that represents 47,000 performers and creative practitioners, has delivered a letter to Number 10 Downing Street calling for protection of the BBC, a simplified European visa for creative practitioners, and an increase of funding for the creative industries in the government’s forthcoming budget.

Equity president Maureen Beattie will deliver the letter alongside fellow performers Miriam Margolyes, Susannah Harker, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Tony Robinson.

The BBC is facing a tricky period after unnamed government sources threatened to “whack” the British broadcaster by scrapping the license fee and forcing it to radically scale back its services. In response, a “save our BBC” petition has attracted 250,000+ signatures to date.

The visas question arises from the UK’s exit from the European Union, which will restrict some freedom of movement for workers after the Brexit transition period ends on December 31 2020. The government is planning to introduce a points-based system for immigrants, targeting only ‘skilled’ workers. There is a current salary threshold of £30,000 ($39,000), but the proposal is to lower this to £25,600 ($33,300). Equity hopes this process will be simplified for creative industry workers.

You can read the full text of the open letter below. It stipulates the following five points:

  • Please do all that you can to protect the BBC – the BBC allows us to understand each other through world-class news, documentary and drama.
  • Support our call for a reciprocal and affordable two-year visa for all creative workers covering all EU member states and eliminating the need for carnets and other permits.
  • Spread investment in the creative industries around the UK. The best place to start is to restore local authority funding.
  • Place arts and creative subjects back at the heart of the curriculum and direct the government’s arts pupil premium towards ensuring that every child has the opportunity to experience theatre.
  • Increase funding for the arts to 0.5% of GDP in the forthcoming budget – a crucial investment for our economy

Blackadder actor Tony Robinson commented: “Artists working in the entertainment industry across the UK rely on free movement across Europe with tours, performances, filming and travel regularly required at short notice. Without measures to allow creative workers to travel freely, thousands of people will be in danger of losing their livelihoods.”

Miriam Margoyles, of Harry Potter and Call The Midwife fame, said, “The government must protect the BBC and preserve one of the UK’s most valuable institutions for future generations. At its best, the BBC allows us to understand each other through world-class news, documentary and drama. We must not diminish or destroy its positive cultural power.”

Olivier award winner Kobna Holdbrook-Smith added, “The UK’s creative industries are a thriving part of the country’s economy, growing at twice the rate of other sectors with jobs growth at three times the rate of the overall UK workforce. Without sufficient government investment this incredible success story will falter and fade.”

Pride And Prejudice actress Susannah Harker said, “Education in arts and creative subjects for all children in the UK is vital to improving access to creative careers and increasing diversity in the performing arts. The government must ensure that every student receives quality creative education and the opportunity to experience live theatre.”

Equity’s open letter reads:

I am writing to you as President of Equity, a union representing more than 48,000 people working across the creative industries – in film, television, audio, games and live entertainment.

As the vast majority of the members of Equity, including myself, do not understand Ancient Greek I hope you will make allowances for me quoting the great mathematician, inventor and astronomer Archimedes, in translation:

“Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the world.”

And here you are with not only a place to stand, but a lever in the shape of your majority in government.

My question to you is: “How will you use this extraordinary opportunity to support the workers in the entertainment industry who bring kudos and such vast amounts of wealth into the UK?”

Perhaps the reason why people still come from all over the world to see what many consider to be the best theatre on the planet is because of the UK’s subsidised system, where so many of our world class players honed their craft. A system which is dying for the lack of basic nourishment.

I would also argue that one of the reasons why the UK is still a player in the world is because of the soft power of the BBC and the opportunity it provides to showcase the best of our creative talent. I would remind you of the BBC’s great motto – “Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation”. In these turbulent times what could be better than that?

Overall the creative industries contribute £101.5BN ($132BN) to the economy, growing at twice the rate of the economy as a whole. The performing arts alone contribute at least £5.4BN ($7BN), and every £1 ($1.3) of local arts investment generates £4 ($5.2) for the local economy. And yet so often the first thing to be cut when local budgets are tightened is the arts.

The ability of all people working in the entertainment industry to move freely between the countries of the EU has been a vital part of the success the UK enjoys in Europe and throughout the world. Your own ministers have highlighted the importance of free movement for musicians in the EU. The very same concerns impact on our members – singers, dancers, stage managers, street performers, circus artists, models, choreographers, directors, designers; performers and creatives of every kind. If our creative workers cannot travel freely for work the impact on their working lives will be devastating.

I’m sure that you do not need me to detail all the benefits of the arts in education. As someone who was educated at a school that boasts a fully equipped theatre with five professional staff and an artistic director, I know that you will understand the importance of giving young people the opportunity to flourish within the disciplines of the entertainment industry. If the arts are such a key selling point in the world of the rich and powerful then surely the benefits of arts education should be available to everyone.

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