Sorting out the public sector

Jeremy Silver kicked off the latest debate at the Creative Industries Breakfast Club.

Expanding on some of the themes addressed in his blog, Jeremy posed a range of fascinating challenges about the way in which the public sector operates to support culture and the creative industries. In so doing, he raised important questions about current Government policy-making.

In the course of discussion, it was noted that:

  • Publicly-funded organisations and agencies as diverse as NESTA, Tate, the National Gallery and, of course, the BBC are generating on-line creative content.  How are their public service remits fulfilled by so doing?
  • Three very different types of public funding are utilised to support state funding of the cultural sector:  Lottery, Tresury-derived grants, the Licence Fee.  What is the logic behind the different ways of levying funding?  What other means are there?
  • Historically, there are fantastic examples of other sectors using public sector platforms to deliver public service objectives – for example, the Open University’s use of the BBC to broadcast its lectures.   What scope is there for the health service, or energy utilities, to do the same?

The landscape of public funding and public service, with overlapping objectives and the considerable scope for collaboration, is complex and cumbersome and – primarily on account of technological change – in need of refreshing.

The pressure on DCMS to find savings should – or should have – provided the perfect incentive to review and reform the way in which public sector support is organised.  Imagine the savings which could be made by encouraging the Arts Council, BBC and others to share resources – people, expertise and money – in promoting and commissioning innovative digital content.  And potentially, the commercial impact of generating new content could be huge.

Remember when the BBC and the Open University collaborated to fulfil Reithian ambitions to have the BBC educate and inform?  OK, so it did not make for great telly – but it was a no-brainer in terms of sharing of resources to meet comparable public service objectives.

Is it too late for the Government to take a strong lead in this area, facilitating a debate on how best to intervene and support the generation of creative content for today’s audiences?

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