I wish I had a pound for every time my politics have been dismissed because I’m a ‘luvvie’ or political people’s eyes rolled because I started talking about creative industries.
It’s true I was an actor and writer in my former career. It’s a tough world to break into, especially for a working-class woman who grew up on free schools meals on a Batley council estate.
Not many MPs or candidates for office can say they once gave birth in the Rovers Return! I’m not a typical politician, but I have lived our movement’s values my entire life – organising donations in the miners’ strike, marching on Greenham Common, running a charity for inner-city kids, training to be a union rep to represent fellow workers in insecure jobs.
Arts and culture have been – and continue to be – a huge part of my life, from seeing headliners at the world famous Batley Variety Club when I was a kid to helping young people in Batley produce their own version of Les Mis as their MP.
I believe access to the arts should not just be the preserve of the rich. I believe our culture and heritage is shared, not a commodity for anyone to own. Arts and culture help our enjoyment of life, they inspire confidence and bring joy.
I also believe in the power of culture as a driver of economic activity and regeneration. That’s why, as a candidate for Mayor of West Yorkshire, I’m pledging a Creative New Deal.
Entertainment is expanding. The number of streaming channels commissioning original content is growing. 13 million people now have Netflix subscriptions. Video gaming contributes £5.4 billion to the economy.
Calderdale is already vying to be the ‘Hollywood of the North,’ with productions like Gentleman Jack and Happy Valley showcasing what we have to offer. Channel 4’s relocation to Leeds and Sky’s £10 million commitment to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) content means opportunities for our diverse communities. Screen Yorkshire leads the country in training and apprenticeships.
Every single show or film that comes to West Yorkshire requires a crew, facilities, hotel rooms, catering and transport. A Creative New Deal is about securing some of the billions of pounds spent each year in the creative industries to support existing jobs and create new ones.
The aim is to create training opportunities for young people – which, when coupled with housing and transport policy, will mean people don’t have to move away to get on in life – and stimulate tourism.
Take Production Park and Backstage Academy. They’re in the former pit village of South Kirkby. South Kirkby was a solid National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) town that was decimated by Thatcher.
Nowadays, South Kirkby and its neighbouring town South Elmsall often hit the headlines because of the conditions and pay of the large warehouses that offer local people employment. But at Production Park stages are built for international artists’ world tours – that’s high-skilled manufacturing jobs coming from the creative industries located in our heartlands.
In that small town, Hugh Jackman has been sighted down the Rose and Crown. Robbie Williams went for a wander. One Direction caused quite a fuss.
Backstage Academy runs alongside it and provides training opportunities in the industry, and is an accredited higher education provider – it has a 100% employment rate for graduates. That is the power of a Creative New Deal. Good jobs, training opportunities, regenerating communities that have seen a lack of investment for too long and by too many governments.
Crucially, we need a Creative New Deal for our towns and villages, not just our cities. It won’t be easy. We’re facing a huge economic challenge post-Covid and post-Brexit but we can’t sit around waiting for Tory politicians in Westminster to come up with a solution or to put us first.
As we have seen in recent years, too often their so-called ‘solutions’ are austerity and cuts, the same policies that have left people unprotected and our services unprepared for the pandemic. We have to be bold, creative and proactive, fighting on a national and international stage to bring the investment we need.
A Creative New Deal means putting West Yorkshire talent at the heart of the creative industry, creating jobs, kick starting local economies and providing opportunity.
I’ll keep battling on when people roll their eyes because from our pit and market towns to our cities and villages I want the best jobs, skills, opportunities and life chances for the communities I grew up in and the people I grew up with. That’s what I’ll be about as our Mayor.