The UK has a dynamic and highly competitive presence in the creative and digital technology sectors, including telecommunications, and our tourism industry is one of the largest and most innovative in the world.
These are by no means the only sectors which fall under the ambit of the new Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Department, but they form the focus of this report, as these are the industries within its responsibility which have expressed the most wide-ranging concerns about the challenges posed by the country’s proposed withdrawal from the European Union.
With regard to the UK’s creative industries, London—Europe’s most visited city—is likely to be sufficiently well-established to withstand challenges from other potential European creative ‘hubs’, although other major European cities—including Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Dublin—do have ambitions of their own, which should not be under-estimated. A large percentage of the workforce supporting the creative industries and tourism is made up of EU nationals, however, and the overwhelming message from businesses and organisations across these sectors was to retain the free movement of people, thereby protecting access to talent. This underlines the need for reliable data now about the workforce and possible skills gaps. Clarity of proposed revised immigration rules and processes is essential to businesses in the creative industries to allow them time to prepare for any new Brexit environment.
EU funding has been important across these industries as a catalyst to unlock other forms of funding, whether public or private. Current uncertainty over the nature of long-term funding would be assuaged by a Government mapping exercise setting out precise streams of existing, direct European funding for creative and cultural organisations, and an overview of future funding.
Brexit presents major challenges for all these industries because of the uncertain nature of the future regulatory environment, and the over-riding concern during the inquiry was for a level playing field. The Government should set out as a matter of urgency those areas where it believes that Brexit offers an opportunity for beneficial regulatory reforms, and how it intends to capitalise on any such opportunities, and where it believes that maintaining equivalence would be the most favourable outcome, for the industries and consumers alike.
In the telecommunications sector, for instance, particular uncertainty exists around possible price hikes for UK mobile phone customers using mobile data in the EU post Brexit. The Government must be open and honest about the latest predictions regarding data roaming charges.
The regulatory system for data protection has been led by the UK. This hard work must not be lost. A Government action plan describing how UK policy development on data protection will take place after Brexit is now a priority.
A strong foundation for copyright protection underlies the success of our creative industries and again the UK has been at the forefront of this aspect of the regulatory environment. If we are to cease formally to be a member of the EU, the Government must, therefore, set out its intentions for co-operation with our European neighbours in this respect, too, including enforcement actions—not least as the digital single market develops without us.
In the broadcasting sector, the EU’s ‘Country of Origin’ rules are especially important, as these allow television companies to broadcast from the UK across the continent. Ofcom, indeed, licenses more than half of the 2,200 channels broadcast EU-wide and many operators have chosen London, in particular, as their base. To address profound industry uncertainty, therefore, the Government must as an urgent priority state its negotiating intentions with respect to the Country of Origin rules framework and set out its contingency plan, should the rules cease to apply after Brexit. In addition, the Government should make clear whether the audio-visual sector will form part of the formal trading negotiations with the EU.
In the tourism industry, visitor numbers to the UK are closely linked to access to the single aviation market. It is important that the Government sets out progress on these negotiations, and reassures the tourist industry that contingency plans are being made in the event of no deal.
Across the industries discussed in this Report, an honest assessment of likely outcomes—whether pertaining to regulatory equivalence or divergence, the workforce or the effects of losing direct EU funding—is needed from the Government.
The risks of exiting the EU are significant, and it is imperative for the Government to negotiate arrangements across creative, digital and tourism sectors that will be beneficial to both the UK and our European neighbours.
Whilst this is possible, to track progress towards this objective, we expect the Government to produce a timetable outlining the steps that will need to be taken to reach agreements in each key area. In addition, the Government should publish a quarterly update, outlining progress and future objectives.
This Report has been prepared on the assumption that the UK will cease to be a formal member of the European Union and, in doing so—after a transition period or not—will also cease formally to be a member of the Single Market and Customs Union. All these issues are, of course, still hotly contested.
In compiling the Report, to inform us as to latest Government thinking, we sought access to the relevant sector analyses produced by the Department for Exiting the European Union. After a formal request, in December 2017, Committee Members—but not staff—were given access to the reports, but only for one hour, during which electronic devices were confiscated. Given the immense importance of Brexit, we found these arrangements highly unsatisfactory.
On 21st December, these ‘Sector Reports’ were subsequently published by the Brexit Select Committee, but with one key omission: the Committee could not command a majority to publish the concluding ‘Sector Views’ sections of the Reports. This, too, is unsatisfactory.
We cannot understand why setting out of the views of businesses and industry in the public domain—as we do here in this Report—should be so controversial and we call on the Government to publish all the ‘Sector Views’, in the public interest, without delay.
24 January 2018