Impact of COVID-19 on DCMS sectors: First Report Contents

5The role of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

99.In this chapter we examine how effectively the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has fulfilled its objectives and role within Government during the Covid-19 outbreak.288 At a time when digital access is more important than ever for the UK’s health, work and education, we examine what DCMS has done to tackle digital exclusion—a stated policy priority for Ministers—during the Covid-19 crisis. We then analyse how effectively DCMS has communicated the needs of the sectors under its remit to the rest of Government, and principally HM Treasury.

Digital exclusion

100.To participate effectively online, individuals need devices on which to access the internet, affordable and reliable data and connections, and the skills and motivation to use these safely. Without these, individuals are digitally excluded. In the UK, 1.9 million households, or approximately 7% of the population, do not have internet access, and 11.9 million people lack the digital skills Government considers essential for going online.289 During the Covid-19 outbreak, this has limited the effectiveness of measures to combat the spread of the virus. Liz Williams MBE, CEO of FutureDotNow, estimates that between 175,000 and 500,000 of those who received letters instructing them to shield have no internet access, and yet because the letters “were peppered with references to websites”, those individuals would find it “incredibly difficult” to do so.290

101.People’s reliance on digital platforms to work, study and shop during the Covid-19 outbreak has brought the urgency of tackling digital exclusion to the fore. Liz Williams explained what life has been like for the one in five adults who cannot access online services. She told us:

they are not able to order food online, they cannot access online healthcare and banking, and they cannot connect with friends and family. What that has meant during Covid-19 is that they have effectively been shut off in ways that those of us who are connected have not had to suffer.291

Nicola Wallace Dean, from the social enterprise Starting Point in Stockport, told us what this has meant for individuals without internet access who are shielding in her community:

The only way they can currently communicate in our community is by putting a piece of paper in their window asking for one of the community organisers to contact them. One of those people has just had a hip replacement and is absolutely terrified of getting any support through social services and district nurses because she does not want to get coronavirus. She is in a situation where she is dragging herself across the floor to put a note on a piece of paper in her window to ask somebody to contact her because her phone line is down.292

102.During the Covid-19 outbreak, DCMS has worked across Government to develop policy interventions to tackle digital exclusion. For example, the Secretary of State told us that he worked with the Department for Education to provide devices to vulnerable children to enable them to study at home.293 However, Helen Milner, CEO of Good Things Foundation, told us that DCMS could be doing more to promote digital inclusion across Government. She said:

It is a shame because DCMS has the policy lead for digital inclusion but has no money. What we have at the moment is a number of Departments that recognise that there are digitally excluded people in the country who need specific support, aligned with their own policy areas, but DCMS is not able to co-ordinate and bring them together, playing that powerful convening role at a time when we are seeing digital exclusion having such a huge effect on the poorest and the most socially excluded people in our society.294

103.It has been made clear to us that tackling digital exclusion requires resource that DCMS does not have. Liz Williams told us that “DCMS is not a large budget holding Department, therefore its ability to lean into this is significantly hampered”.295 Likewise, Helen Milner suggested that to strengthen its convening power and ability to lead cross-Government work on this policy area, “DCMS needs a budget for digital inclusion, a proper budget, and maybe with that budget you could say that it has an obligation to work with the other Departments”.296 Indeed, the Minister for Digital and Culture told us she has had difficulty “finding money that could go into [tackling digital exclusion] that would not be regarded as tokenism”.297

104.The impact that this lack of resource has had on DCMS’s work on digital exclusion is illustrated by the DevicesDotNow campaign, which delivers internet-connected devices to digitally excluded individuals. We were told by Permanent Secretary Sarah Healey that DCMS was working with the campaign; however, Liz Williams later confirmed that although Ministers have written letters to industry encouraging them to donate devices and made “supportive statements” in the press, “the Government have not funded the campaign”.298 She explained that to deliver devices to 10,000 of the most vulnerable people DevicesDotNow required a minimum of £2 million, and that as well as providing direct funding DCMS could help the campaign to secure other sources of funding by making digital inclusion a clear cross-Government priority.299

105.Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, vulnerable people across the country have suffered as a result of being excluded from digital services and communication. Yet initiatives to tackle the issue, such as the DevicesDotNow campaign, have been limited by a lack of both direct and charitable funding. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s commitment to tackling digital exclusion and co-ordinating work on it across Government urgently needs to be supported by adequate resource from HM Treasury.

106.People who cannot afford access to data are digitally excluded.300 We were told that the 25 million customers on pay-as-you-go mobile contracts have been particularly vulnerable to data poverty during the Covid-19 crisis because of high data charges and a lack of access to alternative places, such as libraries, to access the internet.301 Helen Milner said that “right now people are having to make a choice between data and food” and told us about “a single mother on universal credit, who is saying to the children that they can only eat twice a day now because she has to spend more on data so that the children can do some home schooling”.302

107.Digital deprivation has widened health and cultural inequalities during the Covid-19 crisis. As we explored in chapter 2, digital exclusion has also impacted the equality of provision of sports services, thus further increasing the risks and burden of the Covid-19 crisis for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.303 To address this inequality, some sports organisations have been providing data vouchers to those facing financial barriers to internet access.304 We commend the work done by cultural and fitness organisations, both before and during the Covid-19 crisis, to move access to content and facilities online. In the immediate future, DCMS should work with HM Treasury to develop a data voucher scheme, to give those with limited access to the internet due to financial constraints the ability to access online cultural and physical activity content.

108.The Government has already worked with telecommunications companies to reduce some data charges during the pandemic. On 18 March, the Department for Health and Social Care announced that mobile networks had agreed to provide customers with free online access to NHS websites, so that accessing the latest NHS health information about coronavirus would not incur any data charges.305 Furthermore, DCMS secured commitments from the UK’s major internet and mobile companies to provide NHS workers with sufficient calls and data, and to support vulnerable customers and those who struggle to pay their bills.306 Yet more could be done. Helen Milner recommended that the telecoms industry explore data gifting, as happens in Australia, where individuals can donate mobile data to charities, and wi-fi sharing, by issuing guidance on how people might easily and safely share their home broadband connections with neighbours.307 Over the coming year, Ofcom intends to monitor “where households have difficulty paying for communications services, in particular in relation to broadband and consider if any measures are needed to support consumers who are financially vulnerable”.308

109.While we welcome Ofcom’s focus on affordability of broadband services, and the measures introduced across the telecoms industry to make websites and mobile data available to those who need it during the Covid-19 outbreak, more needs to be done to support all those experiencing data poverty, and particularly pay-as-you-go users. The Government and Ofcom should work with telecommunications companies to facilitate data gifting and wi-fi sharing. Ofcom’s work on affordability of internet connectivity should also tackle the poverty premium associated with pay-as-you-go mobile services.

Advocacy across Government

110.The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport states that its role is to “protect and promote our cultural and artistic heritage”, and this includes to the rest of Government. The Secretary of State told us that throughout the Covid-19 crisis he has ensured the industries under his remit “are well represented across Government”, and that he will “continue to fight hard” in this regard.309 However, Newcastle City Council argues that the wellbeing and recovery of the DCMS sectors “shouldn’t just be the responsibility of DCMS but of all Government Departments”, because culture has a “reach and impact on many aspects of life which include employment, the wider economy including tourism, health & wellbeing, including obesity, mental health, social inclusion, community cohesion and education”.310

111.Fulfilling its responsibilities to the sectors under its remit has required DCMS to maintain dialogue with stakeholders from across a wide range of industries. The Permanent Secretary Sarah Healey told us in mid-April that there had been close to “100 roundtables with different aspects of DDCMS stakeholders in order to properly understand some of the issues that they are facing”.311 While much of the evidence we received echoes regional theatre operator HQ Theatre in welcoming DCMS’s “frequent and timely engagement with the industry”, it also questions how effectively listening to concerns has translated to action.312 For example, a joint submission by festival sector bodies states:

Despite this positive engagement, there is a sense that once issues have been escalated to Ministerial level, Government has not taken meaningful action to protect our sector and has not made any sector specific interventions.313

It evidences this by outlining the cross-industry discussions that took place on changing the requirements around customer refunds requirements, and describes the Government’s rejection of proposed measures as “perfunctory at best considering it was the culmination of eight weeks of discussion and presenting data and evidence”.314

112.Throughout this inquiry we have questioned Ministers and civil servants about the limits of HM Treasury-designed schemes, including the CJRS and SEISS, for individuals and organisations working in the DCMS sectors. We were initially reassured by the Secretary of State that he had “not reached the end of the road” in making representations to the Treasury about potential flexibility in the self-employment scheme; however, in a follow up letter, he rowed back from this pledge, stating that “HMT has difficult decisions to make and will have to draw a line somewhere on each of its schemes”.315 Likewise, the Minister for Digital and Culture told us that although solutions to address gaps in provision have been proposed, “they are not without risk and they are not without fraud potential. That is why Treasury has found that they are not workable or are expensive to administer”.316 When we asked the Director for the Covid-19 Economic Response and Arts, Heritage and Tourism, Emma Squire, whether DCMS has been effective in advocating on behalf of its sectors to the Treasury, she replied:

Our focus has been on sharing all of the evidence we have been gathering with the Treasury on where the gaps are, rather than trying to design solutions to those gaps.317

Yet, the Minister for Digital and Culture also told us that DCMS has “found it quite difficult to get robust data” on the scale of those gaps in eligibility for Government support.318

113.The scale and severity of such gaps has led some to question why Government as a whole, and HM Treasury specifically, has failed to respond to the needs, or understand the value of, the DCMS sectors during this crisis. The Tourism Management Institute questions why the “value of tourism to the economy […] never seems to register strongly with BEIS or Treasury” and states “this is bizarre when tourism spend drives vast swathes of UK plc—aviation, manufactured products, construction, transport, logistics etc”.319 On the creative industries, Caroline Norbury told us that, for HM Treasury, there is an “awful lot more to be learned about the complexity of the sector” and that the diversity of the creative industries makes it difficult to provide the “simple messages” that Government wants.320 Likewise, PRS for Music told us:

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted a general lack of understanding of the structures and economics of the cultural sector, and the interdependencies and the composite income streams of individual creators, performers and the small businesses in the sector. This lack of understanding has, in our view, presented in barriers to the public sector designing and ultimately implementing specific measures to support the cultural sectors.321

This is further illustrated by evidence we have received from the circus and fairground sectors, which argues that in using rateable value as a basis for many support schemes the Government has neglected itinerant, non-property base sectors.322 The Association of Independent Showmen argues that this is indicative of a wider problem: “the homogeneity of treatment for completely different sectors”.323 This concern also applies to many festivals.

114.The Government has been too slow to respond to the needs of the sectors under the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s remit during the Covid-19 outbreak. In its response, DCMS has been hampered by its overall spending power, a lack of robust data on ineligibility for support and a fundamental misunderstanding across Government of the needs, structures and vital social contribution of sectors such as the creative industries.

Taskforces and working groups

115.The Cultural Renewal Taskforce and accompanying ministerial-led working groups provide an opportunity for Government to better understand the needs of the DCMS sectors.324 Yet there have been widespread concerns about diversity of representation on these groups, with the Director of the National Rural Touring Forum stating:

I am noting the lack of diversity in the groups I have sat on. There has been a lack of scales of employment and contracted positions. Primarily it has been leaders of organisations like myself.325

Indeed, sector support organisation One Dance UK observes that “freelancers do not feel directly represented in the taskforce or working group structure”.326 After the taskforce was announced, BAME artists published an open letter to the Secretary of State calling for their views to be heard.327 However, Stage Sight, which promotes diversity among the offstage workforce in the performing arts, argues:

it really shouldn’t need open letters and pressure to realise representation within a contemporary society must include those from all backgrounds in terms of gender, class, race and disability.328

To maintain trust and confidence in the Taskforce’s work, Andrew Miller recommends that “Equalities Impact Assessment and Monitoring is applied to all the key decisions of the Taskforce”.329 On an organisational level, a consortium of mid-scale theatres from around the country observes that the groups’ work is focused on larger organisations and venues, so argues that “regional and community-focused organisations need to be included”.330 Similarly, there have been concerns that music is not considered a priority as it is not represented on the taskforce, just on the working groups.331 The Cultural Renewal Taskforce and working groups demonstrate a worrying lack of diversity of representation. To ensure that sectors remain accessible to all as they reopen, it is essential that all decisions and proposals by the Cultural Renewal Taskforce and its working groups are accompanied by full equality impact assessments and monitoring.

116.We have also received calls for better joint-working and dialogue between the creative workforce and DCMS, to inform and assist policymaking during and beyond the current crisis. In a joint submission, nine creative trades unions and copyright collecting societies—representing more than 330,000 members, many of them freelance—express disappointment that DCMS has not properly heard their concerns or those of creative freelancers.332 Describing the appointment of the taskforce and working group as “opaque”, they propose that DCMS forms a ‘UK Creators Council’—a roundtable along the lines of the existing Creative Industries Council—which would advise Government including on issues relating to creative freelancers and SMEs. While the proposal has been discussed with Government over the past 18 months, the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society says it “is needed now more than ever” so that Government can hear directly from creators.333 Forming a ‘Creators Council’ could boost confidence across the sector and ensure its views are represented at a time when many of the creative industries workforce are struggling to stay in the sector. We recommend that DCMS forms a Creators Council as a mechanism for better dialogue with the creative workforce to understand its needs and viewpoints as we emerge from this crisis.

288 The Department’s objectives are:
Global: Drive international trade, attract investment and promote shared values around the world – promoting the UK as a great place to live, work and visit
Growth: Grow an economy that is creative, innovative and works for everyone
Digital Connectivity: Drive the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors
Participation: Maximise social action, cultural, sporting and physical activity participation
Society: Make our society safe, fair and informed
EU Exit: Help deliver a successful outcome to Brexit
Agile & Efficient: Ensure DCMS is fit for the future with the right skills, culture and connections to realise our vision and live our values as “One DCMS”
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, ‘DCMS: Single Departmental Plan - 2019, accessed 29 June 2020

289 Q111

290 Q113

291 Q111

292 Q170

294 Q147

295 Q136

296 Q155

297 Q354

298 Q116

299 Q117

300 Qq154, 169

301 Q156

302 Q154

303 London Sport (CVD0129), Youth Sport Trust (CVD0135), Sport England (CVD0032), Croydon Council, Croydon Sport, Physical Activity & Health Network, Croydon Sport Clubs (CVD0516), Sporting Equals (CVD0615)

304 Sport for Development Coalition (CVD0665)

305 Department of Health and Social Care, ‘Mobile networks remove data charges for online NHS coronavirus advice, accessed 11 May 2020

307 Q156

308 Ofcom, Plan of Work 2020/21 (30 April 2020), p 30

310 Newcastle City Council (CVD0427)

312 HQ Theatres (CVD0073)

313 The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), The Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) and the British Arts Festivals Association (BAFA) (CVD0329)

314 The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), The Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) and the British Arts Festivals Association (BAFA) (CVD0329)

316 Q358

317 Q359

318 Q350

319 Tourism Management Institute (CVD0426)

320 Q321

321 PRS For Music (CVD0497)

322 The Association of Independent Showmen (CVD0396), Zippos Circus (CVD0123), The Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain (CVD0226), Chris Barltrop (CVD0228), Circus of Horrors Ltd (CVD0410)

323 The Association of Independent Showmen (CVD0396)

324 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, ‘Cultural Renewal Taskforce and supporting Working Groups, accessed 29 June 2020

325 National Rural Touring Forum (CVD0395)

326 One Dance UK (CVD0444)

328 Stage Sight (CVD0388)

329 Andrew Miller (CVD0281)

330 Mid-Scale Producing Theatres (CVD0441)

331 Sheffield City Region Mayoral Combined Authority (CVD0459)

332 The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), Directors UK, Equity, The British Equity Collecting Society (BECS), The Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), The Musicians’ Union, The Royal Society of Literature, The Society of Authors , The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) (CVD0409)

333 The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (CV0035)

Published: 23 July 2020