Yesterday spoke in Baroness Andrews debate about skills in the creative sector. I was keen to talk about how the arts and science sectors are moving closer together and everyone now needs to be digitally capable. Baroness Andrews was also instrumental in asking me to become Digital Inclusion Champion in 2009 so I was very keen to support her motion.
It was an interesting debate – everyone agreed on the importance of the sector and I was especially struck by Baroness Bonham Carter’s plea to increase ethnic diversity.
My speech is below – do you think i am the first lord to mention wiil.i.am in the Lords?
“I am honoured to talk in this debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. She was instrumental in starting me on my journey into digital inclusion and I thank her for that as much as for prompting the discussion this afternoon
I longed to work in the creative industries when I left university. I imagined myself as a great writer or, even better, as a renowned theatre director. In reality, I became a media and telecoms analyst. On getting my job, my boss told me that the telecoms industry was a fabulously interesting business filled with less interesting people, and that the media industry was a fabulously boring business filled with fabulously interesting people. It was 1994. Then a strange thing started to happen. During the following decade, these two sectors—media and telecoms—became more and more similar. The technology was moving so fast that the separation between content, distribution and customers was blurring. The internet had landed firmly in the middle and the definition of “creative” changed.
By 1998, I was running Lastminute.com, and the coders who lurked late at night on the top floor of the office were becoming the rock stars. They were the people in the team who were inventing the magic for our users. This trend has sped up. Now, the biggest stars on the planet, from will.i.am to David Hockney, are talking about coding and the power of tech. Creative people around the world are eulogising about the importance of learning to code. The geeks truly have inherited the earth.
Amazing and innovative ideas are emerging, such as the Creators Project, sponsored by Intel. It is one of my favourites, as it flushes out new digital artists. The ability to keep at the forefront of digital change will enable the UK to continue to lead the world in its creative sector, but there is much to be done. The introduction of better computer science in the curriculum and the mandatory teaching of coding in primary schools from September are very valuable. The UK has the opportunity to encourage a whole new generation of creators, but it is essential that the resources and training are given to teachers to make this change a success.
One aspect of the web that never fails to inspire me is the creativity that can be unleashed when people who have never before had access to it are shown how to use it. Jorge works with a charity that I chair, Go ON UK in Newcastle. Jorge came to the UK in late 1973 at the age of 16, having been forced to leave Chile following persecution by the dictatorship. He could not go back to Chile and reunite with his relatives and friends until recently, but earlier last year a friend suggested that he should get on the web and learn about digital media and self-publishing so as to write a book about his story. Jorge had never spoken of all those dark years in Chile but last year his book, Dear Chile, was published, and on the back of it he has just secured a publishing deal to write his memoirs.
Jorge had never used the web before this experience and he is not alone. Currently, 11 million adults in the UK cannot do four basic things online. How many more Jorges could there be among those 11 million—how many more people who never before have had the opportunity to become part of our wonderful and enriching creative sector? We need to build digital skills in all parts of our society to make sure that we have as wide as possible a pool of creative talent from which to draw.