Statement of Evidence by John Howkins (ECA0003)



  1. I wish to address two questions listed in your Call for Evidence


  1. My response is based on many years experience in the global TV and film industries, 20 years in developing policy for the creative industries, and as the author of several books on creative industries. I am a member of UN and UNCTAD advisory boards and have worked closely with ITU, ILO, WTO and WIPO. My work covers business development, public policy and soft power.


  1. The Inquiry says the Central Asian states sit on the fault lines of great power competition between two of the UK’s foremost competitors, China and Russia. My own experience is primarily in China where I am familiar with its OBOR strategy (one belt, one road). UK/China bilateral contact has fallen since 2014 and sharply in recent years. At the same time, China’s involvement in Central Asia has increased through active diplomacy, OBOR policies, investment, trade and cultural exchange.


  1. Soft Power. British creativity is seen as a major part of our national heritage. Our creative industries have an enviable reputation. Many sectors (eg, architecture, design, music, theatre, TV, film, books) have an admirable record of international investment, partnerships and sales.


  1. For many years, DCMS, FCDO and Downing Street were active supporters of industries’ international expansion, as were the British Council and UKRI. Government and industry worked together. In 2014 the Creative Industries Council published ‘Create UK: Creative Industries Strategy’ and announced plans for government and industry to work together internationally on a Vision for 2020.


  1. Industry continues to expand internationally, albeit constrained by global events and Brexit. But government seems to have reduced its level of interest in soft power in the region.


  1. Multilateral institutions. There are many opportunities for the UK to work closely with Central Asia states in the multilateral institutions that cover the creative industries. These include the UN specialised agencies, such as UNESCO, WIPO and ILO, together with UNCTAD and WTO, which play a major role in gathering data, forming policy and sharing knowledge on the sector. Russia was active in these organisations until recently, as was the USSR previously. China continues to significantly increase its presence in and budgetary contributions to UN specialised agencies. The UK has not kept pace. 


  1. WCCE. In 2018 Indonesia launched a major global initiative, the World Conference on the Creative Economy, with support from UNCTAD, UNESCO and WIPO as well as from about 30 other countries including China. The second WCCE was held in Dubai in 2021 and the third in Bali in 2022 as part of the G20 events of which Indonesia was Chair. China contributed to the WCCE in Dubai in 2021 and a Russian delegation attended the WCCE Ministerial Meeting in Bali in 2022.


  1. It is a matter of regret that the UK government did not participate in or support these ministerial meetings and statements in 2021 and 2022. The next WCCE will be hosted by Uzbekistan in 2024 with the possibility of preparatory meetings there later this year. It is to be hoped the UK government attends. It is a clear opportunity, and the UK should make the most of it.


  1. The British Council is widely admired for its promotion of UK creative industries and its support for national policymaking around the world. It has contributed significantly to WCCE meetings. However, the Council does not represent the government in intergovernmental meetings. Moreover, the pandemic reduced its revenue funding and FCDO funding has not made up the loss.


  1. The WCCE in Uzbekistan 2023-24 provides a ready opportunity for the UK to enhance its soft power both directly and through multilateral institutions.


  1. Conclusion. These problems might be more understandable if our creative industries were small and insignificant. But the opposite is true. They are universally admired, and other countries are keen to engage and learn from our record.


  1. Moreover, creative industries are critical to the UK’s own wellbeing and prosperity. There is a growing recognition that they have a wide role in demographics, migration and the future of work. Most countries are taking a more active role to support their industries in international forums. The government’s attitude is a missed opportunity.













February 2023