Why Cameron must not abolish the culture department

The abolition of the DCMS would be a disaster for the creative industries.

As we approach the Olympics, rumours that the government is planning to abolish the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – the creative industries' place at the cabinet table (as well as heritage, the arts, libraries, sport, the media and tourism to name just a few) – are becoming more widespread, and more grounded.

Anyone who works in the arts and the creative industries understands their worth – not only in terms of the value they provide to us as consumers, but the value they add to our economy; 1.5 million jobs and more than 10% of the UK’s exports – this is not a sector which should be underestimated or sidelined. A recent report by the Institute of Economic Affairs claimed that closing DCMS would save £1.6bn, a figure which will appeal to this government as they plan policy based on short-term savings, rather than long-term strategy. This figure is based almost wholly on funding which is distributed to other organisations such as the Arts Council. To make these savings in their entirety would mean abolishing schemes such as free museum entry.

The other, more likely, option which it is rumoured the government is actively considering, would be the redistribution of the elements of DCMS to other, beefed-up, Whitehall departments: the creative industries to Business, Innovation and Skills, Sport to Health or Education and Heritage perhaps to Communities and Local Government. To do this would be very, very short sighted.

The arts and creative industries provide both massive cultural and economic benefit. A decade of free entry to our museums and galleries has seen visitor numbers more than double from seven million to 18 million a year; a child at school in Britain today rightly has free access to learn about our important heritage and history.

Through the flagship creative partnership scheme, which Labour introduced, a young person had the opportunity to develop their creative skills and learn about work in the creative industries; a scheme which has been cut by this government. We are now able to enjoy festivals which embrace our unique identity, and our ability to lead in the world of culture – the Manchester International Festival, Animation Exeter, Sheffield Doc/Fest; all of these are the result of the championing of the DCMS during the Labour years.

Labour also understands that the arts and creative industries more than earn their worth. Free entry to museums has meant that not only have visitor numbers increased, they also earn Britain over £1bn a year in revenue from overseas tourists.

Creative industries rely on three elements which, although not perfect, were successfully fine-tuned in the last decade; a strong intellectual property framework (although this could be made stronger), a wide variety of skills with leading universities such as Central St Martin’s and the University of Brighton, and incentives to encourage exports, and inward investment. Fashion, for example, recruits heavily from UK graduates and contributes nearly £21bn to the UK economy. Since 1999, this vibrant sector has grown by an average annual rate of 3.3% and shows no sign of slowing down, despite the double-dip recession made in Downing Street.

But our position as a world leader becomes threatened without a department which champions the arts and creative industries and represents them at the government’s top table. We have already seen the disregard in which David Cameron and George Osborne hold these important sectors with the budget announcement on the heritage tax, and the misguided philanthropy cap. Thanks to a strong campaign from arts and heritage organisations, the latter has now been one of many U-turns, and the former has seen a partial U-turn but still leaves 93% of listed buildings in danger. The proof remains – we cannot allow the creative industries, the arts, heritage, libraries, tourism, sport and the media to be without a champion at the heart of government. 

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Harriet Harman, raised concerns at the potential abolition of the Department in April this year, at which point Number 10 stated that “it did not recognise” the reports, and yet these rumours persist. If David Cameron is serious about the arts and creative Industries, he should give a categorical assurance that he will not abolish this important department - unlikely to be forthcoming in the short term.

Last week, Labour held a reception with over 150 figures from the creative industries to demonstrate the immense talent and potential which these industries hold. The reception was attended by not only the shadow DCMS team, but also members of the shadow treasury, business, innovation and skills and education teams. Hundreds of people are feeding into our report A Vision for Jobs and Growth in the Creative Industries which focuses on what the government should be doing to provide much needed support – not one person has advocated the abolition of DCMS.

We know that the success of these vibrant industries relies not just on the continued existence of the department, but also on a department which champions it across government, and fights its corner. The abolition of DCMS would be a disaster for one of Britain’s true success stories, and we must not allow that to happen.

Will Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's department survive the reshuffle? Photograph: Getty Images.

Dan Jarvis is shadow justice minister and Labour MP for Barnsley Central.

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.