Author: Luke Alcott

All Party Writers Group Winter Reception 2021

Writers, MPs and Lords were welcomed back to the House of Commons for the first All Party Writers Group (APWG) Winter Reception since 2019 on 7 December.

Deputy CEO of ALCS, Barbara Hayes and Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP Photograph © Matt Crossick

The event celebrated the winners of both the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) – sponsored Educational Writers’ Award and the Ruth Rendell Award for Literacy, as well as discussing the APWG’s most recent report released in May 2021.

The evening kicked off with opening remarks from Chair of the APWG, Giles Watling MP, who discussed the APWG’s ‘Supporting Writers through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond’ report which made recommendations to the Government based on a supplementary inquiry held in November 2020.

 

Witnesses came from across the writing sector with representatives from the Society of Authors, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and authors themselves such as Poppy Corbett, a script writer, who also attended the Winter Reception.

The recommendations include:

  1. Increasing the overall fund for Public Lending Right as a fair and simple way to support all authors, particularly those beyond bestsellers.
  2. Securing ongoing targeted support for creators instead of funding that is limited to buildings and institutions.
  3. Creating a level playing field between high street bookshops and online retailers to help ensure a healthy supply chain in the book market
  4. Increasing opportunity for individuals from all backgrounds and areas of the UK to become a writer
  5. Protecting and promote the UK’s gold standard copyright regime – the confluence of Brexit and the pandemic has been a time of upheaval, we need to ensure that authors are protected to avoid any potential exploitation

Recently, the APWG has followed up on the first recommendation, in light of the Autumn Spending Review, by sending a letter to the Treasury asking for an increase to Public Lending Right.

Chair Giles Watling MP Photograph © Matt Crossick

Chair of the APWG, Giles Watling MP stated:

“It is always the writer that starts everything, everything we do. We are so dependent on you.

This group has been around since 2007 and we have sixty five members from both the Lords and the Commons. The whole point is to bring to Parliament’s attention what it is you do and how important you are to the British way of life and to British soft power around the world, and to make sure you are always at the forefront of our thinking.”

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Rt Hon Nadine Dorries, sent her apologies for not being able to make the reception and offered her support for the work of the Group through an online video, in which she said:

“As an author myself I know the blood, sweat and tears that go into every novel, play and script. I know the APWG has done great work advocating for writers over the year, particularly over the pandemic. As your report highlights, Covid has made it incredibly difficult for writers to carry on creating and making a reasonable living from their work.

I know it has had a knock-on impact on access and diversity. I have been very lucky to get into the world of writing and as we recover from the pandemic I want to make sure that we bounce back stronger than ever by opening the doors to new faces and voices.”

The ALCS Educational Writers’ Award was presented to the winner Sarah Maycock for her book “Sometimes I Feel…” by the Minister for Arts, Lord Parkinson, who recognised the contribution that writers continue to make to the wider cultural landscape. He stated in his remarks:

Cecilia Knapp and Minister for Arts Lord Parkinson Photograph © Matt Crossick

“We want the creative industries to continue growing just as quickly as they were before the pandemic, at twice the rate of the wider economy. We want creators to be fairly remunerated for their hard work across publishing, music and television. We want people in the sector to feel safe in the workplace without fear of bullying or harassment. We want the creative industries to be viewed as a positive career choice for school leavers which offer flexibility, high pay and opportunities for development.”

The winner of the Ruth Rendell Award was the inspirational Young People’s Laureate for London 2020/21, Cecilia Knapp, who received the prize for her outstanding contribution to literacy levels in the UK. Knapp has delivered various residencies for young people as part of her role as Spread the Word’s Young People’s Laureate, led free online workshops, and worked with young girls to explore issues such as #MeToo. She was grateful for the award, saying:

“The joy, recognition and empathy that comes from reading and the empowerment, self-discovery and expression that writing enables should be felt by everybody”

The APWG will continue to push for the changes highlighted in the recommendations above to ensure writers, like Cecilia Knapp, can continue to make a difference to today’s society.

All Party Writers Group sets out the impact of the pandemic on authors’ earnings and proposals for future recovery

Supporting authors and writers through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond: read the report here.

The All Party Parliamentary Writers Group (APWG) has laid bare Covid-19’s devastating impact on the livelihoods of the UK’s authors and writers and, in its latest report published today, has set out a ‘Ten Point Plan’ to help post-pandemic recovery.

The report is the latest calling for further targeted support for the country’s fragile creative and cultural sectors beyond the emergency funding so far, and for better engagement by Government with the creative workforce itself, including the vast number of freelancers, and not just industry.

It follows the APWG’s 2018 inquiry into the already parlous state of authors’ earnings. In compiling the report, the Group drew widely on membership surveys and held an inquiry session in November 2020, with witnesses from across the literary sector including authors, playwrights and leading writers’ representatives such as the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the Society of Authors, Writers Guild of Great Britain and Association of Authors’ Agents.

The session focused on challenges authors had experienced since the start of the pandemic, including cancelled commissions, loss of personal appearances during lockdown, the closure of high-street bookshops and the gaps in Government support, which failed so many freelancers.

The report advances a series of recommendations for the Government to implement to ensure that writers can feel more secure, and supported, in carrying on creating works for the British public, and in contributing to the revived success of the UK’s cultural and creative industries.

The recommendations include:

  • Establish a ‘Creators Council’, as a clear line of communication between the Government and the creative workforce, including freelancers, to assist policy-making and recovery.
  • Fair and modern contract rights for authors in the digital age.
  • Protect and promote the UK’s effective copyright system amid online exploitation.
  • Secure ongoing targeted support for the creative industries after the pandemic, to help recovery and enable career development.
  • Review the gaps in Government support for freelancers, and reform tax and benefit rules.
  • Remove VAT on audiobooks to establish a truly level playing field with printed publications.
  • Increase funding for the Public Lending Right scheme to reward authors for library book loans.
  • Improve access to grants, beyond venues, to better help authors and individual creators.
  • Increase opportunity, with more development support for writers beyond London.
  • Create a level playing field between high-street and online booksellers, which has become even more unbalanced through the Covid-19 crisis.

Writers are central to the creative economy in the UK, helping to produce the stage plays, television, film and books we all enjoy despite being often overlooked. The recommendations made in the report will also help to address inequalities, exacerbated over the last year for writers.

The APWG heard in the last inquiry that authors’ earnings had declined by 42% from 2005 to 2018 in a survey by ALCS, which helps to support the Group.

Further to this, surveys by the Society of Authors in 2020 discovered that 65% of writers had lost income during the first half of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more losses expected. Testimonies from witnesses, including children’s author Dawn Finch, discussed the impact, explaining that income sources on which many writers rely had simply been wiped out, leaving their future uncertain.

There is also widespread concern that the impact on earnings will further affect diversity within the industry. Writers are typically freelancers, and much-criticised gaps in eligibility for government support, such as the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), have meant large numbers have been unable to access funds to sustain themselves during the pandemic. The same has also happened with grants and loans for individuals, beyond the support focused on venues.

The report follows studies by the Royal Society of Literature and statistics from DCMS that suggest writing as a profession, and the creative industries more broadly, are disproportionately a career path for those who already have independent means.

Poppy Corbett, inquiry witness and playwright, said:
“This is a real issue in terms of inclusion and diversity as, frustratingly, SEISS only applies to authors who can afford to be self-employed full time and who do not need any other supplementary income, so there’s a danger in losing talent forever from the theatre industry.”

On the release of the report, Giles Watling MP, Chair of the All Party Writers Group, commented:
“With this new inquiry, we can see the need to act to support the creative workforce across the country. Throughout the UK, authors have ensured that we have the books, film, television and dramatic works to help us through the pandemic and to support the next generation. We need to make sure that authors are fairly rewarded and can keep doing the fantastic work they do.”

Read the full report here.

All Party Parliamentary Writers Group confirms Giles Watling MP as its Chair

On 9 September, the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group (APWG) met to confirm Giles Watling MP as its Chair. Mr Watling took over as Acting Chair of the group after Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP left the position to become Minister for Media and Data within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

Mr Watling has a long interest in the creative industries with a background in the performing arts, primarily as an actor. He has also run theatres, produced shows, has written for film and television and has been a director for the commercial touring circuit. In Parliament, he continues to champion the arts and joined the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group to ensure writers’ rights are recognised and rewarded. Before becoming its Chair, Mr Watling took a key role in the APWG inquiry into authors’ earnings; the report of which urged the Government to establish a ‘Creators’ Council’, provide ongoing support for the creative industries upon withdrawal from the European Union and to support high-street booksellers.

Looking at the priorities for the group, Mr Watling said:

“Our inquiry into authors’ earnings showed that the UK’s excellent creators faced a difficult situation even before the impact of COVID-19, which is expected to have a major effect on our creative industries. We made suggestions to the Government that were necessary then and we must see where these measures are urgently needed to ensure our creators and creative industries can continue to succeed through these difficult times. We also hope to look at opportunities to ensure the interests of authors are represented across the country. Too often opportunities in the creative industries are tied to London even though creative talent is found across the country and as it stands, too many communities are left out and opportunities are missed.

I have been involved with this group for some time, and I am pleased to have been confirmed as Chair. This is a well-supported and established group in Parliament, that does some excellent work. I will continue to push the Government on support for writers and the wider creative arts.”