On the table

Why is UK price inflation rising? Here’s the ONS table.

The rise in “other recording media” is largely videogames, according to the Office of National Statistics.

So if you’re not a regular reader of new books, or playing lots of new games purchased in the High St. on DVDs, or steering your new gas-powered boat or going camping by bus (while feasting on fresh fish) then… you’re not all that affected. Regular butter and coffee buyers will have noticed the increases, though.

Sadly, both gas and electric are set to be jacked up by yet another 6% in 2018, to pay for windfarms and solar subsidies. But even with that, and Council Tax rises and car insurance, everyone appears to expect UK inflation to fall in 2018.

Corporation Street

A unusually good street-level view of Corporation Street, Birmingham. Electric trams. The presence of the City School of Wireless Telegraphy, Ltd., and the soldier in uniform, suggests a date of about 1919.

Budget highlights for creatives

Here are some highlights of yesterday’s Budget, of relevance to freelancers and small business:

* From April 2018, a personal tax-free earnings allowance of £11,850 a year. Pay no tax, on annual earnings up to that amount. Good for artists and other low-income freelancers.

* “No business will be required to use the Making Tax Digital platform until April 2019 at the earliest” – this relates to the self-employed being required to do online tax returns. For smaller businesses, no switch “before April 2020 at the earliest”.

* “a new fund in the British Business Bank, seeded with £2.5 billion” to help successful small/medium businesses to ‘scale up’.

* New investment of “£30 million in the development of digital skills distance learning courses” (this will apparently test the use of Artificial Intelligence in such learning). Also announced was “a 2018 consultation on extending the scope of tax relief available to the self-employed for work-related training costs”.

* The government is to work on developing a “pioneering immersive technology for creative content”. No further details, but I’d guess it might involve a standard-and-safe form of in-car entertainment system for driverless robo-cars.

* The UK Games Fund “will be given an extra £1m to enable it to be extended to 2020”. The Fund gives access to financing and support for early-stage videogame creators.

* Will double the current number of UK entry visas “available to leading figures and individuals who show promise in technology, science, art and creative industries”.

* Research & Development tax credits will rise from 11% to 12%, from 1st January 2018. More measures to help the UK’s creative industries are due to be announced in the forthcoming Industrial Strategy White Paper.

* A plan to legislate to make “all online marketplaces jointly liable for VAT duties.”

* “A new railcard, for those aged 26-30. Giving 4.5 million more young people a third off their rail fares.” Seems likely to give a small boost to events attendance, employee recruitment etc.


Update: a new ‘Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre’ for the creative industries – with £6m funding to 2023 – which will be robustly independent and impartial.

“Shhhh…”

University libraries in the Midlands are now so noisy, they need expensive acoustically-damped HushPods.

Report: Bridging the Gap

There’s a new “Bridging the Gap” report on the arts and humanities in the UK. It’s the result of a one-year examination of how to improve collaborative funding-based projects with external partners. The universities were outside London, and the partners ranged from monoliths (such as the BBC and the National Trust) to local museums, theatres and the like.

The gist of the problem, in snippets from the report:

* “universities are institutions that are difficult to understand from the outside. At one level they seem monolithic and are branded as a single institution, yet in practice they are often silo-ed and operate with little coordination. As a result, partners may be disappointed when they realise that the understanding that they have built up with one academic or research group doesn’t ‘carry’ across the university. Similarly, partners [find baffling] the lack of co-operation or understanding between universities.”

* “Research in the Arts and Humanities still operates far more under a lone scholar model” [done by] “individual researchers who struggle to maintain conversations between multiple short-term grants”. Research robustly shows that… “most collaborations are forged by approaches made by external partners” but it can be difficult to respond to needs, when a pot of grant cash is not immediately on the table. When relationships do form in a funded manner, they are easily frayed or broken when the funding runs out and the “academics or partners change jobs”. Or when relationships are “laid aside for individual researchers to achieve permanent positions or promotions in the academy”, working in institutional cultures which don’t value or know how to quantify “co-produced and interdisciplinary research”.

* University management can see the project as just a set of “publicity opportunities” that also enables taxpayer funding to be banked, thus preventing both kudos and funding from falling into the hands of rivals. This means that often don’t take seriously having to “flexibly free up researchers from other responsibilities” to make sufficient time for the project.

* Academics may be “pre-setting the research question” due to having to promise deliverables to funders, and “it is surprisingly difficult to generate projects that are fulfilling for both sides. Individual academics, by virtue of their role in the grant application system, are often in the position of purse-holder, which can lead to a situation in which the academic may feel like they are commissioning rather than collaborating and unwittingly lay uncomfortable constraints on their partners.” … “lack of knowledge of the structure of the creative industries can damage the partner’s ability to realise the value of the partnership” [and creative partners can find] “themselves constrained by decisions that were inappropriate to their particular medium or industry, or were disappointed to be relegated to the role of a contractor delivering output”. Partner costs can be underestimated, so partners can quickly start to feel they are being asked for ‘work on the cheap’. On this the report notes that… “we have seen instances when research funds didn’t reflect the full economic cost of the in-kind resources and expertise brought by the partner.” [Even dangerously late payments…] “In some cases, the structuring of payments and pace of the project severely endangered the financial viability of the partner.”

* There is also a mismatch between creative and academic language (“You almost need a translator in the middle of these projects” said one interviewee). It’s also implied that ideological mismatch is avoided, since… “successful collaboration always requires warm personal relationships”.

Given the incredibly fractious and bitter politics currently holding sway at UK universities, this last point implies that leftist academics (i.e. the vast majority of arts and humanities academics, according to surveys, which is mostly due to hiring bias) can only work successfully with other leftists. I’d suggest this must often skew project work away from wider intellectual diversity, sending it down narrow ideological rabbit-holes.


Despite some gobble-de-gook writing on the first few pages, it’s a pretty good report and it gets better as it goes along. The final recommendations are short, but most are nicely pithy and blunt. I’d say that possibly the most important recommendations are…

* “creating modes of payment” that would be radical innovations for educational institutions — in that they simply pay people on time, as agreed. Radical stuff, indeed. The problem there is that academics may blithely say: “oh, yes, you’ll be paid on time, we’ve sorted that out now”. They may even believe that, when they say it. But when it comes to making the actual bank transfer to a third-party outside the university, university finance departments usually grind exceedingly slowly.

* bring in a new ‘producer’ role. “University researchers (or other staff) are not usually in the position to be able to assess the contributions or needs of their partners — or understand best practice in other domains of work — but they usually define and control the budget. The producer role provides a vital point of translation/mediation to mitigate this imbalance and to ensure that the collaborations are as effective as possible in the domains of all the partners involved. Resourcing this role would improve the outcomes of collaborative research projects.”

And I’d suggest that producer needs to be on hand before even the writing of the funding application by the academic and management. But where to find such skilled and savvy people-people, in a time of full employment?

The 2017 Arts Index – a broadly positive picture for the UK

Ahead of the Budget, the advocacy organization National Campaign for the Arts has its bi-annual report out, on the health of UK arts funding. The 2017 Arts Index has been updated with statistics from 2014/15 and 2015/16.

Note that they’ve translated all their figures into “per person”, which means the ever-rising UK population will appear to be constantly diluting arts funding — even if the actual cash figure remains static.

But even with that jiggery-pokery going on, and the inevitable shakiness of most of the inputs, they still can’t avoid painting a picture which has far more positives than negatives. The dips are of course in terms of Treasury tax-payer inputs, and the many local councils who have made grand-standing decisions to ‘cut all the arts, and blame the Tories’ in recent years. But such dips and cuts have actually been useful in one way, in that they have forced arts organizations at all levels to successfully diversify their income streams, as well as trimming their excess staffing, making workers more productive, and cutting wasteful spending.

Which means that the picture painted by the 2017 Arts Index report is very far from a smoking barren wasteland, of the sort leftists predicted for the end of a decade of Great Recession.

* “Combined expenditure of revenue funded arts organizations per person” is way up…

* Across the wider spectrum of the arts, ‘earned income’, personal business sponsorship, trust income and are all strongly up. Cash reserves are also up at arts organizations.

* ‘Individual giving’ to the arts has strongly soared since 2014. Part of that will be crowd-funding, no doubt. Possibly also the impact of a rising population of the elderly — meaning more bequests in their wills.

* National Lottery income (they didn’t consider other Lottery distributors to arts projects, for some reason) is shown to have risen per-person from 2013-2016, despite recent media alarmism about an apparent decline in Lottery receipts (due to private gambling and local lottery competitors, it seems).

* Arts attendance as a proportion of the population is only two points lower than it was in 2007, despite the diluting nature of an ever-rising UK population. And despite the big rise in ticket and transport prices since 2007. Among disabled people, attendance appears to be marginally up — but up in a way that’s been sustained across the last four years.

* Corporate business contributions appear to have settled back down to only slightly below their pre-Olympics levels, after a big rise in 2012 (the ‘Olympics sponsorship rise’).

* There has been a decline in kids taking dedicated creative arts GCSEs at school. But the percentage drop is small — 6.7% of all kids took such specialist GCSEs in 2007, compared to 5.3% in 2016. But factor in the dramatic rise in the school age population from 2012-2017, and we probably have just as many ‘arts GCSE’ kids available to employers and universities as there were in 2007, in terms of the simple numbers walking out of the school gates for the last time. The quality of those students is likely up, too, since there are probably now less distruptive and time-sapping ‘duffers’ being shoved into the arts classes ‘because they can’t do anything else, and it’s the easy option for them’.

* “Higher education students studying creative arts as a percentage of population” is only one point lower than it was in 2007, despite all the hoo-ha over tuition fees.

* The GVA of the UK’s creative industries have been doing very well since the Olympics. The measurable employment is way up…

Lecturer in Popular Fiction, Birmingham

Lecturer in Popular Fiction, University of Birmingham, UK. “The successful candidate will have research expertise in popular genre fiction (with Horror, the Thriller, Noir, Mystery, or Young/New Adult as areas of research interest that would be particularly desirable).” On the slim assumption that this is a rare English Literature centre that hasn’t effectively become a Dept. of Politics, it sounds like a really good job.

Digital histories

“The Museum of London has started contacting digital agencies and web designers from the 90s and early 2000s in order to locate saved content. At the same time the museum will be running an oral history project to document the untold story of the beginnings of the Web in London. At the same time the museum will be running an oral history project to document the untold story of the beginnings of the Web in London.”

It’s The Museum of London, so I guess they only want ‘London’. But perhaps it’s also time for West Midlands to dust off and secure its early work and websites in the same way?

Power to the people

A new report from environmental consultancy Julie’s Bicycle for the Arts Council shows that…

“a core group of 136 arts organisations have been reporting energy use since 2012/13. The total kilowatts per hour they consume – of electricity, gas and on-site renewables – have dropped by 22% over the period. This includes a 9% decrease [in just the one year] between 2015/16 and 2016/17.”

So basically the big UK arts orgs have cut their bills by 22%, through energy efficiency measures. Apparently the reporting data was “robust”, not arts-wooly. So that’s pretty good, and presumably there may be more efficiencies to come.

However, one then has to consider the green ‘stealth taxes’ added by energy companies to quarterly bills. The Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change calculates there has been an 18% green stealth-tax for electric bill payers, which pays for useless wind-farms and bio-fuel schemes. That comes in addition to the huge 120%+ energy price rises seen since 2000. The same Committee forecasts that the UK’s energy-intensive industrial sectors are overall set to see another “5.9%” rise in energy bills, due to the green ‘direct-to-the-bill’ stealth-taxes, by 2030.

Therefore, it seems to me that the arts probably need to find about another 8% saving, and then to maintain the resulting 30% savings total, if they’re to just-about come out ahead of the green stealth-taxes on bills by 2030. Still, they’re showing the UK that it can be done, which is something.

Exhibitionists wanted in Stratford.

A fab West Midlands job, just appeared: the Royal Shakespeare Company requires an Exhibitions Officer, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Innovate UK

Innovate UK, in Birmingham. The event…

“will explore themes such as robotics and urban planning and what this means for the individual, business and government. Other topics include artificial intelligence, smart cities, alternative food sources and space exploration.”

8th to 9th November 2017 at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, UK.

NEC not looking quite this pretty, but we can hope that it might in the future…

John Baskerville: Art and Industry in the Enlightenment

A new Birmingham history book, just published: John Baskerville: Art and Industry in the Enlightenment

“Baskerville was a Birmingham inventor, entrepreneur and artist with a worldwide reputation who made eighteenth-century Birmingham a city without typographic equal, by changing the course of type design.”

It’s a Beast…

BEAST FEaST 2018, 26th – 28th April 2018, at the University of Birmingham, UK. Three days of electroacoustic music, meetings and ideas. Sadly all the submission dates have been and gone.

Pop off

I’m researching the 2018 gallery exhibitions. I’ve lost count of the number of galleries that block my Web browser’s view within micro-seconds of arrival, with their infernal marketing-spam pop-over layers. Any I have a few browser add-ons that try to stop such things. Between this and the pollution of the search results, how does anyone (who isn’t tech-savvy) manage to surf the Web these days, and actually find anything that isn’t marketing ra-ra-ra?

When it happens on a low-grade source I’m increasingly just going back to the search results, and there perma-blocking that site from ever again appearing in my future search results.

“No events found”

“No events found” for BM&AG: Adults / Exhibitions. I had the same result a year ago, when researching the new 2017 exhibitions.

It’s not due to the lack a date input either, as the same setting gives a range of events when ‘Exhibitions’ is not the drop-down choice.

Sky-Fi

The Drayton Manor theme park’s science-fiction fireworks display this autumn, Sky-Fi.

“Will have you truly enthralled and entertained, with fireworks set to music from sci-fi favourites including Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars [etc].”

Very expensive, but it sounds refreshingly different.

Graphic Medicine

Graphic Medicine : the interaction of comics & healthcare. A lively and dedicated website complete with: an occasional podcast; a “This Week in Graphic Medicine” digest; comics reviews; and an annual conference (2018: Vermont / 2019: Brighton, UK).

Brexit, what Brexit?

Looking through Eventbrite in the West Midlands. Where are the local “Are you Ready for Brexit?” and “How to Get the Most From Brexit” and “Preparing for a Great Brexit” events? Businesses and universities seem to be still trundling along for a snooze at “European Funding Workshop: Part 23” etc.

Close To The Noise Floor

Close To The Noise Floor, a “4-CD, 61-track set exploring the origins of electronica in the UK” from 1975-1984. A collection of extreme rarities, judging by the track listing, and with almost no overlap with my own more pop-y chronological Space Patrol : the rise of early British electropop, 1977-1983. The Human League’s “Being Boiled” is the only overlap, although there are two versions so perhaps even that isn’t an overlap.

Windows Burpdate

The cover of the latest ComputerActive magazine, one of the best-selling magazines in the UK. Windows Update now assumed to be a front-page threat to your PC…