Around the country, a roadshow is taking place that could transform the way young people are employed in this country. Bear with me, we are about to enter the strange world of mystifying acronyms and quango jargon, but it just might be worth it. The Creative Employment Programme (or CEP to the initiated) aims to create up to 6,500 employment opportunities across the country. The road show has so far visited Birmingham, Sheffield, Gateshead, Cambridge and Southampton to encourage employers to sign up.
Using money from the National Lottery, Arts Council England has set up a £15 million fund to create thousands of apprenticeships, traineeships and internships in the arts and culture. The scheme will be run by Creative and Cultural Skills, a so-called ‘Sector Skills Council’, a body designed to promote training and employment in the arts sector. Other partners are likely to include further education colleges and youth employment charities such as my own. So yes, I am declaring an interest, but it’s not as if I have ever made a secret of my belief in the ability of the creative industries to put people back to work (and the moral imperative to do so).
So why will this make such a difference? For a start it has cross-party support – in an area of policy fraught with ideological differences. It was launched by skills minister Matthew Hancock last week, but owes much to Labour’s much-lamented Future Jobs Fund. Could this be an example of genuine ‘what works’ policy, bringing in private business, the third sector, education, philanthropy, local councils and the state?
More profoundly it will build good employment practice into the very fabric of the application process. Organisations which want to access the funds to take on young people will be asked to sign up to the ‘fair access principle’ pledging their commitment to good employment practice, including the payment of at least the national minimum wage to interns. This is voluntary and no more than asking employers to abide by the law. But this is far more than a symbolic gesture.
Why not make all future Arts Council grants conditional on signing up to the fair access principle? And why restrict it to the arts sector? A genuinely enlightened government would embed the principle in the procurement process: that would soon put a stop to unpaid internships.