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When culture is a priority: The BBC vs. CBC/Radio-Canada

In 1997, the British government identified the creative industries as vital to Great Britain’s future, and committed to reversing 18 years of funding cuts. The then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, declared his government’s "aim must be to create a nation where the creative talents of all the people are used to create a true enterprise economy for the twenty-first century."

The government established a Creative Industries Task Force (Creative Britain), which included a wide range of organizations from the creative and cultural industries, to assess the economic value of these industries, analyze policy and funding needs and identify ways to maximize their potential. The results of the work of the Task Force and the subsequent government investments were impressive.

Creative Britain initative contributed to the growth of the UK’s creative industries

UK Creative Industries 1997 2013 % Change
Employment 931,000 1,708,000 +85%
% of total UK employment 3.4% 5.6%
Gross Value Added (GVA) (Measure of economic contribution) £ 31.2 billion £ 76.9 billion +146%
% of total UK GVA 4.0% 5.0%
Service exports* £ 9 billion (2004) £ 17.3 billion (2012) +92%
% of total UK service exports* 7.9% (2004) 8.8% (2012)

*Note: Export values for software publishing were not available in 1997, and as a result 1997 data is not directly comparable to 2012. The oldest comparable year to 2012 is 2004.

The BBC lies at the heart of Creative Britain, and public funding for Britain’s public broadcaster has increased significantly in the last 25 years, fuelling its success. Meanwhile, public funding for CBC/Radio-Canada has flat-lined – and declined in real dollars (Fig 4).

Public Funding for BBC has grown significantly while CBC/ Radio-Canada's has remained flat

Fig. 4

Public funding for BBC vs. public funding for CBC/Radio-Canada

Moreover, CBC/Radio-Canada has always been funded at a per person level that is significantly lower than the BBC and almost all other comparable public broadcasters (Fig 5).

Lower Funding vs Other Public Broadcasters - Canada Well Behind

Fig. 5

Public funding for CBC/Radio-Canada compared to other broadcasters.

The gap between Britain's approach to cultural investment and Canada's is even more pronounced when we consider that Canada's spending on culture and broadcasting as a share of the overall economy has steadily declined over 25 years. (Fig 6)

Direct Public Investment in Decline

Fig. 6

Federal spending on culture and broadcasting as a Share of the Economy, 1991-2015

Canada can learn much from Britain's approach to funding culture.

The BBC offers a compelling example of how a strong, stable, well-funded public broadcaster can serve the interests of domestic audiences and diverse communities, support the global ambitions of its creative and cultural sectors, and provide a strong foundation for Britain’s creative economy.

Through a combination of a cohesive culture strategy and sustained culture investment over many years, "Creative Britain" is now a crucial part of the British economy, British culture is stronger than ever and the BBC is a global symbol of quality.