Lucy Frazer


Lucy Frazer

The UK government’s culture secretary, Lucy Frazer was in the hot seat this morning (May 22) as the cross-party culture, media and sport committee challenged her on the government’s response to key issues including protection for the creative industries in the face of artificial intelligence (AI) and the need for a more flexible apprenticeship scheme.

Caroline Dinenage, the Conservative MP who is chair of the committee, asked Frazer for reassurance that the government was not prioritising its interest in advancing AI and tech over the of protection of the creative sectors, in light of the breakdown of the working group responsible for brokering an AI copyright code of practice, that featured representatives from the tech, creative and research sectors.

Frazer responded by saying she had been in conversation with prime minister Rishi Sunak on the issue, and that “It’s well understood about the importance of both sectors,” but stopped short of giving any concrete guarantees of how what any protections might look like, in the absence of legislation.

“We need to have a dynamic, agile approach to this area, it’s changing all the time,” said Frazer, who added that the UK needs to “work internationally” on the issue of AI.

The apprenticeship levy was another major concern for the committee, with Dinenage noting the skills shortage was a repeat concern from all corners of the industry that have given evidence to the ongoing inquiry into UK film and high-end TV. The apprenticeship system has long been criticised by those working in film and TV as not fit for purpose.

Launched in April 2017, the apprenticeship levy requires companies to invest 0.5% of their annual pay bill towards apprenticeships and offer a participant a contract of at least 12 months.

National training body ScreenSkills paired with the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS), department for education (DfE) and a number of industry partners on pilots with Netflix and Warner Bros Discovery and co-funded by the DCMS, and another co-funded by DfE, with lead partner Amazon Prime Video alongside Sky, Banijay, Lime Pictures and Fremantle.

ScreenSkills said in May of last year its overall assessment revealed the system did not work, with training programme not flexible enough to provide a viable long-term solution for apprentices in film and TV, and issues with overhead administrative costs incurred by employers that were unsustainable.

In November 2023, the UK’s cross-sector Skills Task Force also criticised the apprenticeship scheme, stating that members’ unused apprenticeship levy payments were equivalent to more than 1,000 new apprenticeships a year.

“There were a number of pilots and not all the evaluations have been conducted, and I’ve heard mixed reports about what works and what doesn’t work, and how they could be tweaked. I think there is still scope for delivering them,” said Frazer.

Dinenage asked whether the government was prepared to unlock levy funds to cover the administrative costs that had proven a burden for employers.

“This is something I’m actively looking at, of course we need to work within the framework of the apprenticeship scheme as a whole, there are other departments that hold the apprenticeship scheme as a whole within their policy areas, the department of education and the treasury, so I would like to see some further work at least looked at in this area,” said Frazer.

“I think what we’re looking for as a committee is something a bit stronger than ‘looking at’,” responded Dinenage. “This is fundamental. AI and skills are the two biggest things that come up time and time again.”

Elsewhere in the committee hearing, Frazer was scrutinised on her approach to the BBC’s impartiality; whether it’s appropriate for her fellow Conservative MPs to appear on controversial right-wing channel GB News; the effectiveness of broadcast regulator Ofcom; if the BBC should refer to Hamas as terrorists; and her refusal to condemn Israel for blocking journalists from reporting from Gaza, with Frazer saying “I am very keen to go to Israel to understand” before taking a position.