Because I became a chef the week after I left university, I never went on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, though I had lots of friends who did. (You can listen to some 80’s janglepop from my friend Ally's record label, Sombrero, partly enabled by the EAS, here.) My recollection is a key boon (to both individuals and the government of the time) was getting away from the dole office for a year, but that may just have been my friends, and it did undoubtedly assist some long-lasting businesses, and provide some great experience for people making their way into the world with few resources. (And MySpace and the internet mean those old records, books and magazines in attics and garages might even have a second life.)
Do it yourself: cultural and creative self-employment in hard times is a new report by New Deal of the Mind for Arts Council England, just published. It provides research and analysis to inform thinking about opportunities for young self-employed creative people and the potential implications of the government’s Future Jobs Fund, and amongst other things suggests creating a 21st century version of the EAS. (It has interviews with people who benefited such as Louise Wilson.)
I feel there are also lessons to be learnt from more recent small grants schemes to support creative industries, such as the North East’s Cultural Business Venture. Investment in technology and marketing in the early days of a business, enabled by access to ‘micro-finance’ may have more impact than the same amount spread across a year to subsidise living. The requirement to talk to a Business Link adviser and work on a business plan was often of real benefit to people, they told us – though usually only afterwards! We have been working with Business and Enterprise North East to make sure artists get a good service: see here for a press story about the new MOU we’ve signed. Such an approach would also encourage an approach to the support of artist businesses based on building a business - or 'just' a living - though investment of funds rather than simply a weekly subsidy. Probably a mixture is required to help people out of unemployment.
Where I think the report hits the bull’s-eye is in drawing attention to the lack of focus on self-employment in the government’s approach to recession and job creation. The Future Jobs Fund is based on having employers and employees, and self-employment hardly features. This has to be self-defeating as an approach, particularly in a sector with such high freelance and self-employment figures as the arts.