When on trade trips abroad leading politicians have always loved a bit of star dust. They’ve been quick to promote our Creative Industries. But historically, at home, they’re more muted. Indeed most MPs would rather talk about football than the theatre, though arts and culture attracts a bigger crowd. And civil servants prefer their Ministers to trumpet simple employment deals with large companies in traditional industries to the complexity of a creative sector, spread across different disciplines with thousands of small enterprises.
We cleverly categorised arts and culture, advertising, design, fashion, film, music, software, computer games, TV and radio together as long ago as the 1990s. Now is the time to drive their collective value. The creative sector represents 5% of our GDP, grows twice as fast and has created jobs five times faster than the overall economy since 2010. We know this because Ed Vaizey, now reappointed to both the Culture Ministry and BIS, helped scope them in 2013. Above him are now two ministers who well understand this business, Sajid Javid and John Whittingdale. The granting of tax credits by George Osborne to film, TV drama, computer games and now the performing arts already looks suspiciously like the beginnings of an industrial strategy for the sector. How about turbo-charging it with a target to grow the Creative Industries to 10% of the economy? What might an ambitious growth strategy look like?
First we’re going to need a massive investment in superfast broadband for our urban centres, not just London and the eight ‘core’ cities, but also in 30 other of our major towns. Even in the much touted ‘Silicon Roundabout’ area of east London 47% of companies say slow broadband is an issue. Virgin and BT are continuing to make important investments in our infrastructure but this needs a huge boost. Shortly after Google Fiber installed its gigabit services in Kansas City (not exactly Silicon Valley) the Washington Post reported a swift growth in digital start-ups. That’s the way to do it. As the legions of slavering BBC critics mass their ranks for an assault on the next Charter, just remember that the single, biggest existing intervention in the creative economy is the BBC licence fee.
Along with the obligations of ITV and Channels 4 and 5 this delivers £3 billion a year into home grown content, sustaining new services, defining our culture and bringing on the next generation of talent. I’d like to hear that more often amidst the bickering about salaries and political bias. We won’t succeed unless we nurture the next generation of creative talent, from school onwards.
State schools have been increasingly concentrating on an important but narrow ‘STEM’ agenda (science, technology, engineering and maths), with an excellent recent emphasis on programming. But in some areas art rooms have been closing and drama stages falling silent. We say put the A for arts into the mix: STEAM. Every child deserves to have their creative side awakened but from this will also come the next generation of Grand Theft Auto creators. In higher education (happily the province of BIS) universities are already reinventing themselves as placemakers. That’s why the University of the West of England is a partner in a Bristol art gallery, Sunderland University has taken over a craft centre for glass and Derby University has reopened their local theatre. We should integrate higher education into our national strategy to harness its flair, ambition and expertise.
Finally, public funding of the arts represents about around 0.1% of government spending but delivers a huge result. It’s integral to the creative industries, not least as one of the incubators of the talent going on to create economic value: Danny Boyle and Steve McQueen are both supported by the state early on and both create Oscar-winning movies afterwards. There’s now hard research demonstrating this talent ‘spillover’. So maintaining public investment in arts and culture must be a very important part of an industrial strategy for the Creative Industries. Not to mention the health of our culture.
Our creative sector is like a coiled spring just waiting to be set free. I’m encouraged that the new Creative Industries Federation will be working to establish a policy agenda with our new government. Let’s get on and do it… double the size of the Creative Industries by 2025, or earlier.