We must nurture grassroots creative industries and fund local cultural initiatives
With the creative sector well-placed to support efforts to level up the UK, Government must support local businesses to fulfil their social and economic potential
Since 1998, when the UK first mapped the creative industries as a distinct sector, it has developed into a major economic asset. Worth over £111.7bn, it is growing at five times the rate of the UK economy and contributes more than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences, oil and gas industries combined.
Creative businesses generate 12% of services exports and a significant amount of the UK’s soft power. They employ over two million people, adding jobs at little or no risk of automation, and at three times the national average.
But the contribution they make locally goes beyond the economic. From Margate’s Turner Contemporary to Hull’s tenure as UK City of Culture, the impact is clear: culture stimulates urban renewal, civic pride, and creates places where people want to live and work.
While much creative industries activity is concentrated in London and the south-east, there are 47 identified creative clusters across the UK, widely acknowledged as driving jobs, innovation and growth.
In town clusters from Penzance to Harrogate and in urban centres like Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff and Manchester, the creative industries are growing in every region of the UK. It’s a sector well-positioned to support efforts to level up.
And yet the sector’s distinctive characteristics mean specific interventions will be required if it’s to address its challenges and opportunities.
It is dominated by micro-businesses, 95% of which employ fewer than 10 people, with 47% of the workforce freelance. Creative businesses suffer a consequent lack of local visibility or capacity to engage in fora like LEPs. Accessing finance to invest in R&D or training is difficult.
Creative businesses are more productive than similar-sized businesses in other sectors but unless they scale up, they’ll struggle to contribute to the UK’s productivity challenge.
“Culture stimulates urban renewal, civic pride, and creates places where people want to live and work”
The sector will also need to adjust to a changing funding landscape. In the context of local authority culture cuts of some £390m between 2010 and 2018, European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) have been transformative.
ESIF money has supported place-making infrastructure and local growth in areas of the greatest need, from Merseyside’s Baltic Creative to Creative Kernow, Cornwall, contributing over £400m to 1,915 projects in England, Wales and Scotland since 2007.
To fulfil its potential, the sector will need tailored access to the ESIF’s successor, the Shared Prosperity Fund: flexible match-funding requirements, funding cycles long enough to sustain change, and contractual, payment and reporting processes that don’t disadvantage micro-businesses.
For creative clusters, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Local context matters, and local authorities, LEPs and universities need to work together to consider how best to support local development.
This could mean reviewing procurement practices to ensure inclusivity, subsidising rents, offering empty buildings or reduced business rates.
In rural areas, which suffered most from austerity, the challenges are different again. The £250m Cultural Investment Fund is welcome, but it won’t help where there’s little in the way of infrastructure – revenue funding is what’s required.
In addition to place-making, the creative industries play another, vital, role locally, through opportunities for cultural participation. Well-evidenced benefits ensue from this, across key social concerns: education, crime, community cohesion, health and wellbeing.
Yet these benefits are unevenly distributed, disproportionately affected by the discrepancy in arts provision between state and fee-paying schools.
This impacts not only on sector pipelines, but on the economy, too. Research shows students who study arts subjects at school are more likely to develop the technical, creative, thinking and behavioural skills that matter most in the wider innovation economy.
Nurturing the creative industries locally will require place-based interventions informed by specialist central support. But it has to start by nurturing creativity – and that begins at school.
Baroness Bull is a crossbench peer
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