Theresa May’s announcement that creative industries are one of the sectors to be addressed by her government’s ‘Modern Industrial Strategy’ is a simple recognition of economic reality. The creative industries grew by 34% (nominal increase in GVA) between 2010 and 2015. That growth demonstrates that the creative sector doesn’t need micromanagement – and the practicalities of intervention in hundreds of thousands of micro-businesses that that would entail would make that impracticable at scale. I don’t believe that the public sector can make smarter decisions about the direction of future investment in creative products, services and technology than the businesses involved in the sector, and therefore any strategy should not seek to define areas for new growth.
But the Modern Industrial Strategy is a misnomer. It’s long on windy optimism – ‘cultivating world-leading sectors’, ‘creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places’, ‘driving growth across the whole country’ – and short on both targetted spending and specific objectives. There is nothing new here for the creative industries – and nothing that recognises the drivers of its success.
My experience, built up over nearly three decades of employment, research, policymaking and engagement in creative industries, suggests that a truly modern industrial strategy should take on board the increasing importance of creative education in maintaining competitiveness in global markets. It should take the opportunity to address structural barriers to growth that have a particular impact on creative industries – inefficient allocation of capital for new product development, research and innovation; risk of physical displacement; access to talent; and increasing diversity in the workforce – whose removal would have benefits across the wider economies and in communities across the UK.
Here are my seven big ideas for a strategic framework for creative industries:
- To exploit the UK’s remaining access to European Investment Bank funds. This would secure capital to match fund and underwrite private investments in creative and digital capital industries, with a view to creating an ‘evergreen’ fund, on the lines of the co-investment model developed in London.
- To enforce planning and land use policies, as well as reform taxation of business premises (on the basis of a land value tax). This will assure the continuing supply of affordable retail and industrial space for creative industries, allied with the provision of affordable housing near those sources of employment to ensure that the sector can continue its efforts to diversify its employment base and drive inclusive growth in communities across the UK.
- To reform the visa system to allow employers to continue to attract the world’s best creative talent – the UK’s role as a cultural and creative entrepot is critical to its continuing international success, particularly in a world where harnessing growth in new markets in Asia, Africa, and South America, as much as maintaining access to its current export markets in Europe, is critical to its future success.
- To exclude overseas students from any measures of net migration, and reform visa rules to make it easier for them to remain in employment or continue their research in the UK on graduation.
- To define a clear long term funding settlement for university teaching and research to provide certainty in planning for individuals and institutions alike.
- To review funding and regulation of apprenticeships to ensure that they offer the flexibility needed by many smaller creative employers who are currently excluded from using this mechanism as a way to further increase employment in the creative economy.
- To launch a Royal Commission on Creative Education to mitigate the negative effects of years of underinvestment in, and downgrading of the status of, arts and design subjects in schools and colleges.
Iain Bennett, 23 January 2017