Creative accounting

By The Drum, Administrator

April 21, 2005 | 5 min read

Stuart McDonald

Among the hundreds of pages in the recent budget statement, you might be forgiven for missing Gordon Brown’s very interesting intervention into the UK’s creative industries, particularly design.

As well as usefully underlining the importance of creativity to business success right across the UK economy, especially the “impact of product innovation and design”, the Chancellor announced a series of steps to increase the contribution of creativity to productivity growth.

These included inviting Design Council chair, George Cox, to undertake a review to ensure that SMEs apply creativity and innovation to improve performance and are able to draw upon the UK’s world-leading creative skills in areas like “product and industrial, branding and advertising”.

Cox is someone who is sceptical of governmental reviews, but changed his mind because of the importance of the added value creativity can bring to business and his belief that government has come to realise creativity’s importance to UK competitiveness.

The budget statement also encouraged the English regional development agencies to consider how best to integrate design into corporate strategy, product and market development through the Design Council’s ‘design immersion’ campaign. The North of England is given special attention in terms of the launch of a modern design centre in Newcastle/Gateshead to ensure that businesses are able to access creative talent and design skills. All of this is to be underpinned by research – in a further measure aimed at accessing the creative sector’s substantial capability, the DTI are to help firms to identify how creativity can improve their performance. And, by the by, the Chancellor also provided £12million to develop commercial and business skills in the cultural sector.

Apparently, at one level, this is great news for the UK’s design and creative industries and a triumphant outcome of the Design Council’s discussions with the Treasury. At another level, it raises questions about the role of design, creativity and innovation in post-devolution Scotland because none of Gordon Brown’s measures relate directly to circumstances North of the Border. Design does not enjoy the same priority in economic development terms here as it does South of the Border, far less the investment outlined in the 2005 budget. Yet, with well over two-thirds of Scottish companies failing to generate new products or services, the lack of creativity and innovation is a major threat to competitiveness.

Certainly, in Scotland, through Scottish Enterprise, there is an emphasis on developing the creative industries and recent studies reinforce their importance, especially their concentration in Glasgow where design is particularly strong. However, the Treasury’s focus is not the creative industries themselves, but how more of that creativity can be deployed within manufacturing, and how the sector’s strength can magnify its impact in mainstream business.

Through its nationwide Creative Entrepreneurs Club, The Lighthouse has been proactive in promoting connections between the creative industries and other sectors like the medical devices industry, as well as manufacturing. It has also established particular training initiatives, ‘creative collaborations’ is a programme of workshops, which brings together creative industries and SMEs to share information, examine potential partnerships and create a pool of knowledge. The strength of creative collaborations is the evolution of a collaborative network. It is widely reported in innovation research that strong, managed collaborative networks are a stimulant to innovation. Coincidentally, another initiative, the ‘creating growth’ programme, addressed the development of the managers from the creative industries, particularly their leadership characteristics, well anticipating the Chancellor’s support for this area.

The Lighthouse has also been proactive in promoting Scottish designers and architects abroad, a fact recognised by Jack McConnell, the First Minister. Scotland has a tremendous record of design creativity and innovation. Our designers and architects are used all over the world. We don’t lack creativity; what is lacking is the creative thinking that will embed innovation across Scottish business and industry.

There needs to be further support to provide opportunities to connect SMEs and creative industries. Design and the creative industries act as a lever of innovation across all industrial sectors and advantage is achieved through recognition of that fact, as the Chancellor has so clearly stated. Structured network development, with clear learning, business and economic development outputs is required in order to facilitate not just the development of the creative industries, but also their recognition as a lever of innovation within other sectors. While The Lighthouse has taken a national lead in that respect much more needs to be done. Taking heed of the Chancellor’s measures to use design and creative industries to stimulate business growth and challenge our competitors would be an important step.

Dr Stuart MacDonald

The Lighthouse

Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and the City


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