Creative Industries: Scotland's next, great money spinner?

By The Drum, Administrator

August 24, 2006 | 4 min read

The countdown has started to the next Holyrood election. I would like the economy to be up high on the agenda, but for the focus to be on the practical and the achievable rather than some unrealistic panacea by which the Scottish economy can suddenly leap into overdrive.

The future – for Edinburgh’s economy even more than for Scotland as a whole – lies up the value chain. Our private sector has to be focused on potentially competitive sectors, where we are likely to achieve and, critically, retain an advantage in the increasingly competitive global market place. The public sector should prioritise activities that provide support to such sectors.

Picking winners is even more problematic in economics than at Musselburgh Racecourse, so I must tread with care. But I suspect that there is a sector that fits the key criteria, where Scotland and its cities can be internationally competitive, and which receives less attention than it deserves. Let’s hear it for the creative industries. Stand up and take an accolade.

The creative industries cover a broad canvas, from music and drama to fashion and jewellery and on to the games sector and all those activities related to the web and broadcasting in its widest sense. These activities are up the value chain. They most certainly require high level skills. Innovation – creativity by another name – is critical. They also must be seen as businesses that can add value across the economy, in the same way as alternative uses of scarce resources; rather than something undertaken because it can yield some difficult to identify, non-pecuniary benefits for Scottish folk.

We cannot hope to compete internationally, now, or in the future, with low-skilled and low-wage cost activities. But we can hope, nay expect, to compete in this broad sector, provided we combine creative ability with sound business sense.

The good news to add in at this juncture is that demand for creative industries is growing and can be expected to grow even more rapidly in the future. Demand is most certainly income and wealth-elastic. As individuals become better off, they spend a higher portion of their incomes on ‘optional’ items rather than the necessities of life. These optionals include the goods and services produced by the creative industries. As more countries join the international marketplace – and individuals achieve higher incomes and accumulate wealth – so will demand for creative goods and services accelerate exponentially.

These are also traded sectors. Fashion and jewellery can sell worldwide, with limited transport costs involved. Digitalised output for media outlets again serves a global marketplace. Our music makers can travel wherever they wish, as well as selling their wares via DVDs and the web. Our culinary experts – yes, that is another creative industry – can attract high-spending visitors to sample their products or go forth and set up their stalls wherever demand is strong.

We have the capability. The graduates of the Edinburgh School of Art are as able as any across the world; likewise its counterparts in Glasgow and Dundee. Abertay is a renowned centre of excellence in all that is digital. So we must build upon that creative strength and ensure that it is allied to business sense. Edinburgh is home to two of the world’s great banks, at least two strong business schools and oodles of financial experts. That expertise, alongside the creative talent, could generate the key global centre of creative business. And this time around the business would be ours, based here in all that matters for value-added, and built to last – provided it was remembered that innovation is not just a one-off requirement but an indefinite necessity.

Jeremy Peat is director of the David Hume Institute.

This article is reproduced by kind permission of Capital Review magazine (www.capitalreview.co.uk).

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