Cover story

By The Drum, Administrator

January 26, 2007 | 7 min read

In December, while the Scottish art world was rounding on the draft Culture Bill – bemoaning its plan to create new cultural development agency Creative Scotland by merging the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, and the loss of the “arms-length principle” which keeps politicians from exerting direct influence over artistic bodies, while arguing about who should take responsibility for Scotland’s creative industries – another potentially far more important cultural study was emerging from Brussels. This new independent study from the European Commission (EC) underlines the changing way in which Europeans – Scots included – earn a living.

Across Europe people are now much more likely to work in sectors such as television, creative design or other “niche” jobs than in a factory. The cultural sector employs nearly six million people – more than the population of many EC countries – and in 2003 turned over £650 billion. What is important about this study, and what makes it hugely relevant to the situation in Scotland, is the way in which it measures socio-economic impact and so redefines the scope of the culture sector. It moves us away from a parochial argument about the merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen and their ultimate control by providing a refreshingly wider European perspective. It also offers pointers for how Scotland might actually take a lead in the development of its cultural and creative industries.

There have been many extravagant claims in the past few years about the sector’s economic value, but for the first time this European study endorses what many could only previously assert: that the cultural sector is the engine of creativity, and that creativity is the basis for social and economic innovation.

Of course, seizing upon creativity as the economic salvation that will fight off competition from emerging economies is not new. The 2005 Cox Review, commissioned by the Treasury, set out creativity as the key to national prosperity, as well as providing a stark warning that all of the world’s emerging economies are investing in creative capabilities. Like the European study, the Cox Review gave a crisp analysis of the situation as well as a succinct definition of creativity and innovation.

Since then, Cox has continued to underline the global challenges – India wants to be a global design hub and is committed to a network of academic and business centres of excellence; Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand have spent millions setting up design centres; China has opened up a staggering 400 specialist design schools; and the New Zealand prime minister is seeking to grow a cohort of design-led businesses capable of competing globally.

Unfortunately, the impact of the Cox Review in Scotland, in contrast with the activity it has generated in England, seems to be minimal. In fact, comparing the amount of energy and initiative generated in England around the cultural and creative industries with the almost total lack of activity in Scotland is baffling.

South of the Border there has been the Cox Review (and a host of follow-up activities), the Creative Economy initiative which is seeking to make the UK’s (sic) creative industries the most competitive in the world, and numerous initiatives by the energetic Regional Development Authorities working in partnership with the Design Council.

In Scotland, by comparison, we have had the Cultural Commission, the Draft Culture Bill and Creative Scotland – lots of discussion on structure and governance, but precious little content. When we are asked whether Creative Scotland should have an “economic development role for the creative industries” how should we respond? The consultation document defines the creative industries to include design, music, publishing, literature, craft, designer fashion, film, computer games and TV and radio. What it does not explain fully is how these relate to the wider arts and culture fields. Far less does it expound the global context.

This is where the new European study is useful. It defines the culture sector as “non-industrial sectors” producing non-reproducible goods and services that are consumed on the spot – exhibitions, concerts, festivals. This is the arts field – visual and performing arts as well as heritage. In the creative sector culture becomes a “creative” input in the production of non-cultural goods, largely through design – fashion, interior, games and product. Thus creativity becomes a source of innovation. This links with the Cox Review, which clearly underlines the connection between creativity, innovation and design.

All of this really matters to Scotland because in 2006, for the first time, the Scottish Executive published data on Scotland’s creative industries showing the gross added value per employee in the sector as £69,000. That is an amazing figure because £69,000 is twice the value of manufacturing and is catching up fast on the sector with the highest value, electronics.

But despite the fantastic growth in the creative industries in Scotland, there are signs that they are under serious threat. In line with the rest of the UK, employment is falling due not least to increased international competition from the Far East. At the same time there is the bizarre lack of investment by our national enterprise agency. All of this sounds warning bells not just for the creative economy and anyone who wants Scotland to develop world-class creative enterprises, but also for the providers of our future talent – our art schools and universities. This is the crucial aspect missing from the Culture Bill – the connection with creativity and skills.

There is a really absurd contradiction at work here – and that is the effort and expense that goes into the higher education of creative people and our creative capabilities. More than 70,000 students are studying on creative courses in higher and further education in Scotland (proportionately more than the rest of the UK). This is in stark contrast to the complete lack of economic and infrastructural support that our graduates need once they enter the workforce.

Here, the European study and the Cox Review converge neatly. Both want a greater emphasis on creativity and enterprise education from school through to professional levels.

The recent Leitch Review of Skills could also be used in this debate. Despite it being an English document, its implications, especially the need for investment in creative capabilities, cannot be avoided. Creative Scotland cannot do without the tertiary education sector, not just in terms of developing talent. It also needs its research and innovation, especially its world-class design capability. This is the connective tissue that aggregates value in the creative and cultural sector.

Against the bigger UK, European and global backdrop and the recognition that the cultural and creative sector is reinventing and redefining itself beyond the traditional and stereotypical, perhaps counter-intuitively Creative Scotland begins to make sense. Maybe the coming together of the former functions of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen with a new economic development role for the creative industries heralds a fresh approach. And the closer relationship of this new body with MSPs who also have responsibility for education and training holds out possibilities for more joined-up actions.

If the creative capacity of Scotland’s higher education sector could somehow be added to the mix then Scotland – with its economies of scale, familial institutional relationships and cross-memberships – could lead in making Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.


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