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Government creative industries strategy

By The Drum, Administrator

March 6, 2008 | 6 min read

Culture club

Britain’s made some big films – that’s a couple of hundred million quid more. Fashion houses are successful and we’ve got the best designers in the world don’t we? So they must be worth something.

But what about our museums and art galleries? How about the bedroom DJs or lone freelance graphic designers? How do we measure that? Is it worth anything to the local economy that Atomic Kitten came from Liverpool? How does that translate into wealth or jobs for the people left in the city?

Gordon Brown might be coming in for a lot of stick as Prime Minister, but there is one thing he did as Chancellor we are still benefiting from – he counted things.

Until recently, we didn’t know what the regional economies were worth because nobody had ever counted before. Similarly, nobody knew what the creative economy was worth or how many jobs it bred and fed – until somebody counted.

We now know that the creative economy counts for seven per cent of the country’s GDP, and growing. The sector has also grown twice as fast as the rest of the economy so it’s no wonder that the government wants to pay special interest to how it keeps the creative industries at the top of their game.

Inspiration

Released in the last couple of weeks, a new Government strategy, “Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy”, is a vision that every town and city in the UK becomes part of the creative economy.

It makes sense – if we can’t build it here, because it is cheaper from China or India, then we can at least design it, advertise it, compose the jingle, film the advert, act out the product in inflatable costumes in the high street. Ok, I added the last one, but you get the idea.

The Government’s biggest inspiration for the policy seems to have been a film – Billy Elliot! You may have heard recently, talk about giving kids five hours of ‘culture’ a week in school. That wasn’t some soft attempt to appease the arty-left, but actually was part of this strategic policy. The Government has one thing right – everyone I talk to says that finding talented staff is a huge problem (but PR firms won’t admit it). So at the core of this strategy is the idea there is a vast pool of talent around the country that has never considered dressing up in a tutu (as a job anyway). By exposing them to culture and creativity, they may consider seriously looking at the creative industries as a career. How many kids in Cornwall could be the next Alexander McQueen, but the only runway they’ve ever seen is on the way to Marbella?

Another idea is a “menu for local infrastructure”, which is probably as boring as it sounds, provided by RDAs and Local Authorities. The idea is to guarantee that every town has enough band rehearsal space for example, but also for businesses the high-speed internet connections that film companies may need to shoot their latest creations around the world.

The rest of the strategy is more directly relevant to business. However, talk of specialised business support, regional frameworks and strategies galore, give away the lack of details so far.

The strategy does include contributions from all the Government departments, so in principle this is a joined-up strategy, but I’m still left wondering how it supports the companies that are day-by-day earning money in the marketplace.

There has been a fair bit of criticism for this strategy paper. Critics say it is not enough, or ‘gimmicky’. But I think they underestimate how novel this is. The only one who can say what your business needs to succeed is you. And we are dependant on talent, not raw produce, so having young people who are more used to creative writing has to be a good thing. Designers who can design? Dancers who have seen a ballet before their 18th? Surely these are good things?

There is one branch of political thought that says if you can measure something you can also control it. Control is another feature of the strategy document, promising action against broadband providers if they don’t find a way to stop people illegally downloading music and films. It’s a strong statement of willingness to act to defend the industry’s Intellectual Property, even if the British Phonographic Institute has admitted it won’t increase music sales.

Big Cultural Spending

A good sign is that the regions outside London are obviously showing an interest. Of all the pilot apprentice schemes identified so far two-fifths are in the north west. Given the previous favouritism for London with big cultural spending, investing money in the regions is welcome, and recognition that a cultural rather than a manufacturing economy needs to reach into every corner of the nation.

Internationally, UK Trade and Industry will launch a marketing strategy to promote the creative industries abroad in places like China and at the Olympics, but personally, I think we still have to repair the damage we’ve done by entering Scooch into the Eurovision Song Contest.

Millions of people work in the creative industries, and the last attempt to support the industry with the Cox Review, five years ago, only got as far as saying that designers can pretty up the things we make. In 2008, we make less things and we are more dependant on the TV shows we produce, the clothes we make, and the music we write than ever before in this nation’s history.

Now you know how much you are worth – are you worth it?

Tris Brown heads up public affairs at Tangerine in Manchester

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