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More power to our creative cities

Janet Hull, director of marketing for the IPA

As the Creative Cities initiative project kicks into its second phase, Janet Hull, director of marketing for the IPA and executive director of Creative Pioneers, pulls together the key issues and explains why the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising is getting behind it.

Last month George Osborne announced a Cities Devolution Bill as part of the upcoming Queen’s Speech. The bill will devolve greater powers to the UK’s big cities, allowing them to play a greater role in shaping their own economic futures.

Was this by design? Or was it serendipity? Either way, the move aligns perfectly with the Creative Cities initiative launched last year by the Creative Industries Council (CIC).

It’s a project designed to promote jobs, growth and excellence in the creative industries by focusing on a series of cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Bath, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Leeds.

The aim is to turn these cities into creative powerhouses, renowned nationally and internationally.

There’s a logic to looking at this on a city-by-city basis. A city is big enough to make a difference, yet discrete enough to be able to concentrate resource and effort on. The results can be potent on a city scale when you ally a supportive public sector, focused on creating the right conditions, to a dynamic, entrepreneurial, private sector, creating clusters of excellence.

So what’s the state of play, and how do the cities compare?

Thanks to stats from Nesta looking at the density of the creative and high-tech economies on a regional basis, we can see that London retains its dominant position.

No surprises there, but ranking cities by the proportion of jobs in the creative and high-tech sectors versus the national average, we see that Edinburgh ranks second, Bristol third, followed by Manchester (south) and Glasgow.

Take a look at the table below, and you’ll see what we mean. Any number above one indicates that the area has a higher concentration of jobs in creative and high-tech economies than the UK as a whole; so Inner London, Edinburgh and Bristol are all above average, while Greater Manchester and Greater Newcastle are fighting neck and neck for fourth place.

(note: two surrounding areas, including Warwickshire and Solihull, score high-tech quotients of 1.1 and 1.2 respectively, reflecting the games industry)

Source: NESTA, 2011-2013, using DCMS data. There is some overlap between the two categories (programmers and web designers, for example) amounting to about 460,000 jobs in total.

So Manchester’s conviction that, after London, it is Europe’s second-most creative city (yes, ahead of Paris, Barcelona and Milan) can be challenged by Edinburgh and Bristol. And there’s no doubt that the likes of Newcastle and Birmingham have set their sights on narrowing the gap.

Achieving potential

Of course, the Creative Cities initiative is not so much about league tables as it is about potential.

That potential is enhanced when the creative and the high-tech economies come together to create synergy. There’s a significant opportunity in the middle where the two converge – in many digital specialisms, for example, including programming, software, digital publishing and gaming.

We can see this already in the way more and more STEM graduates (science, engineering, technology and maths) are coming into the creative industries. And in the way the STEAM acronym (STEM with Art in the middle) is now gaining currency.

It’s why an app or games developer, or a data analyst, can work with a social media agency, an ad agency or a publisher, or a programmer can build fashion-based m-commerce sites.

This is where the idea of clusters becomes relevant. Cities are the natural places for clusters to take root. We’re better together, and both the creative and high-tech sectors are naturally collaborative.

That’s because cities create clusters of excellence. By their nature, creative and high-tech businesses generate breakaways that locate close by and either provide services and skills to their former colleagues, or develop new ones.

It’s why independent film-makers and special effects artists congregate around the BBC in Manchester and Bristol, as well as alongside ad agencies, or why app developers locate beside digital agencies.

Clusters are good: they feed off each other; provide networks and communities; provide a mechanism to transfer skills; attract talent; and generate a supportive infrastructure.

Engage with the wider audience

There’s a danger however in taking the logic of this for granted. It would be a mistake to assume that our position is understood by others with a stake in the economy and the ability to influence its direction.

To secure, for example, development funds, we need to engage with local and national politicians.

The IPA commissioned a survey in December 2014 by DODS of 100 MPs weighted by party to find out their attitudes to the creative economy.

While 90 per cent generally/strongly agree that the creative economy is vital for jobs, growth and UK Plc’s reputation, when you break it down city by city, or party, support is much more uneven.

Thus, for example, Manchester, London and Bristol are much more regarded for their creative economy than their counterparts in Bournemouth, Newcastle and Birmingham.

Here’s a league table ranking our creative cities by support from MPs.

And when it comes to personal preferences, we can by no means take their support for granted. Only 37 per cent agree or strongly agree that the creative industries are a personal policy priority.

By party allegiance, it is clear Labour MPs are more supportive, with 69 per cent saying the creative economy deserves government recognition, while just 43 per cent of Conservatives agree.

Of course the survey was carried out before the general election, but given that there are more Conservatives in the House of Commons now than then, we need to educate this vital group.

In fact, this is a timely reminder of why the Creative Cities initiative matters. The profile they can build through it can not only bring MPs and other key stakeholders onside, as well as generate national and international business, but drive the growth that brings prosperity and jobs.

The IPA’s role

The IPA’s role, therefore, is to act as a catalyst: promoting the project and generating on-the-ground momentum through events; the building of creative communities and hubs; and by creating a platform for debate.

Our partners are Creative England and the Drum, which is providing us with a publishing hub through which we can campaign for change, debate the issues, and showcase success.

We started last year with special reports on Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol/Bath. What they showed was that the UK’s cities are already thriving centres of creative excellence.

In each city we found outstanding digital businesses, fashion designers, product designers, production companies, publishers and, yes, advertising and media agencies.

We start from the stance that the creative businesses are closely inter-related. The other creative industries influence advertising, and advertising influences them. We’re all the better for mixing with others.

Keep the momentum

The key is to keep the momentum going. This month, the project focuses on Newcastle, and in September on Bournemouth. The Drum’s special correspondent, Lewis Blackwell, resumes his tour of the regions, publishing his perspective on those cities.

And the IPA, together with Creative England and local city heads and associations, will be organising events and promotion.

We want to showcase the best work from the cities.

We want to find out what the blockages to future growth are.

We want to debate the issues.

We want to find out what skills are needed in the next decade to accelerate that creative excellence.

We want to get local educationalists involved. The IPA’s Creative Pioneers project, which places school leavers into apprenticeships in the creative industries, is already national. But can we get more creative businesses involved?

Above all, we want creative businesses to participate by helping us take the city message to national and international audiences.

If you want to contribute to the IPA Creative Cities initiative or contribute news and feature articles, please contact Leila at the IPA.

Follow @CreativeIndsUK on Twitter and spread the word using #CreateUK.

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