The Creative Economy and the General Election 2015

Over the year or so leading up to the 2015 General Election, we have published a number of articles by leading commentators on the major issues facing the creative industries, and responses and policies that a new national government should prioritize. These articles covered a wide range of topics, from the provision of broadband to working conditions for interns, but some distinct themes emerged, which were expanded upon in a roundtable discussion hosted two weeks before the election itself.

Firstly, there remains the need for an ambitious, coherent and resourced industrial strategy for the creative industries. Some good work has been done in recent years, such as Nesta’s Creative Industries Manifesto, but it has been largely outside of government and the Creative Industries Council has been unable provide the leadership required. Such a strategy will need to go beyond celebrating the sector, but provide focused and joined-up policies on education and skills, innovation, infrastructure, regulation, employment, getting the most from Europe and much more. In particular, the strategy must distinguish between the creative enterprises and practitioners and institutes in the broader cultural sector. While it has suited some to conflate the two in order to raise profile and attract funding, we must not lose sight of their distinct needs, and that growing the commercial creative industries will hence require distinct policies.

Such a strategy must address the challenge of ‘rebalancing’ the creative economy, reflecting wider concerns around an over-heating London and South East with uneven growth and prosperity across the UK. The dismantling of regional support structures has left a void that has not been adequately met by the Local Enterprise Partnerships and investment is needed to strengthen creative clusters, particularly with regards to skills. This may require tough choices: in particular, whether to resource local authorities and agencies to nurture creative economies across the UK, or else focus on the established urban centres such as Manchester which have the potential to match London.

But it is also recognised that growing the creative industries is not enough: and we shouldn’t simply be aspiring to have a bigger creative economy, but a better one. The sector is characterized by under-investment in skills, precarious labour conditions, particularly in terms of the exploitation of interns, and a workforce that persistently fails to reflect the diversity of the UK.

In achieving all of the above, it is necessary for the creative industries to be addressed at a higher level within government. Even with an active and high-profile Minister for the Creative Industries, the challenges are far greater than his or her Ministerial brief allows. Many of the key policy drivers are not specific to the creative industries and relate to education, regeneration, European regulation, infrastructure and devolution. Policy development, however constructive, can no longer be confined to the sector itself; rather it should be represented across government, shaping and unlock the support and investment it needs to meet its potential.