Back in January, culture secretary Sajid Javid commented that the UK’s Creative Industries are “one of our most powerful tools in driving growth, outperforming all other sectors of industry. Their contribution to the UK economy is evident to all”.
It always pleases me to hear such warm sentiments expressed by our policymakers. It wasn’t so long ago that the industries didn’t really exist as a definitive sector as far as government was concerned – rather, they were seen as a patchwork of marginal activities not important enough to be taken very seriously by the Treasury, or the Business department or the financial sector.
However we have the largest creative sector in the EU which contributes over £76.9billion a year and, relative to GDP, is probably the largest in the world. In an odd sort of reversal of fortunes, the problem we now face is that we become too comfortable – convincing ourselves that our creative sector is so brilliant and innovative that we can wipe the floor with the rest of the world.
It’s true that the skills and talents of Britain’s creative community are second to none but we underestimate how fast things are changing in the rest of the world – and how serious other governments are about growing their own creative economies. And why wouldn’t they be? In its last estimate, the United Nations valued world trade in creative goods and services at over $624 billion – more than double the figure estimated a decade earlier!
To their credit, over the years our political class has introduced a number of significant policy interventions that have made a real difference to the UK’s creative industries. Most recently, the coalition government has made good progress in supporting the creative industries and building upon the policies of the previous Labour government. Front and centre of this support has been the extension of tax reliefs for film and the introduction of similar reliefs for high-end TV drama, animation, children’s TV, video games and most recently orchestras.
These reliefs are having a positive and visible impact on UK content creation and are playing a considerable role in attracting foreign investment into these sectors. As a result, we’re now fortunate to have major Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars, Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Fast and Furious all choosing to shoot here in the UK, and that’s fantastic news.
However, as Channel 4’s chief executive David Abraham commented last year; “Bringing American movie and drama productions here is great for jobs in the same way as making iPhones in China is great for China – but the Intellectual Property and profits are on the first boat out of here.”
Despite its reputation for world-class content, the UK has very few domestic creative businesses of global scale. Companies that achieve early success are often acquired by an international player rather than building large-scale businesses here in the UK.
As a result, most of the economic benefit generated by UK creative talent is often syphoned-off to foreign coffers – think of Edinburgh based games studio Rockstar North (previously DMA Design) whose Grand Theft Auto 5 made $1billion in three just days. British though the game may be; the immense value it generated, and continues to generate, goes to Rockstar North’s parent company – US publisher Take Two.
Ultimately it’s the creation, effective exploitation and, most crucially of all, retention of intellectual property in the UK, under UK ownership and within UK tax jurisdiction, that’s key to driving up the value of our creative industry and securing its future. The next government therefore needs to set a long-term strategic direction for the industry that raises business ambition, boosts investor confidence and aims to achieve these key strategic goals. In short; it’s time to firmly place the creative industry at the forefront of our country’s industrial strategy.
What does that approach look like in practice? It means: giving the arts parity of esteem with science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the educational curriculum. It means ensuring government policies to support businesses accommodate the creative sectors.
It means taking UK creative industry representatives on international trade delegations as a matter of course. It means incentivising cross-sector collaboration and encouraging creative businesses to take a longer-term view. It means supporting the development of our fantastic creative clusters.
It means making sure that, for commercially viable businesses that want to scale-up their operations and raise their game; the finance is available to do so. Most importantly it means investing in the creative talent that is across the whole country, ensuring a fertile environment in which culture, creativity and enterprise can thrive, regardless of geography.
The creative industries are clearly moving up the agenda for all the main parties, and rightly so. Given that they are now one of the most significant sectors of the UK economy, a sector in which the UK excels and certainly a sector that is generating growth and jobs quicker and, with lower capital investment than many others, now is the time for a more coherent over-arching national strategy for their continued success and development.
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