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A creative brief: The digital rise of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published its latest economic estimates last week. These revealed that the Department’s sectors contributed 13% of UK economic output, 17% of service exports, and had grown faster than the economy as a whole - overall and across the Department's subsectors since 2010.[1] The release also reflects some interesting changes at the DCMS which have not been widely remarked on.

A longstanding issue within Government is the role of the Business Departmenttermed, as of last month, as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS). It having been variously known over the past 10 years as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), the Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry (DPEI) - for a period of a week - and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). As these multiple identities suggest, the Department has undergone repeated disruption as parts of its brief have gone back and forth to other bits of Government and its strategic direction changed.

A number of factors are behind this. The business department has some of the functions of an economic ministry, but the UK’s finance ministry (The Treasury) has, compared to many finance ministries, a strong economic remit. Where the Department in practice stands on the spectrum between being a department for business i.e. that actively supports it, and being a department where business policy is a means to a wider end is another tension. Particularly given the number and diversity of sectors/companies it covers. In addition, two policy areas, energy and higher education, are inputs to business and arguably should be included within the department. However, integrating higher education with the school system is also important and energy has substantial environmental impacts, both of which provide grounds for locating these policy areas elsewhere (Although one of the biggest impacts of environmental policy is, of course, on business). Nobody has yet found a stable answer to these issues. The view from the new administration is that energy and climate change should cease to be in a separate department and be back in business, higher education should move from business to education and we should have a review of industrial strategy.[2]

Meanwhile, the DCMS, once dubbed the Ministry of Fun by a minister who subsequently left for having rather too much fun (of the wrong sort), has been emerging as a department with a larger and more influential remit.[3] In 2011, the Department acquired the responsibility for competition and policy issues in media, broadcasting, digital and telecoms sectors from BIS.[4] In 2015 it acquired policy responsibility for data protection and the Information Commissioner’s Office from the Ministry of Justice and full responsibility for the digital economy was passed from BIS to DCMS.[5]

This brief brings together UK strengths in the arts and its dynamic and rapidly growing digital sector, and integrates policy on the ever more connected domains of data and the digital economy. Areas that are likely to be increasingly central in future. It is of course true that digital technology has a much wider impact than just the DCMS sectors. However, it is arguable that the sheer number of areas covered by the business department has in the past sometimes led to a lack of focus and the growing importance and pervasiveness of digital technologies increasingly justified a separate departmental remit. It is also true that creative content is one of the key intersection points with digital as digitisation has spread throughout the stages of the value chain from production to distribution across film, literature, advertising, the wider media etc.

The intersection of artistic and technological skills is an area where the UK is already exploiting synergies. The Harry Potter films for example: based on the novels, shot in British film studios, with visual effects from Soho, a plethora of acting talent and the location backdrops of innumerable listed historic buildings. In turn, leading to the development of a major new tourist attraction. Integrating artistic with technological skills on the foundations of cultural heritage. Artistic skills that are likely to become increasingly technologically sophisticated with the spread of virtual reality, 3D printing and the Internet of Things.[6] Creative jobs which are less likely to be automated and so more sustainable in future.[7]

The Department’s remit avoids, admittedly not completely, some of the tensions of the business department’s. Although there are of course important regulatory and competition issues in media and telecoms, these do not, unlike energy, have the complicating factor of being accompanied by substantial environmental policy issues.[8] The environment aside, technological progress has resulted in improvements in pricing and products which consumers have benefited from in a way that arguably hasn’t happened in energy. This is not in any way to underplay the importance of energy and environmental issues, quite the reverse, but just to point out that they are likely to have a major impact on the focus of any department they are contained within.

Some of the things that have contributed to the existing DCMS remit are chance; the then Business Minister deciding to impress some ‘constituents’/undercover reporters about a media merger he was working on for example.[9] What is a small Department also should arguably be better resourced to deal with its expanded brief; the Department receives 0.18% of central Government expenditure[10] and has experienced substantive cuts: in percentage terms less than the cuts to the Departments for Communities and Local Government, and Work and Pensions, but more than a number of other Departments.[11] Having a Department that builds on existing UK strengths, that is concentrated on a complementary set of areas where there is rapid growth is an opportunity. Fun has never been more important.

Acknowledgements: Thanks go to Jen Rae and George Windsor for their helpful comments.

[1] DCMS (2016), ‘Sectors Economic Estimates August 2016’, p5 and p7.

[2] Commons Select Committee (2016),’ Committee launches enquiry into industrial strategy’.

[3] ICO (2015),‘Sponsorship of ICO moves to DCMS’.

[4] (2011). ‘Transfer of responsibilities from BIS to DCMS

[5] House of Commons: Written Statement (HCWS8), (2015).

[6] Davies, J (2016),’State of the Art: Analysing where art meets technology using social network data’, Nesta.

[7] Bakhshi. H., Frey, C. and Osborne, M. (2015), ‘Creativity vs Robots’, Nesta.

[8] The energy consumption of the digital economy, such as required by data centres, undoubtedly does have an environmental impact, but to the author’s knowledge the sector itself is not directly a large emitter of CO2.

[9] FT (2011), ‘Media regulation role taken from Cable’

[10] DCMS(2015), ‘Single Departmental Plan: 2015-2020’.

[11] This is based on a comparison between real-terms departmental expenditure limits 2010/2011 and 2015/2016 in IFS (2015), 'Recent cuts to public spending',


John Davies

John Davies

John Davies

Economic Research Fellow, Creative and Digital Economy

John is a research fellow focusing on the digital and creative economy. He is interested in the interface of economics, digital technology and data.

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