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'Creative' shouldn’t be a dirty word

‘Creative’ can be a dirty word in UK politics. When MPs get ‘creative’ they become an object of ridicule - think David Cameron in the One Direction music video. When it refers to their expenses it elicits more severe criticism. But Creative Nation (launched today) shows why we need to move past the semantics of creativity. Ministers must take notice of its findings and provide what creative businesses and communities need if government is serious about solving the UK’s productivity problems and improving the economy.  

After all, the “creative industries”, as government defines them, are an industrial powerhouse. They have grown their value at three times the rate of the economy as a whole from 2010-2015, and employ more than two million people. This is 700,000 more than work in the financial sector, and 250,000 more than work in transport. Creative ‘subsectors’ - from architecture, to digital, to fashion - are boosting the economy of every region and nation in the UK.

The sector’s importance to the UK will increase. From film companies to games designers, creative businesses create stories and experiences that can be easily exported worldwide. They supply services, like advertising and design, that help businesses to stand out in crowded markets. In an increasingly digital and competitive world, creative jobs are unlikely to be taken over by robots and algorithms (see Creativity vs Robots, Nesta), and give those that invest in them a global advantage.

Creative Nation provides the evidence that the government needs to help it to make better decisions about creative industries policy. By mapping out where the creative industries are, highlighting how universities can support them, and showing how creative businesses can boost productivity, it should inform those working on everything from local skills policy to international trade negotiations.

The eight ‘key findings’ of the report are essential reading for all policymakers hoping to grow the workforce and economy. Creative Nation addresses a significant knowledge gap: how many MPs know which subsector is strongest in their constituency, or have considered which model of growth would power up their local creative cluster?

In view of its complex web of potential uses, here are just a few recommendations I think government should take from Creative Nation.  

  1. Government must supercharge investment in creative clusters, using the industrial strategy and other policy levers.

The evidence in Creative Nation should encourage government to make bold investments in creative clusters across the country through the creative industries’ industrial strategy and beyond. This could include the devolution of powers to creative clusters and cluster-focussed funds or competitions.

2. National, regional and local governments need to help creative micro-businesses to scale-up.

The creative industries can help to solve Britain’s productivity problem, but only if more of the sector’s small businesses are encouraged to scale-up. Governments must invest in targeted business support, export promotion and intellectual property guidance on a local, regional and national level.

3. Creative businesses must be encouraged to further invest in research and development.

To help creative businesses to scale up even further government should widen the definition of R&D to that proposed by Nesta, UCL and AHRC to include the knowledge that is embodied in new content experiences, as well as in the new widgets that might enable those experiences. This could help young innovative companies access the investment in research and development they need to significantly scale up, for example through the SME R&D tax relief.

To find out more - read the full report. And then share it with those who need to see it.

Or get in touch with me at @elizaeaston or [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you.


Eliza Easton

Eliza Easton

Eliza Easton

Deputy Director - Policy and Communications, Policy and Evidence Centre

Eliza worked with economists and data scientists to analyse and develop policies for the creative economy, and then with policy-makers to see them enacted.

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