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Mapping a Creative Nation

There is a big tension at the heart of the creative industries

On the one hand, their barriers to entry are very low. In theory, you just need a great idea, a lot of energy and a good dose of luck to succeed. Capital, natural resources and a track record are in principle less important than in other industries like manufacturing, energy or professional services (particularly in this era of YouTube and open source software). On the other hand, creative markets reward superstars - people like to share and comment on the latest video game, film or song, leading to situations where ‘the winner takes all’.

This tension plays out geographically too

Thanks to digital technology, creators can reach audiences from almost anywhere: place should not matter. At the same time, it is easier to stumble on new ideas and projects when they happen close-by: this makes proximity vital, and concentrates activity in a few places, the hallowed creative cities.This trend has big implications: economic geographers like Andrés Rodriguez Posé have argued that the rise of populism in advanced economies is at least in part a ‘revenge of the places that don’t matter’ against thriving creative cities. As the Centre for Cities points out in its latest Cities Outlook, this creative divide risks getting worse with the arrival of robots and artificial intelligences that compete with the skills and industries of less creative places, while complementing those of creative workers and cities.

As Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake point out in their growth accounting blockbuster ‘Capitalism Without Capital’, one of the biggest challenges for policymakers in the coming years will be to manage this trade-off between the centrifugal and centripetal forces of the intangible economy (where creativity is an essential component). UK creative industries policymakers are on the case, with a Creative Industries Clusters programme set up by the Arts and Humanities Research Centre (AHRC) with support from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which seeks to strengthen creative clusters outside of London and the South East.

Delivering this agenda will require skills, judgement and evidence. Creative Nation, the report we are launching today in partnership with the Creative Industries Council seeks to inform this agenda with a combination of official, open and web data.

Creative Nation's findings highlight the tensions and challenges ahead

While the UK creative industries are growing across the country (at a rate of 11 per cent on average during the last three years, twice as fast as other sectors), most of the activity concentrates in a few places (53 per cent of the employment can be found in the top five places, compared to 32 per cent in other sectors). If they continued growing at this rate, the UK creative industries could create 900,000 new jobs between 2013 and 2030, but 75 per cent of them would be in the top ten locations (the chart below shows the creative employment and business distribution of growth compared to other sectors in the local economy).

We also find that any policies that enhance the productivity of the creative industries, and help them scale up, will produce the strongest benefits in those local economies where the sector is already a significant, productive component - namely London and the South East. This is an important example of winner-takes-all dynamics at play in the UK geography of creativity which was already highlighted by the Industrial Strategy Commission. Should policymakers act to curb them (which would make the UK more equal), or strengthen them, potentially increasing national productivity at the expense of those places that lack a creative critical mass?

It is important to note that, according to our analysis, the benefits of creative expansion are being experienced across the regions and nations of the UK. While we detect fast growing creative industries in London and the South - they are also to be found in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the North West and the North East, Yorkshire and the Midlands. Our analysis of cluster development models reveals a set of ‘creative challengers’ across the UK (from Cardiff to Edinburgh and Bristol to Birmingham) well on the way to becoming central nodes of the UK creative landscape. This could be good news not only for them, but also for the places around them: Our analysis suggests that creative industries growth is not a zero-sum game - areas whose neighbours grow their creative industries also tend to experience growth. Our analysis of web data also reveals bonds between creative communities that often cut across geographical boundaries.

This underscores the complex, interconnected nature of growth in the creative industries, which is also visible in our finding that research collaborations between universities and the creative industries span the UK geography (see the map below): creative clusters are not silos but linked-up nodes, and prestigious hubs of research activity can be assets for creative businesses locally and further afield. In an experimental analysis using big data provided by our data partners at GlassAI, we find connections not only between places, but also between industries: those places with a strong creative presence also tend to see a greater embeddedness of creativity in other sectors ranging from stronger use of design in manufacturing to video and TV in leisure and hospitality businesses. This mirrors an important process that Haskel and Westlake describe in their book: creativity can flow between organisations, perhaps relaxing the drive towards inequality that we see in an intangible economy. Effective policies are however, required to encourage and enhance such creative spillovers.

More than a report

The Creative Nation report provides more details about these findings, and motivates our use of new data sources, data combinations and analytics methodologies that reveal economic complexities and interconnections hidden in traditional datasets (this is an important driver of all our innovation mapping work).

But Creative Nation is not just a report with our analysis, it is also an interactive dashboard where anyone can explore the data we have collected, and an open dataset that can be further analysed, merged with other data and repurposed to answer new questions, hopefully helping to address the needs of a multiplicity of stakeholders working at different levels, from strategy to operations and practice.

Their decisions and actions in different domains and locations can, together, contribute to ensuring that the growth potential of the creative industries is realised for the benefit of more people and places. We hope that Creative Nation becomes a useful resource in their work,


Juan Mateos-Garcia

Juan Mateos-Garcia

Juan Mateos-Garcia

Director of Data Analytics Practice

Juan Mateos-Garcia was the Director of Data Analytics at Nesta.

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