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One million new creative jobs in the UK economy

At our Future Shock conference last Friday we launched three major sets of policy recommendations which, if enacted, will help the UK’s creative economy grow. The creative economy is the UK’s unspoken success story, historically deeply rooted and making up one-tenth of the whole economy. It accounts for 2.6 million jobs – from advertising professionals to computer programmers, and from actors to video games developers – which is more than sectors like advanced manufacturing, financial services or construction.

Is creativity a useful concept for thinking about the future of the whole of the UK economy, not just about the arts and the creative industries? How can policymakers help make the UK economy more creative? Should the wider creative economy within which the UK’s creative industries sit be a focus for policymakers?

At Nesta we think it should be, and at our Future Shock conference last Friday we launched three major sets of policy recommendations which, if enacted, will help the UK’s creative economy grow.

The UK’s creative economy is made up of 2.6 million jobs, of which 1.7 million are in the creative industries and 0.9 million are in creative jobs in the wider economy. In the period since 2011, the creative economy has grown more than three times rapidly than the workforce as a whole.

We think the government should set its sights on the UK making 1 million new creative jobs by between 2025 and 2035 – compared with the current 1.8 million creative jobs if you tot these up across the creative economy. This is ambitious – it’s based on extrapolating the recent stellar performance of the creative economy compared with the workforce as a whole – but it is by no means unrealistic.

These creative jobs are in the main highly skilled, knowledge-intensive, and – as we’re finding in new research with Drs. Carl Benedikt Frey and Mike Osborne from the University of Oxford – resistant to automation, which will make them even more desirable in the age of pervasive artificial intelligence.  

It’s absolutely right to encourage creativity in all its forms, but why limit it by defining which sectors are creative and, by passive association, those which are not?” – so said James Dyson in his 2010 Ingenious Britain review for the Conservative Party. “The UK is a world leader when it comes to the creative industries and they play an important role in shaping how the rest of the world perceives the UK” – so says the Creative Industries Council in its recent Create UK strategy document.

The data suggest that both statements are in fact true. The creative industries are defined in the official statistics as those industries for which creative jobs make up an exceptionally high % of their overall workforce – in the jargon, they are industries with high ‘creative intensities’. The creative industries specialise in creativity. But they do not have a monopoly over it.

The following data visualisation – a treemap – shows in fact that the creative industries employ marginally less than one half of the UK’s creative workforce. That is, there are at least as many creative jobs outside of the creative industries as there are within.

Which industries are creative?

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Each rectangle represents an industry. Its size corresponds to the number of creative jobs in that industry throughout the UK. Its colour conveys the industry's ‘creative intensity’, which is the percentage of jobs in the industry that are creative. From those industries with the highest creative intensities, the DCMS selects a subset and calls these ‘creative industries’.

  • Around half of all creative Jobs are found in non-creative industries. There are seven non-creative industries that each contain more than 20,000 creative jobs.
  • The largest employers in the creative industries are ICT-related: ‘Computer consultancy activities’ and ‘Computer programming activities’.

Just over 50 per cent of creative workers are employed outside of the creative industries – such as designers working in engineering, advertising professionals in management consultancy and software developers in public administration. That these sectors employ workers in creative jobs does not make them creative industries – because workers in creative occupations make up only a small % of their workforce – but, as the data show, their creative work is no less an economic force for that. In fact, allowing for the value added by creative workers embedded in other sectors we estimate that the creative economy accounts for roughly 10 per cent of Gross Value Added, which puts it ahead of industrial sectors like advanced manufacturing, financial services and construction.

Aside from its size, another striking feature of the creative economy is its geographic unevenness. The data visualisation below plots the geography of Great Britain’s creative economy, but it blows up a place’s size proportionately to the size of its creative economy. See how cities with important creative clusters like Brighton and Bristol are more prominent on this map than they otherwise would be. 

Where is the creative economy?

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The colour and size of each region in the map below shows the concentration of jobs in the creative economy within that region. The higher the concentration, the larger the area and brighter the colour. Concentration is measured by a ‘location quotient’. This is the share of the region's workforce in the creative economy divided by the national share. A location quotient greater than one indicates that the region has a higher concentration of jobs in the creative economy than the nation as a whole.

  • Note that the creative economy is highly concentrated in and around London.

Now contrast this with the geography of the UK’s high-tech economy (that is industries which count proportionately large numbers of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs in their workforce), with concentrations in, for example, Aberdeen, West Cumbria and Derby. 

Where is the high-tech economy?

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  • In comparison to the creative economy, the high-tech economy is more widely spread. For example there are concentrations in Aberdeenshire, West Cumbria and Derby.

Clearly both the creative and high-tech economies are over-represented in the South of England, but in the case of the creative economy that pattern is quite extreme. In fact, we estimate that 43 per cent of the UK’s creative economy is accounted for by jobs in London and the South East of England alone, which creates obvious challenges for policymakers charged with promoting growth in the whole nation not just in the capital and the South East.

All these considerations inform our broad position at Nesta that a future government should not just see the creative industries as one of ‘11+7’ high growth sectors that BIS should prioritise. But rather, it should see the objective of the expanding the UK’s creative economy as one of the primary goals of industrial policy. And to this end, we make three sets of policy recommendations.

1. End the bias against multi-disciplinary education in our education system – turning STEM into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).

  • The Department for Education to include an arts subject in the English Baccalaureate. At present, young people who are strong in sciences are positively discouraged from considering the arts as a valuable component. (We note the differences in educational practice that exist in Scotland and to a lesser extent in Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland).  
  • Government to ask universities, including The Russell Group, to include the arts in their list of ‘facilitating subjects’ that students are advised to choose to keep their university options open.
  • Research Councils to boost the technological capabilities of art schools (and their demand for students studying a mix of arts and science in schools) by setting up centres of excellence based on the ESRC and Nuffield Foundation’s Q-Step Model.

2. Encourage burgeoning creative clusters throughout the UK so that the whole nation fully capitalises on its creativity.

  • The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to set up a competitive £100 million fund using Regional Growth Fund money to develop creative clusters throughout England, with matched funding from the private sector and other sources.
  • The government to support ultra-high speed broadband (fibre and non-fibre) in creative clusters by creating a £100 million infrastructure demonstrator fund (this compares, for example, with the £43 billion that the government is planning to spend on HS2). These creative neighbourhoods are best placed to be the earliest to exploit these speeds. Adopters would be tracked, with the advent of any benefits acting as a trigger for considering more widespread roll out.  

3. Make arts funding go further.


*Cath Sleeman, Nesta

Image credit: retro robot by Kaptain Kobald, flickr, Creative Commons


Hasan Bakhshi

Hasan Bakhshi

Hasan Bakhshi

Director, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre

Hasan oversaw Nesta's creative economy policy, research and practical work.

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