Map of UK creative sector could inform Government policy

It comes as no surprise to hear that London and its surrounding counties are the UK’s creative epicentre. But a new mapping experiment – published last week by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts – also reveals which types of creative business cluster together and where.

Nesta hopes that this fine-grained information could encourage the Government to tailor its creative industries policies to suit certain cluster types according to region.

‘Those [political] strategies that harness complementary links between creative sectors might be more effective than those that…. attempt to target all creative industries at the same time,’ posits The Geography of Creativity report.

The report finds that advertising, software and some design practitioners often stick together, while music, publishing, photography, film, radio and TV also cluster, usually in the UK’s major cities and their environs. Art and antiques, meanwhile, tend to avoid the rest of the creative industries entirely and, like architecture, scatter far and wide across the UK.

Beyond the truism of London’s unchallenged position as the UK’s creative capital, the report details a stark North/South divide. While southern towns and cities have a healthy tendency towards specialisation, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham have ‘a certain degree of similarity between their specialisation profiles’ that puts them at a national and international commercial disadvantage.

According to the report’s co-author Juan Mateos-Garcia, ‘A place with a strong industrial heritage will have invested traditionally in networks such as trade unions that are not transferable to the creative sector.’

But Manchester-based design group Love Creative’s joint managing director Chris Conlan takes issue with this. He says, ‘While it might have been true 20 years ago that trade unions and the manufacturing heritage was holding us back, it is now more to do with the fact that a lot of graduates head to where the streets are paved with gold in London, which allows specialisms to develop there.’

Conlan maintains that while he is ‘not a big fan of regional policies – we think of Love as a global business’, he would welcome ‘ways of helping new entrants into the local market and educating clients that they don’t have to go to London to get their design suppliers’.

South Coast Design Forum chairman Peter Spence, who helps some of the South’s busiest design centres to network with each other, is concerned that The Geography of Creativity fails to provide adequate information about design. The sector lacks a Government Standard Industry Classification code, and its activities are consequently absorbed into many other SIC-coded sectors, including designer fashion, advertising and software.

‘Until the Government sorts that out, any results for design will be skewed,’ says Spence. ‘I want to see a more focused investigation into design and where design resides regionally. We cannot decide policies until we have the right sort of information at our fingertips.’

In fact, the Design Council is set to approach Nesta about working with it over the coming year on two projects that will aim to collate detailed information on the UK’s design scene, including the role of design in the economy. ‘We believe in a regional approach to policy, but The Geography of Creativity does not look into the design sector in detail,’ says Mil Vukovic, Government relations manager at the Design Council.

‘Our projects will identify areas of potential intervention from the Government, and we would like to work with Nesta on this,’ she adds.

Mateos-Garcia, meanwhile, warns that, ‘Nesta does not have the resources to tell every local administration whether their policy is working or not, but we do hope to provide them with the data to help them to create new strategies.’

The Geography Of Creativity:

  • The Geography of Creativity is the first stage of Nesta’s three-phase project that hopes to influence the way the Government forms its creative industries policies
  • Stage two promises to look ‘in detail’ at regional systems of innovation
  • Stage three will feature four regional case studies, possibly including Brighton because of its unique creative industries cluster
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  • Mike Liddall November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    More likely than not Mateos-Garcia has hit a rich seam of logic here which is …..specialisation.

    Uniformity leads to conformity and no clear compelling case for inward investment into a region.

    On the other hand differentation, specific incentives and intelligent cluster incubation will offer regions the most fertile conditions for creative growth.

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