Industrial Strength

According to a report by the DCMS, creative industries will determine the future growth of the UK economy. We asked designers if they agree with the report’s findings

The Government’s drive to emphasise the UK’s creative sector saw the release of a new publication last week, Creative Industries – Exports: our hidden potential. Published by the Creative Industries Taskforce, which was launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in July 1997, the report has been prepared by the Creative Industries Export Promotion Advisory Group.

“The future growth of the UK’s economy depends increasingly on our strengths in creativity, innovation and ideas – areas in which the UK has a long track record of achievement,” says the Government’s latest report on the creative industries.

The four areas of investigation are content, design, performing arts and heritage and tourism. Design Business Association managing director Ian Rowland-Hill chaired the design cluster group.

The publication aims to increase the scope of the UK’s creative industries abroad – they currently contribute £8bn to the country’s export earnings. According to CIEPAG, “This figure can be so much greater”.

The design sector contributes about £2bn, and is described in Creative Industries – Exports: our hidden potential as “an important contributor to the economy employing 20 000 people”.

Culture Secretary Chris Smith agrees, having seen the impact of design in his own department, rebranded by CDT Design.

He warns that the UK “cannot afford to be left behind” as the worldwide rate of growth for creative industries is twice that of any other sector: “We are one of the most creative countries on earth. The creative industries are not a fringe benefit for Britain’s economy – they are right at the heart of it.

“In an ever more competitive world economy, Britain has to play to its strengths. We must exploit this potential and assure our place in the world market,” states Smith.

“It’s very clear that a strong home base and strong export performance go hand in hand. Many design consultancies who have established themselves over the past 15 or 20 years will want to maintain a strong domestic base as well as foreign links,” he says.

Smith describes the recommendations on the design industry as “important and sensible proposals”, emphasising that it is “up to the Government” to now start implementing them. “I hope we can get the recommendations moving very rapidly,” he says, adding that the plans will address issues relating to small, as well as large consultancies.

“I hope development of design services will happen right across the spectrum from the smallest to the largest groups. Much of the creative economy rests on very small enterprises’ success.”

Rowland-Hill is equally confident that design groups will gain from the report’s recommendations. “Those which have an export strategy in place already will increase their exports, while those which have capability to do so, but don’t do much will also increase theirs. Consultancies without the capability will be able to benefit from the workshops organised by Business Links and the DBA,” he says.

Smith also believes the UK’s creative sector has the capacity to increase its existing 1.4m-strong workforce in the near future. “Over the next few years there is the potential to create a further 50 000 new jobs,” he says.

But shadow culture minister Peter Ainsworth claims the report repeats information stated in a previous publication.

“We all know the media, arts and creative industries are a very fast-growing part of the economy and must be taken seriously, but the Government does tend to announce things five times,” says Ainsworth.

“No amount of enthusiasm can outweigh the increasing difficulties of doing business and small companies need a reasonable economic climate to operate in, without excessive regulations. We want the design industry to do well, but there is a real danger of jobs potential being impaired by Government policies on tax. Design consultancies are particularly affected by this,” he adds.

Within the industry itself, the publication has been welcomed, but with some caution.

The Attik, which has offices in San Francisco, Sydney, and New York in addition to Huddersfield and London, has worked in foreign markets for several years.

The Attik UK managing director Dave Taylor says it is a “fantastic” report, but he maintains that “actions speak louder than words”. It has pinpointed all the needs accurately, but let’s see if they [the Government] address them. All the sentiment is great and if they deliver it shows the government’s intention to help consultancies. But if they don’t, then it’s up to us as an industry.”

This, claims Taylor, is an area neglected by bodies such as British Design and Art Direction and the DBA. “They should take more responsibility. We talk about what awards have been won, but we are not dealing with business issues and survival techniques that all creative groups have to be aware of.”

Silver & Co director Jonathan Silver queries whether the report really addresses the needs of small consultancies. “The desire behind it is good news. But it sounds like it was done by big design groups for big design groups… it’s like they’ve just set up another quango.”

Dragon co-founder Ian Farnfield, whose group has offices in London, Paris and Warsaw, agrees that the report deals with many important issues, but claims some points are misleading.

“The task of trying to promote an industry is a hard task in its own right. The cluster group has got things right in here and the ambition is there, but how realistic they are being about the difficulties of exporting work, I don’t know,” explains Farnfield.

“The strengths it highlights are pretty favourable. They are true of some groups, but not all, so I think it’s slightly arrogant to claim we are world leaders in design.”

Conversely, Farnfield says the publication doesn’t go far enough regarding the design industry’s weaknesses. “There are major barriers to overcome on culture and language. This may not be as critical in Scandinavia, but it’s not as easy in France, Germany and Eastern Europe where cultures differ from the UK.

Companies need to understand the culture of the country and invest money and time themselves in achieving this,” he says.

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