Sowing the party line

James Dyson’s Ingenious Britain report for the Conservative Party has thrown the spotlight firmly on the role of design in future Government policy thinking. Laura Snoad sounds out senior figures from the industry for their responses

With the release of Sir James Dyson’s innovation report for the Conservatives last week and the party’s Future of the Arts paper last month, the policies that will affect the design industry should the Tories come into power are beginning to take shape.

Dyson’s report, Ingenious Britain, which was commissioned with the vision of transforming the UK into Europe’s leading innovator, has been widely welcomed by the design industry.

Design Business Association chief executive Deborah Dawton says, ’For a long time Government has looked away from science, technology and manufacturing, but this report firmly states its case.’

If Dyson’s suggestions make it into the final Tory manifesto, a future under a Conservative Government will see changes to design and technology education, a refocusing of tax credits and Government procurement on small and hi-tech businesses, and a review of the role of the Design Council.

Although popular on many counts, Dyson’s suggestion that a Conservative Government should review the ’funding, objectives and impact’ of the Design Council has been challenged by many in the industry.

Dyson says, ’I’d prefer the Design Council spent less on marketing in the UK and more on supporting students. I also think it should aim to promote design outside the UK and make British exports more attractive to the EU.’

Wayne Hemingway, founder of Hemingway Design, says, ’The Design Council has done the right thing in the past few years by its in-depth calculations on the value of design to the economic health of the UK. This research has made politicians realise that design isn’t a Cinderella sector.’

Elmwood chief executive Jonathan Sands adds, ’The Design Council is already doing a number of the things Dyson is suggesting. But it receives about £7m funding from the Government. Compare that with its equivalent in South Korea, which receives about £100m. There is a paradigm that the Design Council is a big beast, but that’s not the case.’

Despite conflicting views on the Design Council, most agree that education reforms should be high on a future Government agenda. Dyson calls for universities to help students commercialise their ideas and build their business skills. Chief executive of Bristol Media Mike Bennett agrees that more needs to done at university level. He says, ’There is a gap between graduates and their commercial awareness, and at present the onus is on the individual business to bridge it.’

Dyson suggests the creation of more courses that integrate design students with others from business and engineering courses. Design Council chief executive David Kester agrees with Dyson’s prognosis. ’We’re now seeing that the best practice involves a total integration of ideas,’ he says.

Asserting the importance of education to the industry, rather than just training, David Worthington, chairman of Lloyd Northover Group and acting chairman of Creative & Cultural Skills, says, ’We need thinkers, not just cannon fodder who know how to use Photoshop.’ More sandwich courses and internships, alongside increased numbers of industry professionals involved in the education process, will produce commercially aware graduates, says Worthington.

Dyson’s call for design to be included in the Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has been widely supported by industry professionals. Stem status would mean that the subject would receive priority status in secondary schools, and preferential funding at university level. Kester says, ’This is absolutely the right route to take. Design needs to be woven into Stem.’

As well as the importance of education, Dyson calls for more measures to help small businesses expand. Although supporting the current ’well-intentioned’ system, his report suggests that a Conservative Government would need to refine the targeting of research and development tax credits to refocus on hi-tech companies, small businesses and start-ups. Dyson calls for the rate to be raised from 175 per cent to 200 per cent when public finances allow.

Championing the successful seed capital markets of the US and Israel, he also calls on a Conservative Government to increase incentives for investment from wealthy entrepreneurs, termed as angels, by increasing the enterprise investment scheme relief to 30 per cent. Sands welcomes this, saying, ’A few grey hairs around the place are always a good thing. But it’s not just a philanthropic venture. It will probably give them a better pension than their pension.’

Despite criticisms that design is not covered more thoroughly in Ingenious Britain – and not at all in the Conservatives’ Future of the Arts paper – the report signals a change in where design is positioned within the policy of these major parties. Dawton says, ’If you look at funding, design is often lobbed in with the arts, but it should come under the business and enterprise remit instead.’

Kester adds, ’There’s nothing new here. However, we’re keen to see that parties across the board build policy that acknowledges that design is central to the economy. It’s good to see at least one party doing this.’

Current party policies

Labour

  • Commissioned the Cox Review of Creativity in Business in 2005, which focused on improving the links between design and businesses.
  • Partners the Design Council in programmes such as Design Bugs Out and Design Against Crime

Liberal Democrats

  • Will provide paid adult internships for the first year of the next parliament
  • Aim to embed creativity as one of the fundamental principles of education
  • Will give more political recognition to individuals and companies who give generously to the arts on a national scale

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