Creative sector has been undervalued, says Nesta report

Judging from the number of reports dedicated to it, the defining design issue of the Noughties is the creative industries’ contribution to the UK economy. The seminal 2005 Cox Review and Will Hutton’s Staying Ahead, to name but two, have now been joined by Nesta’s Beyond the Creative Industries: Mapping the Creative Economy in the United Kingdom.

Like its predecessors, this ambitious report claims a few firsts. Not only does it say it contains possibly the most finely grained analysis of the design sector yet, it also hints that it could revolutionise Government policy for the creative industries.

Comparisons between the financial and creative sectors are old news. To recap, in June last year it was made official that each of these sectors accounts for about 7 per cent of annual GDP. This figure appeared in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Creative Economy Programme findings. By September it was a famous truism that Ken Livingstone felt confident using when he opened the London Design Festival.

Beyond the Creative Industries develops the comparison between the financial and creative sectors, and finds a subtle angle on the issue. It reports that over a third of workers in both sectors are working, or ’embedded’, in businesses outside their native industries – so, just as a retailer has a financial director, a car manufacturer employs in-house designers. This figure has been underestimated in the past, says the report, and thus has under-represented the true economic might of the sector. Of all the creative occupations it identifies, design has most people (54 per cent) working in non-creative companies.

‘A natural and intriguing question arises from these figures,’ says co-author of the report and senior policy advisor at Nesta, Hasan Bakhshi. ‘Can we learn something from the way that the financial services sector has evolved? The current difficulties in financial markets aside, the sector is clearly a success.’

‘When we think about finance, we take it for granted that it is a core activity for the economy – after all, everyone needs good financial planning. The share of embedded workers is broadly the same in the creative and financial workforces. That suggests we need to start thinking of creativity as a core activity too,’ Bakhshi continues.

Offering detailed data, this technical report sets the scene for a series of four further Nesta reviews due for publication over the coming year, with the first due out on 15 February. Along with the Staying Ahead report, it lays the groundwork for Nesta’s Being Creative conference, also taking place on 15 February. Attended by more than 80 policy-makers, academics and business people, with speakers on the creative industries from around the world, the conference aims to eek out conclusions about where UK Government policy on the creative industries should be going.

Nesta’s report could lay the groundwork for a genuinely radical approach to policy-making for the creative industries in the 21st century, but we will have to wait for the organisation’s remaining four reports, and the Government’s reactions to them, to find out what happens.

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