Centralised support failing small design groups, says report

Government support is letting down the increasing number of smaller design consultancies, a new report claims.

Think-tank Demos accuses the Government of frequently creating ‘confusion, indifference and irritation’ among small companies operating in the design sector, along with those in fashion, architecture and the media, because it doesn’t understand how they work.

The report – So, What Do You Do? – criticises traditional business support, formal training and copyright legislation for failing to meet the needs of small creative groups.

‘The creative industries are a new way of doing business, but the policy interventions to support them proceed to work in old, industrial ways,’ say the report’s authors, Charlie Tims and Shelagh Wright.

The Government is accused of categorising the creative industries as a series of monolithic industrial sectors, but they say this is a poor way of describing what working with creativity is like.

‘The nature of creative activity means it will often move faster than classifications [might suggest], or ways of measuring it. By its very nature, a creative act will break one form of boundary or another. Policy can’t keep up,’ they add. ‘It is exactly this uncertainty that creativity thrives on, but it is an uncertainty that is alien to how, as a society, we seek to intervene to support growth, equity and accountability.’

Demos’s findings are broadly backed by the Design Council and the Design Business Association. ‘Some of the structures that work for some industries won’t work for others and the Government is starting to recognise this,’ says Design Council chief executive David Kester. He adds that the council’s recently published Skills Plan highlighted similar issues within the design community.

‘The Government is uncomfortable with this sector,’ says DBA chief executive Deborah Dawton. ‘At the moment, there is a Government approach of lobbing the whole lot in together and calling them the creative industries, so designing a programme that fits everyone is a challenge.’

This is also the experience of some small, young design set-ups. ‘At the moment it [Government support] is not really set up for small creative businesses,’ says Chris Jarratt, co-founder of Cornwall-based furniture design trio Sixixis. ‘Often, we never fit the business model it’s looking for. But the positive is that it is starting to recognise businesses like ourselves, and that is definitely a positive thing.’

Tims and Wright suggest that support should be devolved from Government and central agencies to where these industries work.

Certainly, Jarratt feels that Sixixis benefited from locally targeted support agencies, including Creative Skills and Hidden Art Cornwall. ‘The consultancies that are more distanced from central Government have served us better,’ he says.

• Between 1995-2015, employment in UK creative industries is predicted to grow by 46 per cent, with output growing 136 per cent
• Up to 1 million people currently work in one of the categories of the creative industry
• The sector is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the economy
• The average UK household spends 7.9 per cent of its income on recreation and culture – more than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

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