Brown backs but is yet to fund London design centre

A national design centre for London, proposed in the Cox Review last Friday, got the green light in Gordon Brown’s Pre-Budget speech this week. But no new public funding for the scheme has yet been announced.

Brown gave his verbal support to the plan for a national centre to ‘showcase British design’, backed by a network of so-called ‘creativity and innovation’ centres – ‘one in every region’, according to the Chancellor.

Last Friday, in what appeared to be an invitation to take the plans forward, Brown also invited Sir Terence Conran and Lord Foster to work with Sir George Cox, the London Development Agency and other industry representatives to realise the proposals.

‘Certainly, I hope that having been anointed by the Chancellor, Norman, George and I can help by looking at all the agendas as one agenda for the first time,’ says Conran.

What is less clear is which regions will be involved, which public and private sector organisations will sign up for the national centre, and how the whole vision will be co-ordinated. Without new funding from the Treasury, it looks as if the scheme will have to rely on existing sources of public funding from the Regional Development Agencies, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or the Department of Trade and Industry.

The LDA this week agreed in principle to manage a feasibility report into the London centre in time for next spring, building on the preliminary study by management consultancy Arthur D Little. The LDA has been asked to put its position in writing for the Treasury, says head of Creative London Graham Hitchen. ‘Creative London will be responsible for the detailed feasibility study into the proposal,’ he says.

Industry organisations welcomed the Cox Review’s recommendations, published on Friday, though the report did not go as far as calling for extending tax relief on R&D to design, as expected.

‘A number of individuals advocated expanding the system to cover design expenditure, where the latter falls outside the current strict definition of R&D: essentially making it an R&D&D scheme … My reason for rejecting it is practicability, not principle,’ Cox states in the report.

Cox Review – key recommendations

Design Centres: A network of Creativity and Innovation Centres throughout the UK with a central hub in London

R&D tax credits: no extension of R&D tax credits to ‘design’, but some revisions within the existing system to increase its effect on small- to medium-sized businesses

Education: closer links between universities and SMEs, and the establishment of academic centres of excellence in order to combine business, engineering, technology and design courses

Public procurement: a rethink of the Government’s ‘value for money’ buying tendencies, which inhibit creativity

Design Immersion: a nationwide programme to encourage SMEs to engage with creativity and creative resources

New Reports on Design

• Cox Review and Pre Budget Report: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

• Department of Trade and Industry economics paper: Counting the Value of Creativity and Design: www.dti.gov.uk

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