General election 2019: What does the Conservative victory mean for the design industry?

After a decisive victory from Boris Johnson’s Tory party, Design Week explores what the election result might mean for the design industry.

The Conservative Party, led by prime minister Boris Johnson, secured a majority in last night’s election, gaining 47 seats.

Meanwhile Labour, the main opposition party, lost 59 seats which means that Johnson should be able to achieve his Brexit deal in 2020.

Before Thursday’s election, Design Week reported on the main UK parties’ manifestos and what they could mean for the design industry, from an end to Freedom of Movement to tax breaks for the creative sector.

In light of the election result, we take a look at those issues and what Johnson’s win might mean for them.


Brexit and the end of Freedom of Movement are key concerns for the design industry, which has a significant international work force. Before the 2016 Brexit referendum, a poll revealed that 70% of Design Week readers wanted to remain in the EU.

There had been particular concern about a potential £30,000 income threshold for EU citizens working in the UK, which is higher than the average salary in the design industry. While this controversial point was not on the 2019 Conservative manifesto, employment remains a concern.

“The design industry has long attracted the best international talent”, Dr Ambreen Shah, the Design Council’s director of policy, research and communications, says. “Early reassurance for design firms would be most welcome that they will have access to the best talent.”

These comments are echoed by Alan Bishop, CEO of the Creatives Industries Federation. In a statement, Bishop says that “the future shape of the UK’s immigration system is clearly of immediate and urgent priority” now that Brexit is likely.

“We must create an immigration system that both looks beyond arbitrary measures such as salary and is not inaccessible through cost and bureaucracy,” he adds.

Design and the economy

Jack Tindale, the design and innovation policy manager at think tank Policy Connect, says that while Brexit is now an “inevitability”, the election result is “only the start of a much longer process to decide the UK’s future relationship with the EU”.

On international issues — such as European designers working in the UK and vice versa — Tindale says: “It is vital that the sector speaks with one voice about the importance of retaining at least some continuity of this policy.”

Tindale says that while the prime minister has talked of boosting spending on public services and infrastructure, there is “clearly room for the sector to engage him in matters pertaining to culture”.

Singling out the “continued success” of the Research and Development tax credit, Tindale adds that a “proposed review into the scheme may expand its scope further, providing a valuable boost for Britain’s designers during an uncertain period for international collaboration”.

Other Conservative policies — particularly those around cutting business rates and employers’ National Insurance contributions — could help the sector, which comprises many smaller firms and small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

“A powerful advocate in Downing Street”

Tindale also says that with the “immediate stresses of a minority government” now at an end, there is scope for the government to focus on “day-to-day domestic priorities, with the creative industries playing a key part in the post-Brexit Britain”.

“The prime minister has always fancied himself as somewhat of an aesthete,” Tindale says. “While some of his initiatives as mayor of London range from the misguided (the ‘Roastmaster’ bus) to the non-existent (the Garden Bridge), the creative sector may have a powerful advocate in Downing Street for the first time since the era of Cool Britannia in the New Labour years.”

The proposed Garden Bridge


While Conservative tax cuts might provide some relief for design businesses, there is no indication as to how the industry will be supported through education.

2019 marked another drop in creative arts and design courses at university, while the overall number of students who took art and design A-Levels also fell by 1.6% from the previous year.

Two possible factors could account for this decline. Tuition fee rises — introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition in 2012 — increased financial pressure for students. This is impacted by the perception of badly-paid and competitive jobs within the creative industries.

Another contributing factor could be the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualification in 2010. This requirement means GCSE students must take English, maths, science, IT, a language and a humanity subject, which leaves little room for a creative subject.


While overshadowed by Brexit this election, the climate crisis is a prominent issue for the design industry, from sustainable product design to social design projects with environmental goals.

The Design Council’s Shah previously told Design Week that “there is prominence for adaptable and environmental housing design from the Conservatives and Greens” in both parties’ manifestos.

In light of the Conservative majority, Shah says that the Design Council now expects to see an “early implementation of key recommendations” from the Building Beautiful Commission.

Set up in July 2019, this commission is an independent body that advises government on how to promote the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods.

Shah singles out the importance of local planning departments and engaging the public in how their surrounding environments are designed.

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  • nick December 18, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    design? what design ?

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