Designers call for return of 1980s enterprise policies

A campaign to bring back Margaret Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which paid people a weekly allowance to come off the dole and start a new business, has been augmented by calls to reinstate the Design Advisory Service consultancy scheme and appoint a design minister.

Frank Peters, chief executive of the Chartered Society of Designers, says having a dedicated design minister would give design the higher political status it had in the 1980s, and allow it to lead the economy out of the recession.

Citing the example of John Butcher, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, Peters says, ‘In the 1980s, the Government’s focus was on design, but it then got consumed in a raft of other initiatives. Now people are turning to the creative sector to help us out of the recession. But if we are going to play that role we should have our own design minister, as we used to.’

He also advocates reintroducing another 1980s initiative, the DAS consultancy scheme, which saw businesses receive Government support to employ the service of designers. ‘Now consultancy is indirect, through quangos, regional development agencies and universities, but the DAS scheme was a more efficient way of supporting designers in business,’ says Peters.

These calls follow the publication of Do It Yourself/ Cultural and Creative Self-Employment in Hard Times – a new report written by research group New Deal of the Mind and commissioned by Arts Council England – which calls for the return of the EAS.

Martin Bright, founder of New Deal of the Mind – who himself went on the EAS twice in the 1980s – says he thinks there needs to be more advice available for applicants about tax and accountancy. ‘The problem with small start-ups is they think about these things last and focus on the cosmetic. So if a scheme such as the DAS could help small businesses get advice, then it would only be a positive thing,’ he says.

However, he believes that bringing back a design minister it not the answer. ‘What you want is for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as a whole to be boosted, and viewed not as an add-on but an integral part of the economy. That way, more senior departments have an eye to the benefits of being creative,’ he explains.

Wolff Olins founder Michael Wolff advocates the need to employ designers across all business sectors, which the DAS scheme could help to achieve. ‘Why do we think of sectors and all these design graduates moving into jobs in the creative sector? They should be going into every aspect of work. We need visionary businesses, and creative people are in the best position to do this,’ he says.

Wolff also doubts, however, that appointing a new design minister is necessary, ‘Politicians are so preoccupied with winning votes, which has nothing to do with creativity. We don’t need a new design minister, as [Business Secretary] Peter Mandelson [who holds the design brief] has vision, skills and energy.’

Lorraine Gamman, director of the Design Against Crime Research Centre at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, supports the reintroduction of the EAS but questions how effective the DAS would be now.

‘It completely depends on who would be running the DAS as to whether it would be helpful,’ she says. ‘There is no need to appoint a new minister. It’s fair to say Mandelson knows this area well and he just needs to get on with his job. The Government should be thinking of its legacy now and create something for the future of design.’

Recommendations from the NDM report:

  • The Government should introduce an enterprise allowance scheme for the 21st century
  • Job Centre staff should be given guidance on providing advice for creatives wishing to be self-employed
  • There should be better promotion of existing enterprise schemes
  • A prize should be established for young creative entrepreneurs, building on work already being done by the British Council and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

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