Whilst admiring the yellow courgettes growing on my allotment yesterday I thought to myself: “someone should really write a blog post about Birmingham’s Creative Industries and the whole Local Economic Partnerships thing. Hey, that’s something I could write about”. Fortunately, Chris Unitt on the Created in Birmingham blog got there before me and has got some good discussion going. This therefore is the ‘further reading’ to that blog post: some stats to help set the context and a modicum of opinion.
‘Punch Above Their Weight’
We could do with a restatement of the national picture of the size and scope of Creative Industries (CI) and their contribution to the economy. That’s the ‘Creative Industries’ sub-sectors as measured by government since the late 90s. The last economic estimates for CI in the UK puts them growing at 2% above the rest of the economy, accounting for 6.2% of Gross Value Added (GVA) in the economy and responsible for 4.5% of exports. That GVA figure is worth pausing on. In general CIs are a bunch of sectors that are ‘high value’, the goods and services they create are bought at a high price compared to the cost of producing them. So although in scale CI aren’t vast, they tend, in jargon heavy policy documents at least, to be described as ‘punching above their weight’.
So what about locally? Back in 2007 there was a report called ‘Making The Business Case’ (not available online), funded by the City Council, commissioned by the Creative Birmingham board, which articulated Birmingham’s case for continuing to recognise the importance of the CIs: “Birmingham’s creative industries are important to its economy. They generate real jobs and income and respectable amounts of GVA.” They reckoned the sector was worth £1bn or 8.7% of the city’s GVA (Manchester has a figure of 10.9%).
An updated report was commissioned in 2009 which used a slightly different methodology so the two reports aren’t comparable. For example, its GVA figure for 2007 is £663m (see below) but is calculated in a different way and, if I recall correctly, the researchers were very sceptical about the accuracy of calculating GVA at city level. Much of this updated report is summarised in a report in the Birmingham Post from October 2009 but the report itself remains unpublished. It’s a good read though, if only you were able to read it.
Here are some tables from it. Stats only go up to 2007 and even if revised again now would only go to 2008:
So in summary, Birmingham’s Creative Industries do just about ‘punch above their weight’ and remain an important part of our economy. But other smaller cities seem to do a bit better than us – we’ve got less creatives than Leeds and less as a proportion of overall employment than Bristol. We have a growing number of employees in micro firms but a decline in overall creative employment since 2003/4. That’s evidence perhaps that policy that focuses purely on start-ups needs to be supplemented with support for growth of larger firms along with a focus on inward investment.
Not a Charity Case
It’s inevitable that whatever LEPs form in and around Birmingham, the ‘Creative’ sector will be articulated within them. But how they articulate them is really quite important. There is established methodology about what the CI are and despite its flaws at least it’s there and established. I worry whenever I see those definitions rejected. Jerry Blackett, current chair of the Creative Birmingham board is arguing for just such a rejection of established definitions and even for a shift in focus towards philanthropy. That feels wrong. Birmingham’s Creative Industries need a business case, not handouts.
I think this position comes from the confusion of thinking that the subsidised Arts sector has much to do with the Creative Industries sector. There’s overlap of course but in Birmingham the two most significant contributors to Creative Industries value have been Architecture (32% of GVA in 2004) and Software (35% of GVA in 2004). Music and Performing Arts are low-value sectors in economic terms (1.1% of GVA in 2004).
Writing in 2006, Calvin Taylor noted that it was:
“significant that the arts lobby mostly uses the creative industry tag. Very few other sector bodies, representing other components of what are taken to be the creative industries, use the tag in their sectors promotion work.”
He went on to warn that in the regions, advocacy for the creative industries must rise to
“the challenge of developing a credible evidence base, without allowing judgements of the attempts made so far to be circumscribed by the pressure to deliver yet more advocacy.”
But this can’t be all about stats. People matter, and how we feel about creativity in the city matters also. There’s a really useful research paper (PDF) that looks at regional creative clusters in Birmingham Newcastle/Gateshead. In their conclusions the authors point out that:
“the city-region is a place for cooperation, not just competition […] personal and emotive dimensions are key factors in the decision of creative practitioners to be located in both city-regions. This personal dimension is often underplayed in the development of creative industries…”
[A version of this, without the fancy tables, will probably make it to my column in next week’s Birmingham Post]