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March 12, 2008

Richard Florida

Creative Britain

« Flight of the Researchers | Main | Cities in Time »

The UK announces a substantial new initiative to build the creative economy.  Compare to literal silence from all US presidential candidates (h/t: Al Mair). The Guardian reports:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the culture secretary, Andy Burnham, today unveiled the action plan, Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy, in what the government is labelling the first-ever comprehensive, state-supported plan to move the creative industries from the "margins to the mainstream of economic and policy thinking" in the UK.

The action plan outlines 26 commitments for both government and the creative industries to nurture talent, create jobs and to drive the UK's international competitiveness.

One of the initiatives is to develop a new annual World Creative Business Conference that will act as the "centrepiece" of an international push to make the UK the "world's creative hub".

"We need to give our creative industries a powerful global presence and the opportunity to compare themselves with the very best in the world," the government said. "We hope [it] will become the equivalent of Davos [World Economic Forum] for the creative industries."

Our vision is of a Britain in 10 years' time where the local economies in our biggest cities are driven by creativity," said Burnham.

Wow. Somebody is really doing it.


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Unfortunately a lot of the policies don't make much sense and are tied very closely to the approaches of the Sector Skills Councils. In the past few months the two that cover most of the creative industries (other than audio/visual ones) have been overtly hostile to higher education. Skillfast-UK, which covers fashion and textiles, held a mock protest outside Parliament during London Fashion Week calling for universities and colleges to make their degrees focus more on 'skills' such as pattern cutting. Which makes you wonder why anyone would recruit graduates into such low-level roles. The design industry is notorious for expecting graduates to 'start at the bottom' effectively hiding them away from the world for five or six years. Compare that to other industries where grads are taken in to management-level roles with strategic responsibilities.
Can you imagine the construction industry taking grads in and expecting them to start as brick layers?

For so called 'creative industries' this isn't very creative at all. My own research into policy in this area has found startling similarities between UK strategies and the activities of the craft guilds in medieval Europe. And the lessons there are that such approaches stifle innovation and restrict access to employment.

The skills councils also have a policy of 'accrediting' education courses so they meet their 'needs', and a look at those needs suggests this will ultimately lead to an enforced disconnect between teaching and research (academics in design are often criticised for being 'out of touch' despite the fact that in the UK we're responsible for some of the leading innovations and community-engagement). It's notable that there are no academics on Creative and Cultural Skills's board or advisory committees (http://ccskills.org.uk/) - we have effectively been cut out of planning and are then accused of a 'failure to engage'...

So don't take the Guardian article too seriously. Cutting universities and research out of the loop and thinking creativity is simply the result of training people how to cut patterns or design magazines is not the way forward. The creative industries are not facing recruitment difficulties because of a lack of skills, it's because the jobs they offer are awful - often literally unpaid.

The policy you quote of the annual conference is a good one. But the rest of the document is profoundly disappointing in that it fails to cite universities as the true centre of innovation and creativity, and seems to think creativity only takes place in areas like design, advertising and entertainment. Yet as I said at a conference in January, there are people working in the building behind my office trying to cure cancer - that has to be one of the most creative endeavours we could be undertaking right now. Creativity is more than just designing leaflets and ad campaigns. This document fails to acknowledge that.


J - Nicely said. And those awful jobs are exactly what need to change. R

Sascha-Andre´ Liehr

The Senate of Berlin including its mayor Klaus Wowereit have expressed
its motivation to install a Global Creative Conference as well.

Berlin as a major center of creative industries including its long history as a congress and trade fair venue seems to be a very serious competitor for an annual conference like this.

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