By Diane Coyle and Andy Westwood

Do creativity and economics mix? Many creative people feel a certain degree of ambivalence about financial success; money is neither the only nor even the most important measure of success. Yet the UK has many enormously successful creative businesses, as well as creative people who have reaped the financial rewards of commercial success.

Indeed, the role of the creative industries in the UK’s economy can sensibly be compared to that of the financial services sector. The statistics in both cases are flawed but as a share of GDP the creative sector is not that dissimilar to post-crash finance – as reflected in the NESTA report launched today – A Manifesto for the Creative Economy. Both sectors are indisputably part of a modern economy, exporting largely intangible products around the globe. Britain is equally famous for both financial and creative sectors above all others – both the City and the Olympics opening ceremony can stand for the UK. Yet the attitudes of the government and the public to the two sectors are markedly different.

In the debates about bonuses and financial wrongdoing, the banks – and most politicians – have marshalled a story of economic impact, of statistics and of the threat of jeopardising an important contribution to national income (even in a sector we currently loathe). Politicians and many commentators tend to support, even if reluctantly, this story of economic impact. Certainly the politicians and civil servants in Westminster have been convinced enough over the years to extend enormous amounts of subsidy and a favourable regulatory environment to banking and the financial services sector.

Now compare that to the creative industries. Even the lowest estimates of public subsidies to the banks in recent years are many times larger than public subsidy to the arts and to education and training in creative skills – and the latter is shrinking dramatically. There are estimates of the economic impact of the creative sector,  but these suffer from the lack of an agreed definition. Official statistics make it hard to classify and to count employment and output, so it is hard to support claims about the sector’s contribution to national income – even though creative skills such as communication, or design, are increasingly important throughout the whole economy. Lobby groups and trade bodies in the sector are much more diffused – music, theatre, fashion, the arts, publishing and the media – even universities too – alongside a handful of big institutions like the BBC and the Arts Councils.

And yet the Creative Industries, like banking, underpin a great deal of economic activity beyond the sector.  For products and services are increasingly dependant on knowledge, brand and adding intangible or ‘weightless’ value.

So can we tell a better story about the creative industries? We are clearly pretty good at them. The  Oscars and the Grammys both readily demonstrate our world famous talent. The UK is the only net exporter of pop music apart from the US. The games industry employs thousands. A visit to the new Warner Brothers studios in Watford will show a thriving industry and the vast number of well paid, highly skilled jobs created by the Harry Potter series (some 8,000 in all).

But continuing austerity and future cuts are going to be challenging. DCMS, never a strong voice in Whitehall,  looks likely to lose over half of its budget between 2010 and 2018 (from a over £2 billion in 2010 to around £1 billion by 2018). There has been no rearguard action like that from more powerful departments. The arts aren’t likely to do well in education or research settlements either.

Michael Gove may have u-turned (slightly) on EBCs but the Ebacc and Abacc remain and the Coalition Government doesn’t see arts education as a top priority in either. Neither does the Opposition. In universities the resources for art and design – the second most popular course after business – continue to look pretty squeezed. While some funding for specialist institutions has been protected, it’s clear that the science and research ringfence is less likely to protect the creative industries. The pipeline to a thriving creative industries sector is under threat.

This means there needs to be a better, more joined up story about the importance and impact of the creative industries in Britain. We need to help politicians and officials to understand better the role of creativity in a modern economy and the way creativity drives innovation and growth; as has recently been pointed out – very few MPs have had experience of a creative education themselves and are unfamiliar with the sector.

Above all, telling the story requires us to lose some of that ambivalence about business and economic success. There is an inevitable tension between monetary and other measures of value, and it’s a useful tension because we’ve seen what happens to a society where only money is valued. But the creative contribution to the economy is something to be proud of and we should want the national debate to acknowledge that.

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Diane Coyle OBE
Enlightenment Economics

Andy Westwood