17 August 2017

For its future prosperity, Britain must get creative

By Ed Vaizey

From Shakespeare to Skepta, the UK has a proud history of cultural leadership.  2017 is already proving to be another fantastic year for this dynamic sector.

June saw the world’s greatest music festival, Glastonbury, watched by a record 21 million people. There were mesmerising headline performances from two brilliant British artists: Radiohead and the other Ed. The grime scene continues to make waves on both sides of the Atlantic.

Spend on film production in the UK reached the highest level on record. David Hockney’s Tate Britain show became the most popular exhibition in the gallery’s history. The list goes on.

These achievements are a cause for celebration, even more so when their economic impact is taken into consideration. Figures published last year indicate that the creative industries are now worth £84.1 billion per year to the UK economy, generating nearly £9.6 million per hour. That is more than both car manufacturing and aerospace. The sector is also growing at almost twice the rate of the wider UK economy – quicker than any other sector – and now accounts for almost one in 11 jobs.

Ensuring the continued growth of these industries is, therefore, of utmost importance for our future economic success. I am pleased that this was recognised in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper released earlier this year, in which the creative sector is identified as one of the Government’s five key priorities for post-Brexit Britain. The paper quite rightly underlines the sector’s high productivity, competitive global advantages and growth potential.

I am encouraged that an independent review by Sir Peter Bazalgette is also underway to address how these industries can help underpin our future prosperity.

Highlighting the fact that the creative industries are as important as more traditional sectors to the future economy is an important first step. This is particularly pertinent when we consider the role of automation and artificial intelligence in the future job market.

A study by Nesta, the innovation research body, found that 87 per cent of the UK’s creative jobs were at low or no risk of being automated. The sector’s high-profile recognition in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper represents an acknowledgement of how business continues to evolve in the 21st century. 

Developing our country’s creativity is therefore paramount.

When I was Culture and Digital Minister, we outlined how we intended to achieve this through the Culture White Paper – the first in more than 50 years and only the second ever published. Within its pages, we set out our commitment to improving creative education, increasing cultural participation and enhancing access to funding and export markets across the sector. Encouraging creativity from people of all ages and backgrounds is vitally important and will prove imperative in helping us discover the untapped talent that could become Britain’s future stars.

More recently, the Government launched a new ‘Culture is Digital’ project to develop the relationship between the worlds of culture and tech. The aim is to build on the commitments of the Culture White Paper and the natural synergy between these two complementary sectors. Projects such as these reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the creative industries and will, I’m sure, prove to be a positive step towards securing the UK’s position as a creative leader in the digital era.

Culture has also proven a driving force in the changing face and fortunes of many of the UK’s cities and towns. Glasgow and Liverpool have undergone huge economic transformations since being selected as European Capitals of Culture in 1990 and 2008 respectively. This year, Hull will hope to follow in their footsteps as the new UK City of Culture, hosting a plethora of arts events, including the 2017 Turner Prize.

The impact of culture is not limited to metropolitan areas either – many of the country’s smaller towns are beginning to benefit from the ever-growing rural creative economy.

British musicians, artists, fashion brands and films have long been recognised in nations across the world. Nurturing our creativity and fully integrating the sector into our industrial strategy will be key going forward. As the UK’s fastest growing sector, it is already proving to be an increasingly vital component to our long-term economic future.

First published in Bright Blue’s latest magazine ‘Capitalism in crisis?’

Ed Vaizey MP is the former Minister for Culture and Digital.