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Creative PEC

This is an edited transcript of comments from an online Creative Industries Council Place Forum event on June 6 2024. Read more about the Forum.

Dr. Josh Siepel, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre & University of Sussex

I am a research partner at the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (Creative PEC), leading work on creative clusters, R&D and access to finance.

Today, I am going to talk about our perspective on the challenge of building place-based growth, upcoming areas of research, and where we would be interested in feedback from stakeholders and people in the policy community to ensure our work is useful. We want to make sure this is a conversation rather than us just doing research and sending it out to you.

The Creative PEC is led by Newcastle University with the Royal Society of Arts, with funding from UKRI. It has been going for six years and the aim is to build the quality of independent evidence for policymaking in the creative industries, not only at the national level but also across the nations and down to the local level as well.

The next government will be expecting the creative industries to play a major role in driving growth across the UK and in local areas. In one sense this is a positive thing but on the other hand, given the fact there may not be necessarily huge amounts of additional funding, it presents some interesting challenges for thinking about ways in which the policy community can best support small creative businesses.

One of the ways we can think about this is through the work we have been doing on the geographies of the creative industries, which can help us target some of the support we are providing to businesses. For a long time, we tended to think about the creative industries and creative clusters as being a city-level thing and in some sense that is true – look at Manchester, Bristol, or Edinburgh

At the same time, only thinking about things at the city level may not necessarily be the most useful way of conceptualising where interventions can be helpful. Clustering happens at much smaller levels that we call microclusters (street/neighbourhood/town level) and in the past couple of years, we have also been exploring broader linkages across regions which we call corridors and super clusters.

Our State of the Nations reports show the geography of the creative industries. Many of you will know that historically these industries have been concentrated in London and the South East, but there are real growth areas all around the UK – in the North West, West of England, South Wales, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

My team and I have been working for several years to identify creative microclusters which have become an important area for national and local government policymaking because we tend to find that they grow more rapidly than other outside areas, including big creative clusters and big cities. Some of our work on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic found that the real driver of resilience across the creative industries was microclusters which, from the perspective of business support, gives us an interesting lens for viewing solutions at a local level.  

We have also been working on the idea of creative corridors. The classic example is London and the M25 corridor, which is considered a supercluster, but with significant activity distributed across a broad area and benefiting from regional linkages that are not just in one local authority area. We are interested in exploring the circumstances and drivers that allow this model to work. For example, exploring ways of building and strengthening the corridor between Bristol and Cardiff, or the Northern Creative Corridor.

If it is possible to unlock these types of inter-regional linkages across broad areas in other parts of the UK, that can potentially allow us to bridge some gaps in skills or access to resources perhaps, which can unlock growth in other ways going forward.

We will continue this work over the next four years but this year we are also trying to boost the evidence base around access to finance. To this end, we have two pieces of work due to be completed in early autumn.

One, working with Creative UK, is to design a survey for creative industries businesses about their use of, and access to, capital which will give us some vital primary data about the types of finance companies use and the challenges they face in accessing finance. The other piece is a new State of the Nations Report looking at innovation finance and specifically around access to growth and venture capital.  

We are interested in feedback from attendees and others who have thoughts on these pieces of work and the types of evidence that would be useful. Are there particular questions that we should be trying to answer in our analysis? Is there data out there which we may not know about? Please feel free to get in touch.


1. Where can people go to find resources for organisations wanting to develop best practice not based on venture capital?

Venture Capital was invented at a particular time in the mid to late 20th century in the United States to meet specific issues in the economy at the time. It was an innovation itself for that time, and there continues to be space for innovation in finance. Because the structure of the assets and businesses in the creative industries is very different, there is more scope for new models of investment, new ways of addressing risk and new ways of addressing growth.

We get excited about the idea of the supply of capital, but equally there is a lot to be said for building investment readiness. The solution may not just be more money, but more support to build better, stronger, more investable businesses for whatever the specific financial instrument might be afterwards.

2. What can be done in more rural areas? How can we support non-urban cluster growth?

When we talk about clusters, we tend to get very focused on urban spaces, but we know there are lots of interesting activities going on in rural areas. We worked a few years ago with the National Innovation Centre for the Rural Economy to identify what rural creative microclusters would look like. These microclusters cover a broader area, but they may also operate in a slightly different way to other clusters.

Those places, in particular, benefit from convening spaces like hubs and from coordination and collaboration opportunities to ensure benefits in terms of knowledge flows and resource sharing. The Creative PEC has also produced a research paper looking at the mapping of rural clusters and a policy paper on seaside resorts.

3. How do you support good growth in creative clusters?

There are lots of things to consider because of the unique structure of the creative industries – different sectors, lots of projects, lots of freelancers, and so on. I found the Preston model on local investment and infrastructure very interesting and Creative PEC published a piece on this in the creative industries several years ago. Those types of local solutions and local capacity building are important because of the idea of local resilience which is evident in creative microclusters – whether that comes from being embedded within it or from having people and businesses that are linked up.

From the perspective of growth, tying those things in and being able to take advantage of local authorities, other organisations and the convening role that they can play, is really powerful in shaping what good growth could be like.

 4. Does the idea work against pockets of creativity outside of those major groupings?

I do not necessarily think so for two reasons. First, there are very strong benefits to clusters and clustering. Just in terms of knowledge flows if you look at local music scenes, even with the rise of the internet and Spotify, they are getting stronger in some cases because of the hyper local elements.

The other thing about clustering is that the levels and ways in which organisations benefit may not always be the same. If you think about the screen sectors, particularly around the M25 corridor, there are significant benefits that can come from the knowledge flows which may not be limited to one area.

That is one of the ideas we are trying to develop; both thinking more narrowly, but also more widely about the scope of these types of creative activities.

5. Are there any financial models that look particularly at the role of charities as a driver of growth?

I am not personally aware of a lot of evidence on this. I think there is a gap for thinking about the role that charities and other third sector organisations can play, because they are very uniquely placed to be engaging in these areas and to be engaging in growth. It is quite interesting to build more out from this because again, we tend to think about investment as being a bank or a venture capitalist, but there are other interesting models of investment and that may come from the third sector or local or national government and through hybrid models.

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