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Not for profit

Creative UK

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.

Carol Bell, Creative UK

I work for Creative UK as the Associate Regional Director for the North of England.

Creative UK is a national network and independent not-for-profit organisation for the creative industries. Through our research, policy work and a range of business support programmes, we connect and support the sector. We also work with organisations like Creative PEC and other regional and national bodies to deliver support.

Examples of our work include a creative enterprise programme that focuses on screen and gaming, regional programmes including the North of Tyne, providing business growth and investment readiness training for both freelancers and small SMEs, and we are also running a number of DCMS-funded Create Growth Programmes. Finally, and quite unusually for a not-for-profit organisation, we are one of the few creative sector specialists that give direct investment through debt finance.

So, what are some of the challenges for creative businesses when looking to grow? The industry overall is doing well, but it is often quite invisible. In 2021, Creative UK commissioned research from Oxford Economics which indicated that the sector could grow 25% by 2025 and contribute £132bn to the UK economy.

2023 data shows that, despite all the challenges we have faced, the sector is now worth £126bn which represents 6% of the economy. In sector terms, we are bigger than financial services and the automotive sector and continue to be a high-growth and cross-cutting sector, supporting others to achieve particular areas of business development. We also generate social as well as economic value. Therefore, the big story is that the cultural and creative industries are bucking larger economic trends in terms of place and scale, but imagine what more we could do if we were given more support.

Money and access to finance is what people often go on about, but as others have alluded at this event already, money is not always the solution. For a lot of the businesses we are working with, it is more the need for fundamental support to help them focus on what they are doing and how they want to work and move forward.

Josh talked about clusters, but I think there is a huge problem around markets and sector fragmentation within the creative industries alongside the huge numbers of freelance workers which may have constrained capacity due to their inability to meet demand and connectivity. This means opportunities for investment, collaboration, and supply chain development can be hindered as opposed to other industries.

Often, when you are a creative business, and I can think about my own experience starting out as a photographer, you can focus on the work and might not consider the other technical assets needed to build the business further. Some of that is starting to change with the work that is happening at a deeper level with the creation of clusters, workspace provision, mentoring services and the development of peer networks, but again there is more that needs to be done.

In terms of what has worked well, I point to devolution. The growth of the creative industries has been spread across the UK and devolution has allowed combined authorities to be proactive and support emergent sectors whilst encouraging collaboration between local authorities under one vision. There have already been some great wins; Charlie has talked about the work of the North East Screen agency, and I am proud of the work I am doing with Creative UK in the North East.

In 2021, the North of Tyne Combined Authority was relatively new and like Tees Valley, it was looking at opportunities to support a small but growing sector which had been negatively impacted by the effects of COVID-19. It put out a call for an organisation to support a creative and cultural sector growth programme and I worked with Creative UK to propose a different model within the North of Tyne that supported the entire sector.

We proposed a business support programme for freelancers and businesses tied to investment that would suit the needs of individuals. We created a programme that would offer grant funding and business support, but also debt and equity, to move the dial on the sector’s thinking around investment opportunities. It is going well, and we have positive examples of business growth because of investment and examples of businesses shifting the dial in terms of how they work.

Creative UK has also been supporting other Create Growth programmes across the UK and currently delivers around 50% of the national programme. This means that we have boots on the ground at a regional level and can collaborate and work on best practice. A good example is the Climb24 event I am attending today which this year emphasises the importance of the creative industries. Creative UK has also been able to bring some of the creative businesses from our programmes to the event to give them exposure to potential investors.

So what makes a strong partnership between industry and government and why is the North of Tyne working so well? Creative UK established a local delivery team to help manage the programme on behalf of theCombined Authority. I was already there and well networked, ensuring our work would be delivered in partnership with key regional, cultural, and creative organisations, including North East Screen and New Writing North.

We were there to add value and support the sector, not to duplicate what others were doing and therefore our focus has been on the business support side rather than creative support. The combined authority has also been flexible in terms of how we might use our debt investment, so we tried small loans and will soon launch a programme focused on IP development. A lot of this will also inform future models of working.

Central to the growth of the creative industries sector is investment in original IP. Much of this is stimulated by the subsidised arts, but as countless reviews have shown (including the recent House of Lords Enquiry, OurCreative Future), the unstartling fact is that public investment in culture and the arts has reduced dramatically in the last ten years. Our cultural institutions are also suffering from a lack of capital; finance which ought tobe working to support artists and feed audiences and the public is instead having to pay for roof repairs and energy bills.

We need afresh, new approach to investing in our future creativity and part and parcel of the solution is changing the lens through which we view public subsidy. In many other sectors, such as advanced manufacturing, green energy and biotech, public subsidy is understood as an investment for the future, a necessary catalyst to stimulate longer-term, patient and dedicated private capital. Investment in arts and culture is too often seen as a cost, not an opportunity. This needs to change.

In addition, the exclusion of creative disciplines from R&D tax credits is limiting our ability to build original IP in the UK. Recent interventions to support creative sector businesses like Create Growth, our own programmes, and the Creative Clusters initiative from the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) are all fabulous in their own right, but they have yet to remove systemic barriers to exponential growth.

One of the challenges with a lot of the investment opportunities are that they are determined through competition and bids – that are short-term in nature. Interventions are often tactical and piecemeal and short-term/project based. This produces sub-optimal partnerships, wasted resources on unnecessary administration, and reduces our ability to leverage private investment to build sustainable growth. The creative industries sector now drives R&D-led innovation as much as others, such as Life Sciences and Aerospace. However, although the CI represents 6% of GVA (Gross Value Added), it only receives around 1% of the public research funding cake.

And finally, I would argue that what is needed is a suite, joined up of mission-focused, purpose-led interventions from government and an ambitious vision led by industry, to move us from short-term initiatives to long term sustainability and growth.


How do you garner political support for the creative industries sector in areas who have not yet prioritised it?

Use models of best practice and examples from other areas. For example, the North of Tyne model recognises the value of grant investment to support sectors. There is also a lot of interest around sustainability and devolution and in not becoming too insular, ensuring links back to national and international markets and opportunities as well.

With a new government coming in, what is the one thing that you would ask them for (that is not money)?

To look at the amazing things happening in terms of investment programmes and how we can join them all together. Less about competition and more about real need and greater integration.

Image: Creative UK