Oakley, K. (2004) 'Not so cool Britannia. The role of the creative industries in economic development', in International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7 (1): 67 - 77.
[This edition of the journal seems devoted to this issue].
The UK government has committed itself to using creative industries in regional and local development, but there are serious and unaddressed problems. The creative industries are cited universally as an important element in regional regeneration, and now there are eight Cultural Consortia in England, one for each region. They are required to devise a strategy using cultural developments, and some local apparatuses have developed. It now seems to be universally agreed that creative industries can replace manufacturing industries. Many cities in particular seem to see cultural or creative 'quarters' as the way out of economic and social decline [and some examples are given pages 68--69]. However 'as the rhetoric and expectations grow, the evidence base on which they rest seems to shrink' (69).
New Labour's Department of Culture, Media and Sport was created in 1997 in a spirit of great optimism, and soon set up the Creative Industries Task Force. Science and manufacturing were not included in the brief, however. The early enthusiasm tended to ignore 'what are often casualised insecure working conditions' in the cultural sector (69), but the profile for creative industries was undoubtedly raised. Support grew with the view that we should be moving towards a knowledge-based economy and flexible working -- creative industries were taken as key examples. However, this assumed that the old manufacturing base could be left unsupported, 'that the business cycle had been superceded; and a growing income inequality was the price to be paid for increased "flexibility"' (70). These arguments seem to have been accepted uncritically.
Support was drawn for UK practice from the work of an American writer Richard Florida* (2000). Florida did try to develop an evidence base, but his work remains culturally specific, and the inter-relationship between creative and other industries in the UK is still 'largely under researched and hence poorly understood' (71). In particular, there is little connection with national data sets or with policy. University academics are longer closely tied to government data analysis and government policy -- instead, they pursue more lucrative policy making and consultancy activities.
As an example, the role of creative industries in social inclusion is underresearched. They do tend to cluster where there is graduate labour which can exclude those from ethnic minorities, for example. In London, they tend to be concentrated in a few boroughs -- 'these look like sectors that have a lot to contribute to social polarisation, but very little to inclusion' (72), although no one really knows in the absence of hard evidence. The rhetoric simply ignores the problem.
The term 'creative industries' covers a range of activities, from individual and high risk, through team-based and commercial, to 'intensely formulaic market tested products' such as the music or film industries (72). The distinction between creative and not creative is itself controversial, and often sustained by 'ideological implications' (72).
There is an assumption that the same kinds of creative clusters can be developed throughout England 'without regard to the specifics of place' (72) -- 'everyone needs a university, some incubators and a "creative hub", with or without a cafe, galleries and fancy shops' (73). The demand for particular kinds of workers has been ignored. London may have a 'huge number of low-skilled, low paid jobs in the service sectors' which will support creative industries, but other areas do not. It may take a generation to alter the stocks of human capital.
There has a tendency to fund new 'start up' projects at the expense of things such as subsidised arts or music teaching in schools. Clearly, factors such as the provision of museums, 'licensing laws and immigration policy' are also connected (74). However, these interconnections have not been researched. There are uninvestigated contradictions, for example between an educational policy that stresses vocational curricula and lots of tests, and the needs of 'entrepreneurship and creativity', especially the willingness to risk failing (74). The economic logic of investment rather than subsidy has led to confusion about what culture is -- for example, the film industry is supported but not the electronic games industry. Here, there is a failure to realise what cultural values are and how they might lead to economic growth.
Regional policy sits awkwardly between large media companies on the one hand, and small-scale local bottom-up activity on the other. Small-scale enterprises can be helped particularly by the development of networks with local business, government, and higher education, but public funding is not focused on these. Networks can take time to develop, while funding is often short term, and suitably measurable outputs are hard to find, or have to be operationalised regardless of quality.
Overall, there is insufficient evidence in this important public policy area, especially in connection with the usual types of intervention. What is needed is serious research and monitoring, and comparative work on creative industries. Instead, 'the more dangerous aspects of new economy ideology' can take over (76). Policy can work in regenerating many areas, and it can provide employment (some of it casualised). 'However, it will also provide some creative products that we may or may not enjoy' (76), and it is unlikely to prevent social and economic polarization.
*Florida, R. (2000) The Rise of the Creative Class and How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, New York: Basic Books
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