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Boosting the power of Britain’s creative industries

The sector is crucial for driving regional growth, says West Midlands mayor Andy Street.

In the overall push for economic growth, one sector in particular has gone from strength to strength over the past decade: Britain’s creative industries. 

Britain’s creative industries are universally renowned and generate increasing revenues, both internationally and domestically. Over the past decade, the sector has grown at more than 1.5-times the rate of the wider economy, contributing £108bn in gross value added (GVA) annually. 

The creative industries are also, increasingly, a major provider of jobs, with employment rates growing at five times the rate of the rest of the economy since 2011 and accounting for 2.3 million jobs between July 2020 and June 2021. 

The music, art, films and other products that come from Britain’s creative industries provide more than just economic output. “It gives the soundtrack, the official recording of a city [or] region’s life,” said Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, at the New Statesman’s Creativity Unleashed event, Boosting the power of Britain’s creative industries hosted in partnership with YouTube on 23 November. Creative output can serve as a time capsule of Britain, reflective of a particular people, place and time in history. “If you don’t have that – you’re not represented on the nation’s screens and televisions internationally – then you are missing out, and critically, you’re not allowing the most creative people in your community the opportunities of the future,” Street added. 

See the Creativity Unleashed discussion highlights below. A link to the full coverage is at the bottom of this article:

The Creativity Unleashed event, held in Digbeth, Birmingham, also featured businesswoman and online content creator Patricia Bright, who has a following of more than four million people across her social media platforms, including 2.8 million on YouTube. Bright told the event’s chair, former New Statesman deputy editor Jon Bernstein, that it took about five years from when she first started creating content in the mid-2010s for brands and creators alike to see the financial viability of tapping into the new emerging sector that online spaces have provided. “I still had to manage working my nine-to-five, alongside being creative,” she recalled. “Seven years on, I’m still here because the industry itself has grown exponentially.” 

The Creativity Unleashed event also looked specifically at how the creative industries in the Midlands could be bolstered and supported. Throughout, the event explored the interplay between creativity and technology, evolving consumer commerce, and the crucial collaboration between policymakers and industry leaders to empower the next generation of thriving entrepreneurs. 

The mayor recalled how disappointed his home city’s policymakers and creatives alike were when Leeds unexpectedly won the bid over Birmingham for Channel 4’s new regional base in 2018. It was then that they decided that “the Midlands’ relatively eclipsed position in the creative sector… cannot go on”, Street said, and that Britain’s second-largest city must get the recognition it deserves. 

There is a role for both the public and private sector to play in bolstering the creative economy in Britain’s regions – but Street believes that ultimately, the latter will be responsible for “nearly all” of the necessary work. “Our view is that we [need] some of those big institutions to kickstart [the local creative scene] but the whole idea is that it energises the community and releases it, and that’s the whole notion of our plan,” Street said of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) outlook. 

He added: “It will be the [big] private companies, [and] the small start-ups, the small-medium enterprises (SMEs), that will really determine this industry – that’s why it can grow so fast, because of its private sector mix.” 

Bernstein referenced research from YouTube, which shows that 85 per cent of the watch time of UK-produced content is overseas, highlighting the global appeal and reach of Britain’s domestic content. As that volume of content continues to grow, YouTube’s unique revenue sharing model is now supporting more than 45,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the UK, and contributed over £2bn to Britain’s GDP in 2022. 

Bright’s growing global audience has seen her become an SME owner, employing five people. The creative industries’ connection with the online world provides many opportunities for business owners, she said. “Hiring remotely is something I do… that’s the world of digital content, we can hire people from so many places, they’re not just in London,” Bright said. “Having access from the best universities, the best skills… is really important for someone like myself.” 

She became a business owner unintentionally, she added. “There was no plan, there was no goal, there was no strategy,” she said. “And I’ve had to… become a small business owner without realising what that actually looked like. But when I realised that… I had opportunities and I needed more help, I had to change my mindset into being not just a digital creator, but also a business owner. And that meant bringing on young talent as well.” 

Both panellists agreed that investing in digital skills is key to boosting the creative industries. “All of the skills I learned about being a YouTube creator, I learned on YouTube, from other YouTube creators,” Bright said. While she is “self-taught”, there is “room for both” self-starters and established programmes to help people, she said, as it can “make that learning curve a lot shorter”. 

Ensuring people from all backgrounds feel encouraged and are able to participate and be represented in the creative industries is crucial, both panellists agreed. Street conceded that “there is some good movement, but not enough”, on improving diversity across the creative industries. Bright acknowledged that the creative industries are more diverse by nature but called for more to be done to drive forward this agenda. “Not everybody has access and awareness of what’s possible,” she said. “Yes, there are some tools and resources – but if you don’t know about [those], how can you [access them]? I think there needs to be a bit more of a systematic way for people to be aware of what true opportunities there are.” 

Helping all people have access to digital skills is, according to Street, where national and local governments can intervene and invest most effectively. Doing so is “mission critical” to growth, he added. As an example, he highlighted the role of “digital bootcamps”, which were first put on by the WMCA in Digbeth and are now run nationally. 

“The digital sector here [in Birmingham] is now our fastest-growing area,” Street said, “… and we’re now the second biggest digital sector, after London, in the UK. This is a race we have to win, because it will determine where the real successful parts of the world are in the future.”   

You can watch the full panel discussion on the New Statesman YouTube channel here: