Archive for September, 2010

Counting the Creative Industries (or why South Lanarkshire is the creative economy capital of Scotland)

Delving into the employment and industry statistics for Scotland is a revealing and at times surprising enterprise.  Who would have thought that the Scottish district showing the greatest proportional increase in people working in ‘Culture, Media and Sport’ would be South Lanarkshire? Back in 2004 some 800 people (0.3% of the total population) were counted in that category but by last year the figure had risen an impressive 175% to 2,200 (0.7%).  That’s 1,400 new jobs and some 13% of the recorded increase for Scotland as a whole!  (Only Edinburgh surpassed it in absolute terms with an increase of 2,300 jobs, a more modest 42% increase in proportional terms, though better than the all-Scotland 29% increase from 35,800 to 46,200.)

Quite how the home of New Lanark, the UK’s largest museum of country life at Kittochside and Biggar Puppet Theatre, has pulled off this impressive bit of economic development can’t be discerned from the figures but one can’t help wondering if some re-categorisation of employment data may have played a part.

Statistics, as we all know, can easily be made to say what you want them to, particularly if you choose your comparison periods carefully, tweak data definitions and quietly ignore things like adjusting for inflation.  Obtaining reliable comparative data for the Creative Industries at regional, national and international levels is notoriously difficult but utterly essential if meaningful evaluation of cultural and economic policy is to be possible. Similarly, comparing economic and cultural data over extended time series is central to analysing the impact of public policy.

Back in 2005 the Office for National Statistics discovered they had been seriously over-estimating business data covered by SIC (‘Standard Industrial Classification’) Code Division 92: ‘Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Activities’ which ranges from ‘Motion Picture and Video’ to ‘Gambling and Betting’. 

If you didn’t know this then the following table would look rather alarming as it appears to show a pretty catastrophic drop in the Gross Value Added generated by this major part of Scotland’s Creative Industries between 2004 and 2005 (when the data was adjusted).

Scotland Recreational, culture and sporting activities 1998 to 2008 Graph

These sorts of difficulties make getting a handle on how Scotland’s Creative Industries are doing less than straightforward.  The ONS and Scottish Government Annual Business Inquiry tell us (see also Arts and Business report ) that Scottish Creative Industries GVA rose some 84% from £1.3 billion in 1998 to £2.4 billion in 2007.  Employment in the sector is said to have increased over 50% from 38,500 in 1998 to 58,600 in 2007. 

Some interesting trends are revealed when we drill a little further into this data.  For example the sector showing the sharpest increase is Advertising (194%) while Publishing (32%) and Film/Video (32%) appear to be equally in the doldrums, at least according to these figures.  Music and the Visual and Performing Arts appear, by contrast, to be in pretty rude health (176% increase in GVA over the decade).

What if anything should we conclude from this mass of data, potentially unreliable as in some cases it clearly is?  Well one thing we should be looking at is why growth rates are so markedly different across sectors and whether for example, economic policy interventions should prioritize the ‘leaders’, on the basis of building on growing areas or the ‘laggards’, on the basis of correcting market failures or distortions.  Though some sectors (e.g. advertising) are acutely sensitive to cyclical market conditions while others (e.g. film, architecture) can be significantly affected by a few lasrge value projects, there are underlying structural factors – e.g. skills, access to investment and working capital, impact of technology change – that public policy can help to address.

NB: For the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say, I am only referring here to considerations of economic policy. There are of course many and varied cultural and social policy reasons to invest in the creative and cultural sector – the complex interplay of these with industrial and economic policy is an issue for (many) other posts here and elsewhere – seefor example Pat Kane’s recent and considered words in the Caledonian Mercury .

Going back to South Lanarkshire, if it really has more than doubled employment in Culture, Media and Sport perhaps the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership (SCIP) ought to pay a visit to see how they did it, particularly as the local Government representative on SCIP is Leader of North Lanarkshire Council!

UPDATE/FLASHBACK: For more on the shifting sands of creative industries re-visit this earlier post

Toronto swansong for UKFC

As the Guardian film blog notes it is indeed richly ironic that in the year its demise was announced, UK Film Council-backed films should be making such a strong showing at the Toronto Film Festival. Amongst the 13 UKFC-backed films (out of 29 British in total )  Tom Hooper’s UK/Australian Co-pro The King’s Speech won the Cadillac Audience Award with another Brit pic, Justin Chadwick’s First Grader taking the runner-up prize. But then again the decision to axe the UKFC wasn’t, as far as anyone tell, predicated on an alleged failure to back enough successes or, indeed, on any coherent analysis at all.  It appears to have been the result of a few key individuals (at least one of them a prominent ‘commercial’ filmmaker) bending UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s ear and accusing UKFC executives of milking the public purse.  Facing cuts to his own department of up to 40% it seems the Minister was goaded into precipitate action ‘pour encourager les autres’.  Britain has a long history of see-sawing film policy going back to the thirties and this latest example of ministerial slash and burn on the flimsiest of pretexts is unlikely to be the last. 

But all that said its time to move on (a conclusion also reached last week by UKFC CEO John Woodward) and do what we can to ensure that what emerges from the ashes of the Film Council does justice to the talent and aspiration of UK filmmakers and to the needs and desires of audiences here and around the world.  Pity we seem to have to keep reinventing the wheel though…

Rollover day for Lottery film millions?

The debate over who will inherit the UKFC’s Lottery millions when it finally closes its doors rumbles on.  Possible beneficiaries include the Arts Council of England, the BFI and NESTA but the potential role of regional and national agencies, including our own Creative Scotland, has received rather less media attention. 

In a recent response to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee enquiry into the future of Arts and Heritage funding Screen England, representing the nine regional screen agencies, argues:

With the UKFC no longer in existence, and the structure of LEPs [Local Enterprise Partnerships] not yet determined, it is imperative that any future restructuring of funding should incorporate a strong recognition of the creative industries, so that this vital sector can continue to grow, to protect jobs and revenue, and to play its part in helping the UK out of recession. As we move into an increasingly digital future, we believe it is the Screen Agencies, or whatever they evolve into, that are best placed to continue to deliver this support.”            

As if to underline the current precariousness of public support for the screen industries, in an otherwise unrelated development one of the nine regional agencies, Screen East, went bust this week “following reports of financial irregularities and the arrest of one of its managers” according to the Guardian.   However in a show of solidarity the other regional screen agencies have, Broadcast reports, rallied round to help those ‘Eastern’ film projects threatened with collapse.

While Soho is abuzz with speculation about how many and whose hands will be signing the cheques on their next project, North of the Border (and indeed South of it) one of the many little known facts about the UKFC is how much it regularly spent in Scotland, supporting not just film production but distribution, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, training (Interest to declare: Screen Academy Scotland has received  more than £1m of UKFC Lottery funding via Skillset since 2005) and much else besides.  A quick inspection of the extremely useful DCMS national lottery grant database reveals that in excess of £1m a year has been coming to Scotland since 1999 and more detailed analyses taking into account funding awarded in the first instance to bodies with English postcodes suggest something approaching £1.5m a year.  Adding that to the two to three million of Lottery funding that Scottish Screen historically received would be a fifty percent increase in the resources available to the making, showing and understanding of the moving image. That could make a profound contribution to achieving the step change in Scottish cinema that future generations richly deserve. 

At this year’s TV Festival, when I asked James Hunt ( having declared himself a firm supporting of devolving money and decision making), whether he would support devolution of Broadcasting powers to the Scottish Parliament he ruled that out.  Well now he has a chance to redeem his devolutionary credentials…

a little hope for the performing arts

Uplifting if imperfect (what isn’t) talk posted on the ever stimulating on the future of the performing arts in a media-saturated world

taxing times gone by

A dip into British Pathe’s online archive reveals this charming piece of industry newsreel  propaganda from 1958 calling for the abolition of the entertainment tax on cinema seats. Amongst the contributors are Sir Alexander King, owner of CAC, then the largest Scottish cinema chain and Anna Neagle who paints a glorious future of doubled production, mothballed studios reopening, new talent fostered and full employment for technicians ushering in a new era in which “the british public could enjoy a greater proportion of our own British films.”  If only…

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