Opinion: the Government’s obsession with London is holding back our creative industries – and the recovery

As a failed rock guitarist but still passionate consumer of music I always look forward to the Mercury Music awards at the end of October, and this year’s nominees were as interesting and eclectic as they usually are. What wasn’t as diverse was where these acts originated from. Over 60% were from the Greater London area and only four were from outside the south east of England, which is surprising when you consider the award covers the whole of the UK and Ireland. It seems the advice I heard fifteen years ago during my short and unsuccessful music career is still true – ‘if you want to make it, move to London’.
 
We often hear about the unhealthy domination of London in financial services, but this domination also weighs heavily in the UK’s creative industries. From music to TV, from publishing to videogames and the arts, most leading companies and individuals in these sectors are in Soho or within striking distance of London. Government policy is perpetuating the problem. A recent report on Arts Council funding found that £86 per head is spent on London projects, compared to a tiny £8 for the rest of England. Government schemes like Tech City, although admirable further concentrate the growth of our digital economy in the capital and pull in highly skilled workers from the regions.
 
This centralisation is a huge missed opportunity for economic growth. The creative industries are big business and currently contribute 6% of our GDP, employing over two million people. We are global leaders in many of these sectors, from fashion to architecture to digital media. Whilst the current ‘rebalancing of the economy’ debate is obsessed with growing manufacturing and green industries, we are ignoring creative industries we have natural advantages in, which will have growing markets abroad as the middle class of developing nations become more affluent. As America has shown, if people are consuming your media, they’ll also want your goods and services.
 
With this in mind stimulating growth of our creative industries should be a key pillar of Liberal Democrat growth policy as we move towards the next election. My top five proposals would be:
 

  1. An immediate rebalancing of lottery and arts  funding to focus on creative projects outside of London
  2. The establishment of specific creative industry enterprise zones in our regional cities to encourage start-up businesses and foreign investment
  3. Tax breaks to encourage some of our creative giants to relocate parts of their business outside of London. The BBC’s recent move to Salford’s MediaCity is a perfect example of this
  4. Continue the drive for superfast broadband throughout the country, which is essential for so many of our creative industries
  5. Elevating support for the Creative Industries in our 2015 Manifesto to the same level of importance as manufacturing and green industries.

* Gareth Wilson is an unusual combination of Videogame Director turned Liberal Democrat activist who blogs about issues like this here.

* Gareth Wilson is a Videogame Director turned Liberal Democrat activist who blogs here

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14 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Nov '13 - 4:55pm

    I’m sorry Gareth, but asking for freebies and special treatment for your industry is rude. I know loads of people do it, but they’ll all being rude and MPs shouldn’t listen to them. With respect, over a matter that irritates me :).

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Nov '13 - 4:57pm

    By the way, consulting or lobbying on regulation is absolutely fine, it is just asking for freebies such as tax breaks and funding that I find rude. Especially considering the plight of some people in the UK.

  • Hi Eddie,

    Thanks for the comments, I appreciate where you’re coming from, this article was really to highlight how current government funding is focussed on London and how important the creative industries are to the UK which are regularly undervalued compared to manufacturing that make ‘real things’.

    I won’t apologise for calling for the government to support the creative industries financially if it helps rebalance our over-reliance on London. Targeted help to the regions would create jobs – good well paid jobs that are a pleasure to do in sectors that have grown consistently through the recent economic downturn. The value of creative output whether its TV, film, literature, video games, fashion or music is not just in the revenue it makes, they create a feel-good factor for the country and establish the UK as trend setter for global culture.

  • Plus I don’t think its healthy for such a large amount of our cultural output and media to be coming out of London. One of the major benefits of the BBC’s move to Salford is the increase in news reports coming from the north of England and the broader range of regional accents on the radio, which I think is no bad thing.

  • Bill le Breton 15th Nov '13 - 6:23pm

    “Good taste” is a social construction. Right now that established taste is once again very largely dictated by a small self endorsing set which has its hands on the major appliances of indoctrination – the industrial process of mass production.

    The product it produces and sells is so many baubles, so much tat, flickering paste, repetitive decoration and tomorrow’s Radio 2.

    Yet the great advances in popular culture in the last 50 years have actually originated from what those industrialists refer to pejoratively as ‘the provinces’.

    In the final moments of the final episode of ‘The Shock of the New’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShV1h85dnkc Richard Hughes says, “The basic project of art is to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you and in this way pass from feeling to meaning.”

    Interestingly this was also the gist of what Alfred Brendel said in Desert Island Discs this morning: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03h7grg

    It is wonderful to have this piece by Gareth with its anger and its dejection.

    Gareth – find a garage, find a couple of mates. Play again. Make the world whole and comprehensible. Restore it to us in its glory and its nastiness and through feeling help us to find meaning.

    Then put it out there – bypassing the taste police.

  • >An immediate rebalancing of lottery and arts funding to focus on creative projects outside of London
    A first step: relocate the lottery and arts funding bodies out of the London area and limit the number of London-based members able to make funding decisions. It always amused me how London based team members found it oh so hard to get to a team meeting in Leeds say, but the people based outside London (which was typically most of the team) hardly ever complained about travelling to a meeting in London…

    WRT Eddie’s comments, I have no problem with the creative industries putting their case, we only need to ensure that the freebie’s, tax breaks and special treatment are linked to real economic growth, not to relocated economic activity.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Nov '13 - 10:41pm

    Thanks Gareth. I agree that funding and help should be balanced across the country, we’ll agree to disagree over the lobbying specifics :). All the best.

  • Hi Andy – Thanks for the comments I completely agree with you there will always and should be “hubs” in some industries and London always will be our cultural capital. What led me to write this article was reading http://www.therocreport.co.uk that discovered that the government spends 11 times more per head on funding London projects than it does in the rest of the UK. This ratio seems far too big – as you said there’s probably more than a few institutions in London that could cope with a bit of a trim and there are many great cultural institutions in the UK facing big cuts this year (the Royal Northern College of Music near me being one of them) We shouldn’t be perpetuating hubs with government funding but attempting to setup new ones other parts of the UK, which is why in the long run I do support the MediaCity move, but totally get the short term problems.

    On videogames, you’re right there are a few small hubs in the UK (Dundee, Cambridge being examples) but the vast vast majority of companies, especially the big players have their development and publishing offices in London. The bigger issue my industry faces is we’re competing against countries with huge tax breaks. We used to be in the world top 3 for videogames production, but in the last 10 years have been overtaken by countries such as Canada, the US and France that offer employment tax breaks if companies set up there. Multinationals have established numerous 800 plus studios in these countries and closed many of their operations in other countries (my previous 250 staff studio in Liverpool was a casualty of this).

    To Eddie’s point, as a Liberal I’m inherently suspicious of any government intervention in a specific industry, but when faced with protectionist policies abroad what do you do? Join the tax break arms race or be the free trade example as your industry struggles on and your talent moves abroad? Its a tough one that I guess you have to take on a case by case basis, with videogames I believe the government will get more back from the incentives they offer, but as I’m in the industry I think I’m a little biased 🙂

  • There is another overarching problem here in that there is already a bias in the tax and spending system where London contributes far more in taxation than it receives in spending.

    Suggestions like this would worsen that imbalance. What we need to do is to create the right environment for the private sector to flourish outside London and that in itself will help correct cultural imbalances as spending power rises.

    If we focus on improving the underpinnings of UK regional economies through things like the Regional Growth Fund and infrastructure investment as well as improved educational standards this will be far more effective than building token cultural castles in the air with no economic foundations other than public subsidy.

  • @Rc
    “There is another overarching problem here in that there is already a bias in the tax and spending system where London contributes far more in taxation than it receives in spending.”

    So what? any one who is a higher rate tax payer is in exactly the same position, yet we constantly hear calls for these people to pay contribute more…

  • Michael Parsons 17th Nov '13 - 2:26am

    Again: where London ends, England begins.

  • Andy Hinton 15th Nov ’13 – 10:32pm

    Well Andy, You say you work in theatre. And you say that with theatre you simply couldn’t have the kind of concentration of people and companies (and audiences!) that exists in London available everywhere. There are certainly lots of theatres in London. And some of them are filled by foreign tourists – good financially but not so good perhaps for encouraging and developing new talent?

    You may be a fan of The Mousetrap now in its 61st year, or you maybe like those musicals with a very thin plot that are designed to feature a string of hit records by dead or fading rock stars – Buddy Holly or Queen or Madness – you know the sort of thing. There would seem to be plenty of money and maybe some jobs in this kind of musical nostalgia. But do these provide the sort of opportunities that Gareth may have been talking about?

    When it comes to Art Galleries there have been some excellent new galleries which have grown up in recent years away from London. Margate, Salford, Gateshead, Saltaire would not have been obvious stopping points for culture vultures in the 1980’s. Maybe Gareth has a point about how funding can play a part in shifting the cultural balance if the experience of galleries is anything to go by?

    I most definitely agree with you when you say “the subsidy received by the Royal Opera House at a time when so many other fantastic things are losing their funding, is obscene”.
    Whenever you hear the refrain from coalition ministers – “We are all in this together” – just remember the tax-payers money going to London’s Royal Opera House.

  • Robin Bennett 18th Nov '13 - 3:23pm

    When is comes to the balance between London and the rest of the country, our politicians and the media just don’t get it. London enjoys, apart from the money overtly spent on it (Olympics, CrossRail ) two huge subsidies: (1) being the seat of government and (2) the City. The latter relies heavily on creaming off money from our pensions and savings (hear last summer’s “How you pay for the City”, Radio4, on Radio Player). (@RC; that’s why so much tax revenue is from London). To move towards a rebalancing of the country, radical action is necessary, and the most obvious is to move the BBC HQ to Salford. And with it the Kremiln-like drama commissioning department, and the news. @Andy Hinton: many participants in news programmes will be on a back screen fom London, but they already appear from Westminster and abroad. In Scotland the BBC (thankfully still in Glasgow, not Edinburgh) have most of the Newsnight Scotland participants on the screen from Edinburgh, and there is rarely a “full table” of participants for discussions.
    If there no Northern League party or similar? It might enjoy some success.

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