This guest post is submitted by Graham Hitchen, founder of strategic business consultancy Directional Thinking.
The Technology Strategy Board is about to launch its revised Creative Industries strategy, and over the next few months will be running a series of competitions which will see funding of £26m being directed towards the sector. This, by any measure, is an impressive level of investment and commitment.
Although the TSB investment has been augmented by a one-off injection of funds linked to a major new feature film production in the UK, this is no sudden volte-face by Government and its agencies to pump money into a high-performing sector. Rather it is part of wider shift which has been taking place over the last five years - shifting funding from a regionally- and, arguably, more sectorally-targeted investment, towards one which is unapologetically focused on economic innovation and growth.
RDAs and RSAs
Six years ago the TSB did not exist (or at least not as an independent, funding entity) and the most significant investors in the creative industries were the Regional Development Agencies. The combined level of investment in the creative industries through the RDAs was more than £30m annually, with the LDA – through Creative London – especially active. Their main partners in supporting and growing the sector were the Regional Screen Agencies which, as well as directing RDA, EU and other sources of funding, received core resource from by the UK Film Council. It took a while for these agencies to establish themselves but towards the end of the last decade, the RDAs and the RSAs were working together effectively to deliver joined-up, targeted interventions to support creative industries growth across the country – bringing together investment, resources and partners to deliver programmes around skills, start-up support, promotion and exports, and property and workspace.
On the face of it, the abolition of the RDAs, and the absorption of the RSAs into Creative England will have resulted in a 're-nationalisation' of creative industries investment, and a dismantling of the joined-up approach. TSB funding, for example, is entirely competition-based, meaning that it awards grants to the consortia with the strongest assessed applications and which results in an entirely geographically-neutral distribution of funds and an inability to be selective about particular companies or consortia. Historically, the TSB has also tended to narrow its competitions to particular challenges, such as ‘metadata’, rather than supporting sectoral growth across the value chain. At the same time, the Local Enterprise Partnerships have lacked the capacity to fully engage or invest, while the Creative Industries Council is yet to have demonstrated the strategic leadership that many were hoping.
But there are signs that this is beginning to change - indications that a more integrated strategy and programme of work are beginning to emerge. In terms of regional focus, for example, recent funding programmes have begun to focus support around recognised creative clusters (Tech City, Glasgow and, coming later this year, Manchester). Meanwhile, a revitalized Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network is helping to broker and build partnerships with industry and also the key strategic support agencies to help develop better considered and targeted support.
Integrated strategy for the sector
But it is on the wider issue of the need for an integrated strategy that really positive changes might be starting to take place. It is much needed – as Frank Boyd, Director of the CI KTN, wrote in a recent article: “Creative content, skills and innovation and are all much discussed... but not together. The problem is more than an organisational one. Rather, there has been an imaginative failure as to how the building blocks of our creative economy should come together."
To the TSB's credit, it appears that this is now being addressed. The Strategy being launched this September is likely to set out ways in which different agencies can work together to develop a more holistic approach to maximising the opportunities for growth around digital technologies. Crucially, the TSB recognises that it will not be able to do this alone, and recent months have seen an important coming together around shared objectives: Creative Skillset has been engaging with the TSB over its skills funding programmes, while Nesta has worked closely on the development of the forthcoming Hyperlocal Media Competition. Many of us working to support the UK’s creative economy may still look back longingly to the excitement, energy and investment of a decade ago. But we should do so not without hope for the future.
To learn more about the work of Graham's Directional Thinking consultancy please visit here.