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Creative Industries In The North Will Only Thrive If Given The Same Support As London

16/01/2017 17:03 | Updated 17 January 2017

Despite the fact that the UK is ranked as one of the richest countries in the world - it just doesn't feel like that does it? And it feels less like that the further you are from London and the SE. As productivity and real household income has flat-lined over the last decade, many parts of Britain have unfortunately not shared the growth experienced by London and the SE. Whilst London may be one of the world's wealthiest cities, the rest of the country continues to lag behind.

We all know that despite our high ranking on national wealth indexes - we suffer from extreme disparities within our own country. Even though unemployment is falling faster in the North than in the South, a report, published last month by the Centre for Cultural and Social Research based at Manchester University, showed that there remains a 2:1 difference between London and Greater Manchester GVA, with London GVA per capita at £43k compared to £21k in Manchester. And, if that isn't shocking enough, other boroughs and areas in the North and North East are as low as £15k per capita.

The disparity between capital cities and other cities in the same country is not unusual of course, but what is unusual is that in the UK, our second and third cities are still not performing as well as other second and third cities in other countries around the world. This is something we urgently need to address if we want to limit fractures within our communities and the creeping notion of unfairness that growth and prosperity is for some but not all.

Last weekend the Financial Times reported research showing that "the regions that make up the Northern Powerhouse have struggled more than most other areas to improve productivity since the financial crisis, with workers there still producing less for every hour they work than in 2007". Between them, the North West and the Yorkshire and Humber regions now account for nearly a quarter of the entire shortfall in UK output and productivity.

By bringing together the major cities of the North, the Northern Powerhouse framework creates a population of 15 million and GVA of £304 billion to the region. These two facts alone give politicians and policy makers the beginnings of a toolkit to lead and implement a nuanced and thoughtful strategy for growth. If nothing else, as a marketing mantra these are impressive statistics for anyone seeking to grow a business.

I hope that the creative economy can be properly fitted into these plans and utilised to support a more inclusive approach to growth - one that reaches beyond the shiny new builds, and benefits some of those citizens who are feeling left behind by the digital world.

Technological developments - themselves driven to a large extent by our creative industries - have enabled the growth of the flexible 'gig' economy. The creative industries' workforce is a primary example of this - in 2007 the average creative firm size was just under four workers and by 2014 this had declined to 3.3. 90% of creative businesses have no more than five employees and 60% have just one.

So how do we deliver the right sort of growth? How do we make sure that money doesn't just go to city centre developers but benefits the people who originally lived there?

We need to make sure that the flexibility and entrepreneurship enabled by new patterns of working are complemented by the support and connections people need to keep their skills at the cutting edge. The aim of this is to boost their productivity and to encourage and foster networking and collaboration, bringing people together to help spark great new ideas and innovations.

Maybe we need to adopt a more sophisticated understanding of what constitutes growth - nuanced by outcomes and impacts related to social value, creating educational and social wealth and creative excellence, as well as economic prosperity.

I would challenge the focus on capital infrastructure spend as the primary form of investment. And in particular I think we need to stop fetishing physical "infrastructure".

Our sector's greatest industrial asset is our people and their ideas - so as much as we invest in buildings and roads we also need to invest in people and their ideas. We need to ensure that all young people benefit from a good cultural education - not just in school, but outside formal education too. We need continual investment in training, as it is now common for people to transition through several careers, and we need to have risk capital available to invest in the development of new ideas and the creation of new IP.

And we need to ensure that where our creative entrepreneurs want to move from sole traders to small businesses, or small businesses to scaleups, they have the opportunity and support to do so - to drive jobs and economic growth in the communities they live in, instead of being forced to relocate to London to make their business ideas work.

Put at its simplest: to make sure the creative industries in the North can reach their potential, can face up to the challenges of Brexit in terms of skills and access to markets, we need to match the region's rich seam of talent with the right opportunities to grow and develop. That is the only way we will be able to build creative resilience for our country and ensure that our industry plays its part in building a more inclusive economy.

Caroline Norbury was speaking at the Westminster Media Forum in Manchester on Friday 13th January, 2017

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