21/05/2013 02:55 BST | Updated 20/07/2013 06:12 BST

UK Culture Means Business


Culture reaches the parts other things can't - Culture Secretary Maria Miller said as much in a recent speech at the British Museum.

She argued: "It allows us to build international relationships forging a foundation for the trade deals of tomorrow; it cultivates the creativity which underpins our wider industrial efforts."

But in these austere times she also asked for better evidence of the value of culture. In short, her point was that if we want UK Government to continue investing in culture - as public spending gets the squeeze - we in the cultural industries need to demonstrate a return on that investment.

And the great news is that lots of us are doing just that. As Sir Nicolas Hytner of the National Theatre says , the arts are economic gold for the UK, pointing out that he trained most of the cast of 007's latest outing Skyfall.

In an argument identical to the one I've made in the past, Matthew Taylor of the RSA argues not only that cultural and commercial success can be delivered together but this combination in the cultural (and University sector) is one of the UK's great strengths.

At the British Council we believe 'entrepreneurial' and 'public service' are the twin pillars on which we best share UK culture and education - because they are the twin pillars on which it is in fact built.

So where is the evidence? Some say that culture and commerce are mutually exclusive, even contradictory: one about the advancement of art and learning; the other about cold hard cash. Some say that you can't deliver real economic value if you're led by a social and cultural purpose.

But there's plenty of evidence out there to suggest otherwise. Great brands and big businesses sponsor and partner the arts because they see a clear link between culture, relationships, attraction and brand. And, if you prefer your evidence in numerical form, there's this month's report compiled for the Arts Council which very conservatively values spending by visitors to the UK on cultural activities at more than £850m a year.

Today the British Council has published more evidence of the value to the UK of English, education and culture in a new report called Culture Means Business.

The report draws on research carried out by Ipsos MORI and YouGov in ten key overseas economies - including Brazil, Russia, India and China - involving more than 10,000 young people aged 16-34 - the next generation of business leaders in their countries.

Around the world, people who have experienced UK culture in some form are more interested in doing business with the UK than those who have not.

We're not just talking about whether people have read Shakespeare (although he's still alive and kicking and on the curriculum in half of the world's schools). The 'UK culture' that we looked at takes many forms - from art, to learning English and studying for sought-after UK qualifications. We should never forget that our language and education system are as valuable cultural exports as our music, theatre, literature, film and visual arts.

Maria Miller asked for the evidence; and there's plenty to show that the UK's educational and cultural sector is delivering for her, for culture, for business and for the UK economy. The UK's cultural and education institutions are strong, successful, innovative, creative and cracking value for money - precisely because they combine a cultural mission with entrepreneurship and commercial acumen.

Culture and business aren't mutually exclusive - they can and should be two sides of the same coin. And as well as being successful businesses in themselves, UK culture and education do a great job for all of UK plc - opening doors and attracting talent, trade and tourism to our shores.

But given times are hard at home, the challenge for all of us - whatever industry we're in - is to turn the UK's truly world class 'soft power' assets into hard exports: converting willing audiences around the world into business partners and paying customers.

Culture, UK-made, is a prime asset for UK trade.