According to an independent review of the creative industries, the creative industries are vital to the UK’s long-term productivity and global success. This is even more significant in a post-Brexit era, where universities will have an important role. A 2018 study by Nesta found that research collaborations between universities and creative industries supported by UK Research Councils and Innovate UK had more than doubled between 2006 and 2017. But progress was needed to ensure that the growth potential of the UK’s creative industries benefitted more people and more regions, and supported social mobility, greater equality and progression.
Nesta’s Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) is tasked with producing independent research and authoritative recommendations to help develop policies for the UK’s creative industries that contribute towards their continued success. The PEC is part of the Creative Industries Clusters Programme led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. In Yorkshire and the Humber, XR Stories is led by the University of York, in partnership with Screen Yorkshire and the British Film Institute. It brings together film, TV, games and digital media businesses from across Yorkshire and the Humber, in collaboration with leading national and international companies and organisations, and regional universities. A second project – the Screen Industries Growth Network (SIGN) – is also led by the University of York in partnership with Screen Yorkshire and the University of Bradford, University of Huddersfield, Leeds Beckett University, University of Leeds, Leeds Trinity University, University of Hull, University of Sheffield and York St John University. This is a tangible illustration of how YU member institutions coalesce specific assets together and connect the capabilities of a regional higher education eco-system.
Dr Jon Swords, a research fellow at the University of York working on XR Stories and SIGN, has identified upwards of 20,000 creative industry enterprises in Yorkshire and the Humber. He has also found that employment in the region’s screen sector, for example, outgrew the national (GB) average tenfold over the last three years, whilst turnover of film and TV production activity rose from £90m a year in 2008 to £434m in 2017. An increase of almost 400%.
There is growing momentum in government and policy-making circles behind the notion of increasing investment in research and innovation (R&I) as a means of ‘levelling up the regions’. The Creative Industries Foundation defines innovation as the generation of ideas and monetising of intellectual property. Public investment into creative R&I generates economic value within the creative industries, but also in other sectors, including health and wellbeing. In relation to wider R&I activity, the government has been encouraged to review its definition of research and development to include the arts, humanities and social sciences so they can benefit from targeted tax relief. Currently, in order to be eligible for tax relief, R&I must form part of a specific project that is expected to make an advance in science or technology.
Creative England’s CE50 initiative promotes the development and attraction of talent to strengthen the UK’s creative economy, and celebrates the fifty most exciting, innovative and disruptive creative companies and individuals across the country. Remarkably, 8 of the 2019 CE50 cohort (i.e. 16%) are based in Yorkshire and the Humber, whereas 4.5% of the UK’s total creative industries are located in the region.
Attracting new investment into Yorkshire and the Humber also matters. Channel 4’s move to Leeds will see the creation of 250 jobs in the company’s creative, digital and technology departments. An Emerging Indie Fund will also sit alongside Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund, which will be based in Leeds and is being re-focused to prioritise investment in the nations and regions, and BAME-led and digital companies. This is crucial given the need to reduce inequalities in creative industries employment.
Significant economic value is generated by creative-focused universities and colleges. With the advent of the new Knowledge Exchange Framework, universities are looking to strengthen activities with business, public sector and communities in order to generate and diffuse greater impact from research, innovation, knowledge exchange and public engagement. At times, however, it has proved difficult to measure and expand impact activities. However, research has demonstrated how the contribution of the creative industries to knowledge exchange (KE) could be strengthened. Actions include ensuring there is greater diversity in funding opportunities and that more awards reach the smallest firms, as well as developing new curricula to support creative leadership. A new approach to measuring the long-term impact of individual KE projects in supporting local and regional growth and wellbeing would also help.
The creative industries are major components of the higher education sector and the economies of Yorkshire and the Humber and the UK. Given their increasing size and scale they are likely to become even more central to generating more sustainable and inclusive prosperity. For a government committed to reducing regional inequalities, this is an opportunity it would be wise to recognise and support.