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  • A scene from War Horse at the New London Theatre. Photo by Brinkhoff Mogenburg

Public and private purses

Rosy Greenlees on the economic case for supporting and fostering culture

Since the Conservative Party’s success in May’s general election, the role the public sector plays in the nation’s life has been under intense scrutiny. The new government has launched a consultation paper on the future of the BBC, for instance, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has announced a spending review urging unprotected departments – everything except health, schools, defence and overseas aid – to find savings of between 25-40 per cent. As BBC economics editor Robert Peston put it on the corporation’s website: ‘This is the stuff of public-service reinvention, not efficiency.’

All of which makes the publication of the Creative Industries Federation report, How public investment in arts contributes to growth in the creative industries, timely to say the least. The Federation is the brainchild of Sir John Sorrell and was set up in an attempt to give the cultural and creative industries a stronger, more unified voice. Under the leadership of chief executive (and former New Statesman editor) John Kampfner it appears to be doing exactly that. The report, which includes contributions from key figures such as Matthew Bourne, Sir Nicholas Serota and Baroness Lane-Fox, sets out to illustrate exactly why public investment in the arts matters for the wider UK economy.

I’ve talked about this subject in Crafts before but it’s worth pointing out again quite how successful the country’s creative economy is. As the report shows, the gross value added (GVA) of the creative industries grew 9.9 per cent in 2012-2013, which is higher than any other industrial sector experienced, including financial services. More than one in 12 jobs in the UK are in the creative economy and employment increased by 5 per cent between 2013 and 2014 compared to an increase of 2.1 per cent across the wider UK economy. It’s pretty efficient too – doing this on relatively limited resources. The UK now invests a smaller percentage of its GDP in arts and culture than the EU average and less than the likes of France and Germany.

So what is the public sector’s role in all this? Well, as the report makes clear: ‘Public arts produce ideas, talent, R&D and technical brilliance that feed into creative businesses from advertising and architecture to design and IT software. The UK is a world leader in the creative industries because it has a unique blend of public and private investment, which enriches us culturally and economically.’ Public investment allows risk-taking and innovation. In the theatre, for example, without two years of development from the Royal Shakespeare Company Les Miserables would never have made it to the West End. Public money was also vital to the success of Matilda The Musical (RSC), War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which both started at the National Theatre.

A thriving culture feeds into other businesses too. As Baroness Lane-Fox points out: ‘People don’t always recognise the link between the technology sector and the UK’s public arts. But to be a great coder you need to be as creative as a poet or a designer… When we inspire each other we end up with a stronger society as well as a stronger economy, and having public arts organisations is an important part of the puzzle.’

Where does the Crafts Council fit into this? While it would be quite wrong to take credit for their subsequent global success, the Crafts Council did spot – and subsequently back – the potential of Tom Dixon, Kate Malone and Thomas Heatherwick and it purchased early, formative pieces from designers and makers who have gone on to forge international reputations including Michael Marriott and Shin and Tomoko Azumi. We’re still backing the best of British talent now.

We recently advertised for the next round of Hothouse, our annual support programme for early career makers, and announced the 19 makers selected for this year’s Injection, a year-long programme that aims to help them grow the ambition and scale of their craft business. Names you might recognise include furniture designer Gareth Neal, ceramist Frances Priest, silversmith Grant McCaig and crochet artist Shauna Richardson. We have used our resources to stimulate the market for craft and, for example, generated annual sales at this year’s COLLECT of over £1.8 million. We are also delighted to announce that in partnership with The New Craftsmen we have been awarded £200,000 of funding from Arts Council England for a three year programme to grow a sustainable international market for British craft. Only 27 per cent of makers export and we will be aiming to increase this by equipping 200 craft businesses with the skills to realise their international ambitions through masterclasses, mentoring and workshops, as well as showcasing outstanding work at US and European fairs. It seems to me to be a prime example of how the public and private sectors can come together to grow a market.


Rosy Greenlees is Executive Director of the Crafts Council