Creative clusters

The recent report by Sir Peter Bazalgette has placed a new and welcome emphasis upon the relationship between place and the creative economy. His report has as its main recommendation:

“My key recommendation is that support for regional growth is prioritised through an approach based on the City Deal model, supported by a £500 million Creative Clusters Fund. This will be awarded to clusters that compete for status and support on merit to be a ‘Key Creative Cluster’.”

This is, arguably, a fairly radical approach to industrial sector development – placing an emphasis on local and regional economic development, rather than investment in existing, vertical, sectoral strengths. An area-based approach to creative industries development can assist a re-balancing of a set of sectors which are highly-focused around London and the South East, as well as provide opportunities for new businesses and jobs in less-well-developed parts of the country. (A re-balancing strategy might also extend to addressing the lack of ethnic diversity in a number of key sub-sectors, which received a disappointing level of attention in the Bazalgette report.)

‘Creating’ clusters

Government support for creative clusters is not a new phenomenon, of course.

Tom Campbell, writing in the run-up to the General Election in 2015, recommended building on the work done by Regional Development Agencies at the beginning of the ‘noughties’.  That period saw an extensive programme of investment and support across the whole of the UK – including the work I led at the short-lived Creative London. (A fuller account of the work of the Mayor and London government towards the creative industries can be found here.)

It’s not the case, of course, that creative clusters are reliant on Government support or that, somehow, RDAs and/or LEPs and/or local authorities can create clusters out of thin air.

But, as research by the Boston Consulting Group, the Brookings Institute and others has shown: local, regional or national support for clusters is critical to their sustainability. Indeed, building on work by the Boston Consulting Group I led a study with Iain Bennett to understand the make-up of digital clusters across the UK. The ‘spider-diagram’ below illustrates how different cities can have different strengths and strategies for supporting economic clusters. The four (un-named) cities in this visualisation all have strong digital clusters – with local government support being a critical part of a complex support network, including available investment capital, workspace and broadband infrastructure.Screenshot_11

‘Fusion’ clusters

My own view is that successful clusters are likely to embrace both cultural and digital economies.

Fused businesses, which combine creativity and technology, grow fast and fuel growth. The Brighton Fuse report showed that ‘superfused’ businesses (businesses which have a “strong” link between creative and technology skillsets) are growing 40% faster than the average technology business in the city.

UK cities with a strong cultural infrastructure and a supply of talent are ideal environments to accelerate the development of super-fused businesses and, with the sort of funding recommended by Sir Peter Bazalgette, are perfectly placed to create the conditions for this growth.


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