Why the Creative Industries Matter to Birmingham

October 26, 2009 at 2:28 pm Leave a comment

The Creative Birmingham Partnership Board – which brings together public agencies supporting the creative industries and private sector representatives – commissioned its second baseline study of Birmingham’s creative economy in May.  The report, undertaken by BOP Consulting and funded by Birmingham City Council, is close to completion.

Urban Communications has been managing the project on behalf of CBPB and Birmingham City Council and we can now give you an advance preview of some of its provisional findings.

  • Creative industries account for around 20,000 jobs – 4% of the city’s workforce.
  • The 3,450 creative businesses make up ten per cent of the city’s total number of firms.  Business numbers have grown by almost 20 per cent since 2003.
  • Creative industries employ more people than either construction or the manufacture, sale and repair of cars, and similar numbers to the legal, accountancy and management consultancy professions combined.
  • 93 per cent of creative firms in the city are micro-businesses, employing ten or fewer people. 
  • The creative industries produce more than £660m of GVA .

The creative industries are under pressure, notably from the recession and the digital revolution.

Most of the data in the report covers 2003-2007 so it’s too early to tell the full impact of the downturn. Drawing on other studies the cultural sector seems to be holding up reasonably well due to the “irregular treat characteristic” of attendance at cultural events, although some creative media businesses are struggling.

The Audio Visual domain of the sector (including interactive digital media, music and computer software) accounts for the largest share of jobs (nearly half), but Visual Art and Design is the fastest growing. This domain (including design and architecture) is the largest in terms of business numbers, rising by more than two-thirds over 2003-07.

The report concludes future business support should be focussed on micro businesses in these two domains. They had been performing well until the credit crunch; are suited to future demand but can lack some financial or management skills and marketing clout.

Research among creative businesses finds they are cautiously optimistic. Nearly two-thirds expect their business to grow either strongly or gradually over the next three years, although they are not quite as upbeat about employment growth.

They are positive about Birmingham’s image and reputation. Over 70% agreed it is improving, but businesses want to see further investment in marketing of the city.

They are happy with Birmingham as a location – three-quarters do not expect to move in the next three years; 75% of those that do plan to stay in Birmingham.

The report finds making the city’s residents more aware of Birmingham’s own strengths could act as a basis for increasing pride and improving its image more widely. Respondents want the city council and other agencies to work more closely with them to develop a clear message about what Birmingham stands for, on festivals strategy and plans for Digbeth.  

The research found that the greatest single barrier to growth is access to investment finance.

The creative industries are important to tourism and leisure markets and vital to ‘place shaping’ – attracting investors and students.  BOP’s report describes the value of creativity to innovation in the economy, such as through design and branding. Due to the highly networked, collaborative and people-nature of the creative industries, they can act as transmission mechanisms for new ideas. If, the argument runs, you have creative businesses in your supply chain you are more likely to benefit from innovation.

The report will highlight the city’s performance as “solid rather than spectacular” when compared with fellow English ‘Core Cities’.  Although second to Leeds in employment numbers, it is in the middle of the pack in terms of proportion of overall employment.

Birmingham is a “solid all round performer” – a city of a thousand creative disciplines with an unusually wide range of creative activities employing 100 or more people.

Drawing on international evidence, the report underlines the need for a long term strategic vision; cross department and multi-sector working. Business support, affordable space and high quality public realm are shown to be at the heart of successful strategies to nurture creative sectors in major cities.

The final report will be considered by the Creative Birmingham Partnership Board in November. It will be an important contribution to policy on creative industries, but also on the role creativity plays in the wider economy and in shaping and projecting the city’s character and identity.

Kevin Johnson is managing director of strategic communications consultants Urban Communications which advises the Creative Birmingham Partnership Board.

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