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Spatial Diversity in the UK’s CCIs

Spatial Inequalities in the UK's Cultural and Creative Industries: Navigating the Landscape of London's Dominance

Published onNov 30, 2023
Spatial Diversity in the UK’s CCIs
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Spatial Inequalities in the UK's Cultural and Creative Industries: Navigating the Landscape of London's Dominance

1. Introduction

The Cultural and Creative Industries within the United Kingdom, from their inception, have exhibited pronounced spatial disparities. The primary emphasis has consistently gravitated towards the urban network, with a pronounced concentration in London (Pratt, 1997). The capital has served as the nexus for all essential elements, encompassing resources, legal entities, and financial headquarters, directing a predominant share of investments. The cultural economy of the 21st century has been synonymous with its urban focus and with a pronounced co-location of activities (EY/CIASC, 2015).

This phenomenon has given rise to a marked dichotomy between the central and peripheral regions. The South-East of the nation plays a pivotal role in both financial and social progress, with London functioning as the epicentre propelling economic and financial development. London is not merely perceived as a national creative hub but also stands as a European and global benchmark in the realm of Cultural and Creative Industries.

Particularly in the aftermath of the deindustrialisation era in the UK, the South of England has assumed the role of an "escalator" for mobility within the British Isles. The southeastern region, particularly London, has attracted a considerable influx of professionals and the workforce due to the availability of job opportunities and supportive infrastructure (Fielding, 1992, 1995; Miles & Leguina, 2018). The Creative Industries have been no exception, witnessing a substantial migration of creative professionals to the capital to partake in its vibrant creative milieu. Professionals from overseas have also become integral contributors to London's creative workforce, significantly enhancing the creative landscape of the British Isles. This workforce functions as a hub, fostering informal knowledge exchange, information sharing, and mutual social support among residents (Pratt, 2021).

Against the backdrop of ABC++, Austerity, Brexit, and Covid, this intricate framework encounters significant challenges. The COVID pandemic has profoundly impacted Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs), leading to the cessation of creative productions. Austerity measures have posed challenges for professionals seeking affordable housing in urban centres, particularly London. Recent research by Acme, an organisation providing studio spaces for artists, reveals that a considerable proportion of artists (almost ⅓) may be forced to leave due to financial constraints, with many unable to build savings or contribute to pension plans (Thorpe, 2023).

Moreover, Brexit poses a threat to the diverse workforce of the UK’s CCIs, as individuals from the EU are no longer able to freely work and reside in the UK, being subject to newly instituted Visa Schemes that are both expensive and challenging to obtain. Consequently, a significant portion of the creative workforce is now restricted from contributing to the UK’s creative industries. Notably, more than half of London’s creative businesses employed at least one non-UK worker before Brexit (Montalto et al., 2021).

In light of these challenges, through this research we explored the evolving dynamics and resilience of the Cultural and Creative Industries in the UK, analysing the impact of these external factors on the sector's composition, functioning, and future trajectory.


Contextualising Spatial Inequalities in the UK's Cultural and Creative Industries - Significance of London's Dominance

2. London VS Periphery

2.1 London’s Dominance

In 2019, despite comprising only 13% of the British population (ONS 2021), London accounted for a substantial share of Creative Industries metrics: 31% of employment, 34% of businesses, and 52% of economic output (GVA) (DCMS 2022, DCMS 2021a, DCMS 2021b). Expanding the scope to include the Greater South East (encompassing London, East, and South East England), this region collectively represented 54% of Creative Industries employment, 62% of businesses, and 74% of economic output (GVA) in 2019 (DCMS 2022, DCMS 2021a, DCMS 2021b). Notably, this area, home to 26% of the British population (ONS 2021), played a dominant role in shaping the Creative Industries landscape.

Part of the people we interviewed to explore the theme of Diversity of Space in the CCIs is the artist and academic, Laura Yuile who is also hosting and producing the Podcast ‘Asset Arrest’ a podcast that explores different forms of financialised housing and its impact upon urban and global space, local/long-standing communities, and the very meaning of community. She has shared her views on the divide between the North and the South through her own experience: 

“When it comes to art and culture, the divide is strong and unmistakable. However, this separation doesn't rigidly define what constitutes an interesting and exciting culture. Take London, for example – a city that attracts all the money, and attention, and hosts major cultural institutions. It also tends to nurture the most successful artists, given their likely access to resources for establishing themselves.
Nevertheless, I also believe that cities like Glasgow, my hometown and a place I'd love to return to if job opportunities allowed, possess a very different energy. It's not just a matter of importance, but increasingly, it revolves around appealing to certain institutions in London due to a lack of local funding. Though not undermining its importance, this shift often leans towards engaging with entities in the capital.
Recognising the allure of London, there's a clear awareness of the England-Scotland cultural divide, particularly in the arts. Scotland maintains its own identity, evident in having its Arts Council and similar entities. This divide, while present, marks a notable contrast in the arts and culture landscape, reflecting broader dynamics within the United Kingdom.”
Laura Yuile, Artist & Academic

Laura has also produced a mini-series of podcasts in collaboration with The Cultural Diversity Lab of CIRCE.  These episodes explore the idea of ‘culture-led housing’ and whether such housing projects can offer radical alternatives to financialised housing models. You can listen to them here: https://www.assetarrest.com/


2.2 Attempts in Policy and From Organisations to Decentralise


The spatial diversity issue, a widely acknowledged concern throughout the United Kingdom, has prompted various initiatives over the years. Local government, national authorities, site-specific policies, and organisations have endeavoured to address this concern through decentralization efforts within the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs).

European Capital Of Culture / UK City of Culture

One notable initiative predating the UK's departure from the European Union was the participation in the European Capital of Culture Scheme. Prior to the Brexit decision, cities in the UK could submit applications for this scheme, securing funding from the EU to develop a cultural program over a designated calendar year. This program aimed to enhance local creative industries and contribute to overall economic regeneration. The enduring success of Liverpool in 2008, designated as the European Capital of Culture, serves as a compelling illustration for policymakers, demonstrating the potential for impactful investments in local creative industries to foster lasting prosperity within a city (Bakshi et al., 2021).

Following the UK's decision to exit the EU, attention shifted to a national counterpart resembling the European Capital of Culture—the UK City of Culture. Under this scheme, cities from across the UK have the opportunity to vie for the prestigious title. Notably, London, as a Greater London area, is ineligible to apply. However, individual boroughs within London can submit applications in collaboration with locations outside the capital, thereby mitigating the concentration of cultural initiatives solely within London (DCMS, 2021c).


Creative Clusters

Apart from organised schemes like the ones mentioned above, decentralisation also happens in organic ways. Clusters are vibrant hubs within the creative industries, serving as spaces where creative minds and businesses converge, exchange ideas and influence the development of innovative content and services that contribute to the prosperity of the UK's creative industries. Their importance has been recognised by the government as pivotal to the success of the creative sector. These clusters have attracted investments, such as the Creative Industries Clusters Programme, designed to foster their growth and development (Siepel, 2020).

Clive Gillman, Creative Industries Director, Creative Scotland


Creative clusters typically align geographically with Higher Education Institutions, wherein graduates, students, and staff collectively constitute the creative workforce. This collaboration extends to the local community, contributing to the vitality of these clusters. Additionally, each distinct cluster and microcluster is defined by its affiliation with a specific industry, specialising in areas as indicated below.

HESA qualifier database, HE-BCI Survey, HEFCE Research Excellence Framework results; Nesta analysis.

Here you can see an interactive map of the UK’s Creative Clusters by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre.

2.2.1 Levelling Up Agenda

The UK Government has introduced the Levelling Up Agenda planning to combat all these spatial inequalities by 2030. As indicated in the White paper:

While talent is spread equally across our country, opportunity is not. Levelling up is a mission to challenge, and change, that unfairness. Levelling up means giving everyone the opportunity to flourish. It means people everywhere living longer and more fulfilling lives, and benefitting from sustained rises in living standards and well-being.
(HM Government, 2022, p.xii) 

Within the "Pride of Place" segment, the document elaborates on regeneration, encompassing transformative projects, enhancements to high streets, and the development of green spaces. The discourse extends to community-related initiatives, including investments in young people facilitated by the National Citizenship Service and previously disclosed Youth Funding.

Of course, part of the regeneration plan is the Cultural & Creative Industries. There is a lot of discussion on funding that would go to ‘left behind’ places. Even though Creative Industries on a local aspect are majorly influential in the economic regeneration and the wellbeing of the residents, the local government -a major cultural investor- has seen its core funding reduced over a sustained period.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has highlighted a real-terms reduction in council spending on cultural services by £1.84 billion from 2009/10 to 2017/18.
(Creative UK, 2022)

This policy attempt is not something novel - left-behind places have been promised regeneration many times in the past–. Even though the agenda sounds promising there are concerts being raised from people in the creative sector and beyond that the campaign might be lacking practical substance, and the people and communities that might most need the support from levelling up funding might fall under the radar. Some critics even contend that the agenda might be more of a political electoral calculation rather than a comprehensive set of policies aimed at addressing deeply ingrained spatial inequalities within UK society (Tomaney & Pike, 2020).


2.2.2 BBC Out of London

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), has started relocating jobs and premises outside of its headquarters in London in an attempt to represent a more holistic image of the UK’s creative strength and to showcase authentic storytelling from communities across the UK. At the same time, BBC stated that the need for local news has been accelerated by the effects of COVID-19, since different communities have been impacted differently throughout the pandemic, and the need for tailor-made broadcasting is more pertinent than ever. 

This initiative not only establishes or fortifies existing microclusters beyond London and the South East but also involves local talent. However, there is an additional motivation behind this effort. The UK Government's emphasis on distributing funding beyond the Greater London area to aid the regeneration of the broader UK has prompted the BBC to partially relocate its jobs and headquarters. This strategic move is aimed at securing governmental funding earmarked for regions outside the capital (Waterson, 2021).

2.2.3 English National Opera Moving to Manchester


Within the framework of the Levelling Up Scheme, numerous cultural organisations based in London are facing a reduction in their annual funding. The English National Opera (ENO) is emblematic of this situation, confronting the potential termination of its primary funding unless it aligns with the Levelling Up agenda, necessitating a relocation to Manchester to secure continued financial support. 

In November 2022, the Arts Council announced the termination of the company's entire £12.6 million annual grant starting from 2023, proposing an alternative offer of £17 million over three years contingent upon relocation. Stakeholders, particularly performers, have expressed resistance to this decision, citing its abrupt nature and a perceived lack of consideration for the creative workforce, audience, and the viability of the relocation site. Notably, the funding allocation that the local authority in the relocation destination stands to receive is only one-third of the annual funding that ENO currently receives in London.


3. Effects of ABCs on Creative Industries 

3.1 Overarching Uncertainty Because of ABCs

The Creative Industries, akin to numerous sectors in the UK designated as the ABCs, have encountered substantial challenges. Despite these adversities, the sector's enduring resilience has been evident, particularly in its swift rebound post-pandemic, surpassing the recovery trajectory observed in the broader UK economy.

Changes to the UK economy and the creative industries sector, January 2020–September 2022

House of Lords Library. (2021, March 25). Arts and Creative Industries: The Case for a Strategy. Lords Library. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/arts-and-creative-industries-the-case-for-a-strategy/

3.2 Space, Home, Workplace

Addressing spatial inequalities within the Creative Industries brings to light not only geographic disparities but also encompasses considerations of lived space, workspace, and, particularly for artists, studio environments.


Workplace 

Hybrid working has become the prevailing practice, primarily instigated by the pandemic. Many creative firms in the UK have reduced their office footprints, opting for a blend of remote and office-based work. Intriguingly, establishments in London are more prone to downsizing their spaces in response to the pandemic. In contrast, businesses situated in microclusters outside the capital appear to have expanded their workforce during this particular period (Bakhshi et al., 2021). Government initiatives supporting Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) during this timeframe, such as the Cultural Recovery Fund, appear to have played a pivotal role in these dynamics.

“COVID was impacted upon us massively because we suddenly had to shift the whole way in which we operated. We went from being an organisation that works in a developmental way to overnight having to deal with emergency support [...]. So we actually had to completely shift the way we were working and we were working with businesses and organisations that we've never worked with before because suddenly the whole system was facing collapse. So we had to build novel funding systems.
Hybrid working is now completely normalised,  I work at home, probably 80% of the time. And that's the case for all my colleagues as well. So we could come up with a dispersed organisation and that's quite interesting in itself.”
Clive Gillman, Creative Industries Director, Creative Scotland



Artists’ Studios

In the realm of artists, a workplace often translates to having a studio. However, amid a cost of living crisis, obtaining a place to call home proves challenging for many creative workers. ACME and SPACE have served as studio providers for artists since the early 1970s. In response to soaring rents, these providers are adopting sustainable models by repurposing short-life buildings or acquiring properties, enabling artists to thrive in urban settings (Pratt, 2018).

Nevertheless, the current scenario in London, as depicted in research conducted by ACME, reveals the dire predicament facing many artists in the capital. The compounding effects of Brexit, austerity measures, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cost of living crisis are compelling numerous artists to relinquish their studios. Alarmingly, nearly a third of visual artists may exit the industry in the next five years. The severity of the situation prompts some artists to prioritize art supplies over heating, with only 12% managing to sustain themselves solely through their art (Thrope, 2023).

This circumstance is underscored by the insights shared by artist and academic Laura Yuile:

“I've always kind of thought like, yeah, we should protect cheap studios for artists, but I don't know. But then actually, I'm like, why do artists need a studio is like I don't think they do.
Like why? Why do artists need studios?
I just mean why does someone think that just because they studied at Central St. Martins that they should finish and be able to afford a studio to make some paintings or sculptures that they've decided they need to make, even though no one has asked for?
I don't think it's just cynical. I think I've become cynical, but also realistic about this, whereby actually do we need that?
So I do think we're at a point where artists really need to think, do you need to keep complaining about not being able to have a studio or?
You know, can you just work in your bedroom?
It's a luxury service studio. That's the point. It’s a luxurious. I mean, these days it's so horrific. It's a luxury to have a house to live in. But you know, to have a studio that's separate from where you live. That's really a luxury.
I think we can all make art regardless of having a studio we pay for or not, and I think we need to remember that and embrace that kind of spirit of being able to be creative and make things more, and that's what art should be about. Not fighting for having a video space somewhere. It's not an essential needs.”
Laura Yuile

Creative Enterprise Zones

As seen above there are implications when it comes to spatial inequalities within London itself. One of the initiatives trying to combat these disparities is the inception of the Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) model. Since 2017 CEZs denote designated areas in London where coalitions, incorporating creatives, affiliated businesses, residents, and developers, collectively partake in competitive bidding processes to spearhead local development, emphasizing both affordability and community engagement. The CEZ initiative encompasses multifaceted elements, including local regeneration, the provision of economically viable studio spaces, the facilitation of creative start-ups, and atypical collaborations with entities such as property developers. For further elucidation, the report on Creative Enterprise Zones spanning the years 2018-2021 is available below.

Creative Enterprise Zones Impact Report



3.2 Brexit Uncertainty


While London and the rest of the UK are perceived as an epicentre of multiculturalism, a place where creativity flourishes and a global and European hub for creative Industries and for the creative workforce, this has been challenged since the UK voted for Brexit. Before even the actualisation of Brexit, in the wake of the announcement of the results of the referendum, many non-UK nationals, mainly EU citizens have started to move away from the UK (Advertising Association,2018; Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), 2019).


Predictably, prior to the occurrence of Brexit, over fifty per cent of creative businesses in London had incorporated creative professionals who were not UK nationals. This demographic now faces considerable challenges, particularly concerning the recruitment of new talent. While post-Brexit, skilled worker visas are accessible for professionals, the distinctive nature of creative fields introduces complexities in substantiating professional achievement through conventional educational credentials and qualifications. Moreover, certifying professional accomplishments often poses difficulties that are not easily understood by those outside the respective industries, further complicating the process for aspiring talent seeking entry into the UK (Montalto et al., 2021).

Migrant workers, particularly those possessing high levels of skill, occupy a pivotal role within the cultural and creative sectors. Governmental policy documents at the national, regional, and local levels explicitly recognise these sectors as primary catalysts for the UK's economic innovation and future growth (ibid).

The problem with Brexit is that it happened around the same time (with many other crises), so it's very difficult to say what are clearly the effects of Brexit. 
But Brexit isn't helpful at the moment. That's that's for sure. It's particularly a problem for recruiting talent. Apparently much more so than for the pure export of of, you know, creative industry services, but that's not helpful either. But ultimately we don't even know what Brexit is yet and how it manifests. 
CCI Policy Maker & Design Sector Professional

Current literature, alongside perspectives from industry professionals in our interviews, uniformly indicate that a comprehensive understanding of the repercussions of Brexit is currently elusive. The implications of these changes need time before manifesting in detectable ways across societal, creative, and financial realms, as well as influencing cultural dynamics. Hence, a sense of anticipation prevails as these transformations gradually unfold.


4. Conclusion

Spatial inequalities in the UK are deeply entrenched within the country's historical fabric and extend beyond the purview of Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs). Current efforts from local, national, and private initiatives, seek to contribute to the decentralisation of CCIs and sustainably address housing and studio availability within the creative workforce. The efficacy of these endeavours varies, reflecting the broader pattern observed in different industries where the impact of Austerity measures and the Covid pandemic has been evident. Despite these challenges, the recovery within CCIs has been notably swift, though it is important to note that this rebound primarily reflects financial output rather than the well-being of the workforce.

The unfolding effects of Brexit add another layer of complexity, with the full extent of its consequences yet to be witnessed. 

In light of these developments, the imperative for further research is underscored, particularly in addressing 'left behind areas.' The conventional policies implemented successfully in London may not be universally applicable, emphasising the need for ‘tailormade’, location-specific research to inform sustainable creative regeneration initiatives.

Looking ahead, insights from experts in the field offer valuable perspectives:

Recommendations for Addressing Spatial Inequalities in the Cultural and Creative Industries

Focus on Towns and things will grow outwards.

You can solve the North's problem by focusing on towns. You probably need to focus on Central Manchester and then things grow outwards. They expand and then people from the outlying towns can commute into the centre, and eventually even Lancashire will have some of the spoils. 
CCI Policy Maker & Design Sector Professional


Focus on Infinite Resources 

We have to turn towards those resources which are infinite rather than those that are finite. Some of the resources that are infinite are human creativity, so if we focus back towards those and we think about what is it in our relationships and in our communities that gives us meaning and value in a way that is not extractive, and that is not about exclusion. 
And actually, those processes of creativity sit very much within that space. But it also means we actually have to expand our notion of what constitutes the representations of creativity. I would say you know that takes us into areas like food and gardening and all these other areas that conventionally are excluded from those modernist notions of art, of creative practice.
So I kind of see some of this evolving much more into those spaces where we start to think about well-being. Which means that we have multiple coexisting notions of quality. You own the notion of quality that represents your own creative output. 
Clive Gillman, Creative Industries Director, Creative Scotland

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