Off The Map: Liverpool’s Absence From The UK’s Creative Industrial Strategy

Baltic Creative, Liverpool. Image courtesy

Did you know that Liverpool was completely absent from the latest government report on Creative UK Clusters? Gavin Sherratt looks at what this means for the future and how we can get back on the map…

Did you know that creative industries in the UK are worth £71 billion to the economy? Did you also know this is the fastest growing sector, ahead of the professional and financial services? The government-commissioned IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) report, entitled March of the Modern Makers: An Industrial Strategy for the Creative Industries, published in February this year, has highlighted that the sector has grown by 16% and created 1.68 million jobs.

This is fantastic news for anyone working in the creative and digital industries; these are big figures and they’re growing. However, for those freelancers and businesses operating in Liverpool, there’s something not quite right about the report. Look twice at IPPR’s official map of UK creative clusters, and you’ll notice that Liverpool didn’t get a mention. We are literally no longer on the map, if we ever were:

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And we’re not alone: Belfast, Newcastle and Nottingham also didn’t make the cut. Places where you’d expect a bustling creative industry that would benefit from national recognition and, perhaps more importantly considering future development, government attention. The IPPR themselves have called for more regional diversity, calling on the government and private sector to invest in the creative industries away from London (see the Guardian’s take here).

As a resident and business owner in a city that is officially off the national radar, I wonder what our political leaders are doing to make more of a concerted and collective effort to address this? Other than the work being undertaken by ACME, Liverpool’s creative and digital sector doesn’t seem to feature very highly in terms of our regional priorities. The Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) — an organisation linking local authorities to business, who decide what the priorities should be for investment — seems to consider it all under the same umbrella as the service industry. Which is a grave miscalculation, considering the highly-skilled, well-paid career jobs that the creative industries can and are providing.

So why should Liverpool have been included in the IPPR map? For a start, it is a world leader in the development of computer games (led by the likes of Starship Group (more on them later), Lucid, Firesprite and Ripstone). Secondly, creatives and digital technicians are open to collaboration; we are starting to get really good at sharing our knowledge. Thirdly, we are an army of micro-businesses, employing and providing a source of highly-skilled and talented people.

“The city is starting to embrace digital ‘doers’ and creative business owners; now we need the powers that be to respect this growth and encourage it to blossom”

We’re also starting to retain the student population. I came to Liverpool and studied, I got a job, I learnt my craft and I chose to make this city my home and started my business here. Studio Mashbo could be based anywhere, but our home is Liverpool. We have hubs in Manchester and London, but the heart and soul of the business is here. The city is starting to embrace digital ‘doers’ and creative business owners; now we need the powers that be to respect this growth and encourage it to blossom.

Perhaps organisations like the LEP should to do more to recognise and nurture this sector as a key part of its future strategic vision. Manchester does this well and publicly gets behind the sector (see Manchester Digital or Pro Manchester). In terms of PR, we want to be leading the field — not riding the coat-tails of others.

Yet in terms of networking and collaboration, making sure our business has a hub in Manchester has widened our network. From my interactions, with those based in Manchester and MediaCityUK, I’ve found that there is an external respect for Liverpool’s culture and output. They’re simply a few steps ahead of us in engaging their city leaders.

I’ve been discussing the imbalance with friends and colleagues for a while now, and have been musing on the competitive relationship between Liverpool and Manchester, as well as the perceived gulf between London and the North West (Don’t Mind the Gap, Bridge the Gap). The UK and North-West could be world leaders in the creative and digital industries; a sector that now creates 5% of the UK’s employment (and this is rising). Just imagine if we had the backing of more leaders, those that are controlling the economic growth of our city and the wider North-West region, and we learnt to work more effectively in collaboration with Manchester, drawing in more talent and more businesses? The scope for future employment would result in wider economic growth.

In Liverpool, we have a way of life that offers affordable living in an amazing cultural environment. We avoid the stress of London but are connected to the city from just over two hours away. With the IFB (International Festival for Business) taking over the city this summer, we’re told we’ve got the eyes of the world on us. We’ve even got a creative and digital week (14 July), celebrating advertising, music, fashion, TV, film, design, digital technology, software development and gaming.

But all of this could just be a token gesture by some at the top table, including bodies like the IPPR and local authorities, who don’t see Liverpool’s creative offer as an important sector – or even as a sector at all. Are we merely service providers? If our part in the UK’s creative industries has not been recoginsed by now then this is a major problem.

There are successful, positive examples already to be proud of in Liverpool, creating highly-skilled and well-paid jobs and nurturing talented young people and school leavers. The ‘Creative, Industrious and Pioneering’ Baltic Triangle area is home to a new Studio School for 14-19 year olds (a UK success story; partner-led, utilising creative media and digital tech businesses from the area, and welcoming international visitors on a monthly basis). The purpose built Baltic Creative campus (pictured) hosts a variety of superb creative and digital businesses and is acting as a magnet for more in the area. Or Martin Kenwright’s new digital entertainment company Starship Group, which looks likely to bring many more jobs to the city (he was recently quoted as saying that “Liverpool could be world-leaders” in entertainment, games, creative tech and sciences).

National press has started to recognise this — recent articles in The Sunday Times (Liverpool Shows the World It’s Back In Business) and Vice (Screw London, Move To BritainLiverpool Is Like A City On Ecstasy At The Moment) explore the city’s revival, but also the notion of a Britain not revolving around London. Rough Guide even named Liverpool as the third best place to visit in the world. But there’s still plenty more to be done.

All of us – creatives, artists, software engineers, designers, marketers, business owners –  need to continue to shout about our creative and digital success stories, and continue to build links and collaborations with valuable partners, including other UK cities. We deserve to be on the map; it’s now time for more of our local leaders and MPs to bang the creative and digital drum.

Gavin Sherratt is the MD of Studio Mashbo, Liverpool

Read the full IPPR report here

Image: Baltic Creative, Liverpool, courtesy Unit3 design studio

Posted on 29/05/2014 by thedoublenegative