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The creative industries matter to London, Yorkshire and the nation

  • 15 June 2021
  • By Diana Beech & Peter O'Brien

This blog has been kindly contributed by Dr Diana Beech, Chief Executive Officer of London Higher, and Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities – the umbrella bodies representing universities and higher education colleges across their respective regions. You can find Diana and Peter on Twitter at @dianajbeech and @obrienpeter72

On 24 June 2021 we will be hosting our Annual Conference which will include:

  • a discussion of the HEPI – Advance HE Student Academic Survey 2021;
  • an Opening Address from the Rt. Hon. Gavin Williamson CBE MP, the Secretary of State for Education;
  • a Morning Keynote Address from Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Office for Students;
  • an Afternoon Keynote from The Rt. Hon. James Purnell, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of the Arts London; and
  • a session on disaster management.

You can sign up by clicking here or on the photo below.


Prior to the pandemic, the creative industries were motors of economic growth in the UK. Between 2011 and 2016, the sector grew by 11 per cent, twice as fast as the growth rate in the rest of the economy. In 2019, according to research from Oxford Economics, the creative industries employed 2.1 million people, an increase of 34.5 per cent from 2011 and more than three times the employment growth rate in the UK overall.

The economic value of the creative industry sector, before Covid-19 struck, was worth £116 billion to the UK economy – larger than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas sectors combined. Significantly, for a post-Brexit UK, the creative industries exported £36 billion in services, thereby helping to amplify the UK’s ‘soft power’ internationally.

However, the sector has been hit particularly hard over the past fifteen months. Studies have found that, in the first six months of the pandemic in the UK, there were 55,000 job losses (a 30 per cent decline) in music, performing and visual arts – a much higher than average number of people leaving creative occupations compared to previous years.

London and Yorkshire are two of the UK’s creative powerhouses. The concentration of the creative industries in London is very strong and Leeds City Region has the third largest share of employment in the sector outside of the capital. As suggested in our previous HEPI blog looking at boosting regional research and development, the relative performance and success of our regions can be strengthened by closer collaboration. Regional rivals can, and should, work together to grow their creative industries alongside other sectors and businesses, as regional creative growth should never be seen as a zero-sum game.

Metro Mayors are a valuable and influential resource to convey these key messages to Government and to drive the delivery of real action and impact on the ground. Just last month, in Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, the newly elected Mayor of West Yorkshire, and Dan Jarvis, Mayor of South Yorkshire, together pledged to promote, enhance and increase community participation in the arts, culture, heritage and visitor economy in the region. They have also given a commitment to build stronger relationships between West and South Yorkshire in the creative and cultural sector.

In the recent mayoral elections, the creative industries were identified as a prime example of how businesses, places and communities can recover once current restrictions are eased. Following his re-election, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, emphasised how culture could drive tourism and economic growth in the capital, which stands ready to ‘entertain, inspire and enthral.’ Tracy Brabin has similarly promised to deliver a creative new deal to ensure that the creative industries are part of West Yorkshire’s broader recovery strategy.

Significantly, both Mayors have emphasised the value of Metro Mayors working collaboratively to support recovery and long-term growth. Following a visit to Yorkshire last month, Sadiq Khan highlighted the interconnectedness of the UK regions and their respective skills and industry ecosystems, stressing: “We have to make Government understand that if they want to help Yorkshire, they have to help London”. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has too called on the regions to build common cause with London.

A report release today by London Higher shows the importance of creative higher education provision, not just to the capital, but to the country as a whole.

Together, there are over fifty universities and higher education providers in London and Yorkshire, educating over 580,000 students, with many involved directly in supporting the development of skills within the creative industries. A report released today by London Higher shows the importance of creative higher education provision, not just to the capital, but to the country as a whole. Furthermore, initiatives such as Leeds 2023 and Bradford’s ambition to be UK City of Culture 2025, are recognised by the Chief Executive of the Arts Council for their strong local roots, of which universities in Yorkshire play a key role, and their wider contributions to health and well-being.

Yet, the Government has proposed that higher education courses that do not fall within a new list of strategic priorities – including subjects in Music, Dance, Drama and Performing Arts; Art and Design; and Media Studies – will face reductions of 50 per cent to the government subsidy. These cuts, however small they are made out to be, inevitably threaten to undermine the talent pipeline in the nation’s creative industries sector and could thwart the Government’s ambitions for recovery, regeneration, and levelling-up – particularly since access to talent has long been a key attraction for business investment, especially foreign direct investment.

Moreover, the proposals to cut subsidies to creative higher education courses stand at odds with the Government’s ambitious Plan for Growth, which recognises the value of the creative industries and highlights them as a priority sector. With the Government committed to the UK becoming a ‘science superpower’, it is timely to restate the critical relationship that exists between research and innovation and the creative industries. The presence of a strong and diverse talent pipeline in the creative industries – between cities and across regions – will be essential to our ability to “build back better” post-pandemic and will be critical to the long-term success of the UK economy. London and Yorkshire are ready to play their part in this endeavour, as are all our members of our respective regional university networks.

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