If you were a beady-eyed Treasury wonk in the first week of December last year, then the Creative Industries might just have become 30% less important to you than they were a couple of months previously.
In the dying days of 2011, the UK government apparently reduced its view of the value of the Creative Industries. DCMS published a new statistical estimate of the economic contribution and size of the UK’s Creative Industries for 2009, lowering it from 5.6% of GVA to 2.9% or from £59.1bn to £36.3bn.
Maybe creative industries workers and policy makers were too eagerly focussed on end of year festivities, but this significant change seems to have passed without notice.
Have bit torrent and unauthorised file-sharing finally taken things over a cliff? Has the the complexity of music licensing and the level of commercial friction become so intense as to kill off more than a third of the value? Did TV advertising suffer a massive subliminal relapse? Did eBooks decimate publishing values? Did social media revenues evaporate in a bubble? Did all this happen without our noticing?
Not really. It’s more a revenge of the statistics nerds type scenario. Apparently, the reasoning for this massive downgrading, is that in previous years, the “sub-sectors” of software programming and consulting have been included in the estimates and these have been removed in the interests of accuracy. It’s certainly true that including companies who produce applications for business software products within Creative Industries seemed a bit of a stretch. Equally, it has been noted for at least ten years that web-companies and social media companies are part of the Creative Industries and still do not figure in the statistics at all. Presumably they get claimed by ICT or Telecommunications. Maybe the statistical nerds are too afraid of an industry lobby group more alert to the value of metrics than the less numerate Creative Industries lobbyists.
Another statistical quirk has contributed to degrading the numbers. A weighting had previously been applied to Office of National Statistics Annual Business Survey information to take into account its lack of full coverage. Allegedly that coverage has now been extended to all parts of the economy. So the weighting has simply been removed. Kerdunk – the economic contribution plumets 30%. But the Annual Business Survey is quite capable of not noticing thousands of micro-businesses and sole operators who make up the warp and weft of Creative Industries. In fact the DCMS report notes (p26 as in previous years) that the majority of crafts business are too small to be picked up by the Inter-Departmental Business Register and so the category is ignored.
Elsewhere in the DCMS report there are a couple of other contradictory comments. On the one hand, the report observes that last year, analysis methods were changed and therefore tagged “experimental” although the results didn’t differ dramatically from the previous year. This year it has been deemed unnecessary to term these numbers “experimental” and so the term is dropped, suggesting an apparent commitment to this formulation – even though its make up has been radically transformed. On the other hand, the report also observes that Digital and Creative Industries are increasingly converging on one another and that if the numbers were combined then the figures would be considerably upgraded.
All of this leaves more than a little room for confusion and ambiguity in what should be the “authoritative”, “official” statistics that public spending and policy decisions are based on.
The term Creative Industries is an unwieldy phrase, to which hardly anyone feels much loyalty. It is a flag of convenience that has heritage and continuity on its side, but needs better definition fast. If we took into account the warp and weft of micro-companies and the convergence with Digital Industries – it would not be surprising if the numbers leapt back up and then exceeded previous estimates of the UK’s Creative Industries economic contribution.