IGN Insights

Culture should be strategic investment for next government

Centre for Progressive Policy Danielle Jackson square 2023 07 13 133207 stdj

Danielle Jackson

Head of Inclusive Growth Network

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The challenges facing the UK both at home and abroad are the greatest they have been for a generation: economic and productivity growth are stagnant; there are increasing levels of inequality and poverty, and we are in a deeply constrained fiscal environment with little headroom for public spending.

As shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves reminds us almost daily, Labour is firmly committed to cautious fiscal rules if they win the next election.

Council budgets are stretched to the limit. The erosion of funding over the last 14 years and the high demand on public services has already pushed several councils to issue section 114 notices and there is talk of a further 40 councils in trouble.

We need a new model of economic growth. One that supports a thriving economy that everyone can contribute to and benefit from. One that tackles inequalities and spreads benefits more fairly between people and places. At the Inclusive Growth Network and Centre for Progressive Policy, we call this inclusive growth.

How can culture help?

Culture has long been overlooked as an economic asset for the UK. It is all too easy to forget the role that it can play in getting the economy moving and addressing regional inequality.

We argue in a new report that culture and creative industries should be at the heart of delivering more inclusive local economies. Our network of 14 pioneering local and combined authorities is showing the way through new approaches to culture as an enabler of a fairer type of growth.

The economy: The UK is a cultural powerhouse. The sector is worth £160bn with 3.2 million jobs and we are the fifth highest exporter of cultural services globally. Cultural clusters are creating new jobs across all corners of the UK with £2 generated in the wider economy for every £1 paid to workers in the arts and culture.

But opportunities are not spread fairly and careers in the creative industries are becoming less accessible with a lack of diversity. Inclusive Growth Network members are taking steps to link local people to creative jobs through schemes like the Mayor’s Screen Diversity Programme in West Yorkshire and the Eurovision job fairs in Liverpool.

People: Our identity, health and happiness are shaped by our experience of culture. It can bring us together and transform how we feel about where we live. If we’re to shift to a model of public services that is less reactive and more preventative, we need stronger and more resilient communities.

We know that people living in some of our poorest areas engage less with culture than people living in more well-off areas. To address this, many of our members are supporting grassroots culture in communities. For instance, local people ran creative and cultural events across the city as part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture.

Places: Culture has driven regeneration over recent decades. It is what gives our town centres and high streets personality, making them distinctive and welcoming. This creates places that people want to live, study, work, set up a business and invest. Without culture, new developments can feel generic and inauthentic to their communities. Belfast Stories will transform a 5,000 square metre site into a new visitor experience. It is being designed and developed with and for local communities.

Next government

Whoever wins the next election, an incoming government is going to face enormous challenges. Culture is a strategic investment with potential to benefit local economies, people and places. It should be taken seriously as an important tool to address economic stagnation and improve prosperity across the country.

We’re not naïve; we understand the scale of the challenges and pressures on public finances. This isn’t about ploughing billions of pounds into culture. Local government is already taking innovative steps to realise the potential of culture and creative industries. It has the clear vision, strong leadership and partnerships to make change happen.

But with greater devolution, places could go further and faster to unlock culture and creative industries as a key engine of the inclusive growth that the country is crying out for.


R37 report cover

Culture and creative industries: A catalyst for inclusive growth

A report to help places put culture and creative industries at the heart of inclusive growth.

3 MB  |  pdf