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The Shape of Creative Industries in the UK in 2024

By Sarah Frideswide

It is well known that the creative industries in the UK are in poor shape financially. Just ask anyone trying to make a living from them. But it needn’t be so. The creative industries give people the freedom to imagine a life beyond the one they’re currently living. They add richness to people’s existing quality of life, provide jobs, diversity and so on. Far from being the waste of time and money or the luxury our government perceives them to be, art and creativity are essential to mental health and well-being and can drive economic growth.

This week, Rehana Mughal, Director of Creative Economy at the British Council, gave an interview to Publishing Perspectives detailing how the creative industries are being supported by the government and providing suggestions for how that might be expanded.  Her interview gave a swift walk-through of different types of funding and support from the national or company-level perspective. These include tax relief in the UK for various industries, including film, children’s television and animation. She also spoke about the areas where governments should focus their efforts to expand the creative industries, namely on research that pushes at the edge of what the future could bring to the creative sector.

Her interview didn’t cover the publishing industry specifically but referenced the government’s Creative Industries Sector Vision, which sets out the government’s aims for investment and development of the creative industries between now and 2030. On the face of it, it is an encouraging document. In his foreword, PM Rishi Sunak states he is “personally committed to the success of the creative industries – and so is the government [he] leads […] our ambition is nothing less than to grow the creative industries by an extra £50 billion while creating one million extra jobs by 2030.” He talks about national initiatives. It is notable, however, that even in a document about vision for the creative industries, he talks about expanding compulsory maths teaching to the age of eighteen and mentions video games and television by name but fails to talk about writing, theatre, art, dance and so on. His mind, as ever, is focused on money, global image and technology.

This pattern is repeated throughout the document. Whilst the writing and publishing industry may benefit from some of the schemes in the vision plan, it is hard to find a single mention of it anywhere. The focus is on technology and entrepreneurship, which may be no bad thing. Still, it leaves out any reference to the contribution of writing, publishing, art, theatre and dance to the UK economy. It does not refer to the impact those industries make as a global export. There is no mention of supporting individual artists, actors or writers, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds trying to break into the industry. The companies and initiatives covered in the document may, in turn, help individuals. However, there is no acknowledgement of the fact that what artists of all types need at the grassroots level is pay and support to break into competitive industries which all rely on unpaid work done by volunteers, interns and emerging artists. This means that success is weighted towards those with the means to do that unpaid work, at least in the initial stages of their careers. 

It is hard to see the document as anything other than a cover-up for the gaping holes in government policy regarding the creative industries. At our universities, the humanities subjects are suffering and, in some cases being completely cut – see Goldsmiths and Oxford Brookes, among several others – reducing the numbers of skilled individuals entering the creative industries and diminishing the profile of arts subjects nationally. Meanwhile, music teacher numbers in secondary schools have fallen by over 1,000 in the last ten years and GCSE music entries have fallen by 20%. The number of students taking English at A Level has also shrunk from 74,000 in 2017 to 58,000 in 2021. The situation isn’t all bleak, though, as the number of people employed in book publishing in the UK has risen from 46,000 in 2014 to a peak of 59,000 in 2022, and revenue from the publishing industry has grown steadily in recent years.  All of this suggests that the government is making a mistake in focusing its vision for creative development on newer technologies that neglect the more traditional, tried and tested creative industries.




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