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August 14
The U.K. Emerges Post-recession as a Creative Powerhouse

Clerkenwell 2014.JPG

Milliken held numerous creative workshops at our London showroom during Clerkenwell Design Week 2014, which has become a premier event for the Clerkenwell and international design community.  

The idea that necessity is the mother of invention was introduced by Plato in the 4th Century BC, and it endures to this day.

We have come to believe that creativity has roots in not only need, but also adversity. As the character Harry Lime played by Orson Welles puts it in the 1949 movie The Third Man; “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

The post-war world was an ideal place to indulge in such thinking. What better time than the aftermath of a global disaster to judge the effect of adversity on the world? It’s a question that is pertinent as the world emerges from a six-year economic downturn. In the week in which it was announced that the U.K. economy is now back to its pre-crash level and the IMF announced that the British economy would grow faster than that of any other developed nation, what effect has the downturn had on creativity in the U.K.?

There are very clear signs that the recession has made the U.K. a hotbed for creative industries. For example, recent research from media buying agency ZenithOptimedia suggests that 2014 will see the U.K. advertising industry outstrip Germany’s for the first time. In particular, London is thriving in this regard because, not only is it able to draw on a large pool of talented, edgy people who not only speak the language most common to the largest numbers around the world, it has set new standards in technological know-how.

This is also true in cities like Manchester, where Media City has shifted the U.K.’s creative epicenter to a large degree, alongside Cambridge and tech hubs in the South West of England and the central belt of Scotland.

Even so, the real action in the U.K.’s burgeoning technology, media and telecoms (TMT) sector is London. At the recent London Technology Week, research firm South Mountain Economics claimed that the capital is outstripping Silicon Valley in terms of employment growth  - up 11 percent in the past five years. Theorganizersrs of the event also cited research from Oxford Economics that London's technology sector could add an extra £12 billion and 46,000 new jobs to the U.K. economy by 2024. Yet another report from Boston Consulting Group suggests that the proportion of the UK’s GDP related to the technology and media sectors is set to grow from its current level of eight percent to more than 12 percent by 2016.

Even so, we shouldn’t assume that it is only in technology that the U.K. has emerged as a global creative force. According to a report published in late 2013 by Deloitte, when it comes to employment levels of people in knowledge based jobs in a range of high skill sectors such as digital media, banking, legal services, software development, telecoms and publishing, London is one of the world’s leading cities. The study found that London employed 1.5 million people in the 22 sectors surveyed, compared with 1.2 million in New York, 784,000 in Los Angeles, 630,000 in Hong Kong and 425,000 in Boston. The report also predicts that London will enjoy rapid growth in employment levels in these sectors over the next seven years, adding around 100,000 more people.

We can debate just how much of the U.K.’s new status as a global creative powerhouse is down to the impetus given to its creative industries by the recession. What is undoubtedly true is that the past six years have seen the U.K. develop an exciting new creative skills base. The global economic downturn created a challenge for the country and it has responded with vigor.