This much I know….about economic impact studies

Creative Scotland, in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, today published a new and substantial piece of research undertaken by DC Research Ltd and partners (cogentsi and pirnielimited), Economic Contribution Study: An Assessment of the Arts and Creative Industries in Scotland. The study ‘shows how Scotland’s arts and creative industries sectors contribute more than £3.2 billion to the country’s economy’.

The study analyses what it terms the ‘Arts and Creative Industries (A&CI)’, compares across the UK and with other sectors and, in doing so,  makes interesting reading.  However not many in the sector will read beyond the headlines and already there have been some concerns about what is being said expressed on Twitter.

I am not an economist and do not pretend to have any formal background in that discipline but I have worked with others in this area and value the contribution this kind of analysis can make to the debate on the arts and creative industries.  It is from the perspective of an informed person, not expert, I write.

What is the problem to which we are seeking a solution?

This is the starting point for any research project and in this study it is very clear:

Obtain a comprehensive and robust picture of the contribution of the Arts & Creative Industries (A&CI) to the wider Scottish economy; and,

  • Develop a framework for Creative Scotland and partner organisations wishing to conduct their own economic impact assessments.
  • The direct impacts of the A&CI (those within the sector)
  • Indirect or supplier linkage effects
  • Induced or income multiplier effects
  • Economic activity generated by visitor activity induced by the A&CI[1]

How is this to be done?

There are two questions to be addressed before data gathering in economic studies of this kind in A&CI—both of which are addressed in this report.  First, what are we defining as the sector? Second, what sources are we using for our data?

On definitions, there has been a change in the classifications Government uses for gathering statistics which more accurately reflects the sector. Known as the Standard Industry Classification system (SIC), this was reviewed in 2007 and offers a better categorisation of the sector than previously[2].  From this, the researchers selected the classifications which best reflected the sector.  While broadly matching the classifications used by the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) in Whitehall, they made some additions and changes to reflect A&CI in Scotland—for example they included Crafts and drew on new data categories in Higher and Further Education.  This resulted in sixteen sub sectors as opposed to the thirteen which DCMS uses[3].

Turning to the second question, where does this data come from?  Again the team is very clear on this.  All data are taken from published Government sources.  Not only does this mean the whole thing is transparent quality controlled and accurate, it allows for the study to be replicated in the future[4].  What is the source?   The principal source is the Annual Business Survey and Business Register Employment Survey produced by the Office of National Statistics.

These statistics are gathered by the UK Government from returns made by businesses and covers two thirds of the UK economy.  It is here we bump up against the problem which has been spotted by some on Twitter and acknowledged by the research team.  The statistics are gathered only from companies registered for VAT and excludes those working as sole traders, portfolio and project based workers – which excludes most creative practitioners, although some who have their own company and are registered for VAT and/or employ others, will be included under the category ‘working proprietors’[5]

So despite best efforts, the picture has a piece missing. Whether or not this has an impact on the overall outcome of the report, I can’t say.  We can probably assume a large number of artists, writers, musicians and actors are excluded but we might also assume their economic activity is modest.

Could this be done differently?

There is another source of data which is more comprehensive and can provide a more accurate picture of jobs and employment in A&CI and that is the Population Census.  An analysis of the 1991 Census provided a picture employment the arts and cultural industries in Scotland at that time. [6]   However, the Census may provide a picture of the whole population but it does not provide any financial information which is central to an economic impact so it too can deliver only a partial picture.

Bigger Picture

The research team has comprehensively answered their brief and indeed a similar study could be replicated in, say, five years to show the growing or diminishing importance of the sector in economic terms.  The question of definitions and measuring economic impact of the sector, whether it is called ‘creative industries’, ‘cultural industries’ or simply ‘the arts’ is a contested one in academic literature.  The core of the argument is that the sector is ill-suited to the idea of being seen as an economic driver and public policy has gone astray when analysing it in these terms. For an interesting an accessible discussion on this, check out,  A critique of definitions of the cultural and creative industries in public policy by Susan Galloway and Stewart Dunlop.

In the end, however, this is about providing the arguments to Government on the importance of the sector and positioning it within other industrial sectors. A study like this one is invaluable as an advocacy tool.  In this respect there are similarities with the case for the social impact of arts and creative industries. In my view if you wanted to develop the economy or improve social cohesion you wouldn’t necessarily start with the arts and creative industries — but you might include them. There is both an economic and a social impact to be gained from the sector, but in the end it is the cultural impact which matters.  As the song says, ‘Nobody does it Better’.

References to page numbers in report

[1] p 10

[2] p 1

[3] p 6, for a comparison between the two

[4] p 8

[5] p 34 and pp 73-74

[6] Galloway, Susan, Jane O’Brien and Andy Feist, Employment in the arts and cultural industries in Scotland: an analysis of the 1991 Census (Edinburgh: Scottish Arts Council, 1995


A shout out for bureaucracy

Back in the day, before Kieran Hurley was born, I worked for the Scottish Arts Council. This was the early 1990s.

Many issues found their way on to our weekly management meeting agenda – always a discussion about highlights in the work of Scottish artists – but one which kept re-emerging in one form or another was this issue of bureaucracy and the criticism attracted from the wider arts sector.

Like health and safety and equal opportunities policies, bureaucracy or bureaucrat are implied terms of mild abuse. Of course you put up with it.  Being an arts bureaucrat also meant you had a salary with a pension and paid holidays unlike most of those with whom we worked.  As public servants we knew we had to get on with it. Criticism goes with the territory.

But one day we decided to de-construct this idea.  What was this thing called bureaucracy?  Well of course it is about systems isn’t it?

At the time our systems included computerised finance and grants management database. We used word processing and internal email but we had no access to the Internet, no website, nor external email.  Social networking was way in the future.  Applications for jobs and funding had to come in hard copy and while we had our salaries paid into our bank accounts, grants were issued by cheque.   So today with all management and communications systems digitised, bureaucracy has lessened and disappeared, no?

Bureaucracy is not about systems.  It is about how things are managed for the public good—as much a state of mind than a process.  We all know ‘bad’ bureaucracies.  That’s when the process becomes an end in itself and those managing the system see the bureaucracy as a way of back covering.  My favourite example of this is an officer in the Regional Development Agency, Advantage West Midlands (AWM) who told me that his number one priority was to get my grant application for several million pounds through the internal decision making group in AWM.  No, I replied, it was to ensure the proper use of public money.  AWM does not exist any more but it was an organisation that saw its role as satisfying its own rules.

Let’s imagine a ‘good’ bureaucracy.  It inspires confidence, works for the common good but makes you as an individual feel secure.  It constantly strives to find a balance between protecting the public interest with serving is community of interest:  whether that be artists or small businesses– and treats all with respect. It is barely noticeable, is transparent has a human face and voice and moves smoothly through steps and processes.  It does not always deliver what you want—which is what sometimes gives it a bad name. I recall making an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (again in the West Midlands) being turned down; making it again; and being turned down again.  I was terribly disappointed but I still believe the application was treated fairly and when asked about the way it was handled, I gave positive feedback.

So, when a public body decides to make the change from being a ‘bad’ bureaucracy the answer is to become a ‘good’ bureaucracy.  All guardians of public money are in their own way ‘bureaucratic’.  If they are not, they are at best inefficient and at worst, corrupt.


Be careful what you wish for

Over the weekend there appeared a flurry of tweets with hashtag #stworldclass. These highlighted examples of theatre created in Scotland by Scottish companies that had toured internationally.  The impressive list also included the range of work by Scottish playwrights translated and performed across the globe. Both were seen as indicators of ‘world class’ status.

This awareness-raising campaign was prompted by Creative Scotland’s decision to end Flexible Funding to 49 arts companies  — including theatre. Specifically it was a reaction to the article in the Guardian accompanying the announcement and the assertion from Creative Scotland that arts companies need to become ‘more entrepreneurial and commercially-orientated’ citing Cirque du Soleil and Robert Lepage/Ex Machina as internationally successful examples of this approach — companies that have created self-sustaining models and enjoy global recognition.  While this analysis is partly correct, the truth is that both these companies received very large state subventions in their earlier years, including capital support, and Ex Machina still does.

Nevertheless, putting aside what Creative Scotland did or did not mean, these two companies are examples of international success and, on the face of it, models for Scotland. For both these companies are Québécois : Québec a Province with aspirations as an independent nation with its own cultural identity underpinned by its language.

Cirque du Soleil has made recent visits to Scotland but the links go back further: Scottish audiences first experienced the ‘Québec effect’ in the 1990s with a visits to both Tramway Glasgow and the Edinburgh International Festival from Lepage and others including the dance company La La Human Steps. The plays of Michel Tremblay translated into Scots by Bill Findlay and Martin Bowman were produced at the Traverse and Tron theatres[1].   There was, and still is, a state government policy to promote Québec and its separate identity on the international stage through supporting the work of its artists—a policy which the Scottish Government shares, at a more modest level, through its Edinburgh Festivals Expo fund.

However there is another side to this cultural diplomacy. Since the late 1990s, criticism has been levelled at Cirque du Soleil and Lepage/Ex Machina on how much they can be said to represent Québec and its culture. 

Cirque du Soleil has transformed itself from a publicly funded (and financially rescued) project in the 1980s with a base in Québec City to a multi national with centres in Los Angeles, Singapore and Amsterdam. Described as a ‘post-modern spectacular circus without animals’ it is a multi million dollar industry and a global as much as a Québec brand.

Lepage, too has a base in Québec and his company Ex Machina is funded by the Canadian Council for the Arts, le Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec and the City of Québec. His major works seen in festivals all over the world are funded through co-production deals with these very festivals.  There are those who argue his work is developed more with ‘elite festivals in metropolitan cities’ in mind rather than addressing Québécois cultural nationalism.  (As one who has enjoyed some of the best nights in a theatre at a Lepage production, I admit to signing up for this approach.)

More concerning perhaps is how accessible is the work to the people of Québec?  While it is developed in Québec a great deal of the time the company is working with international co-producers in other parts of the world.  The danger in becoming part of the international circuit is that the artist/company becomes simply an export business and loses touch with the home audience and the roots from whence the work sprang.

We might believe that we are a long way from producing global success stories in performing arts like Cirque du Soleil or Ex Machina.  But look again. Amongst the examples with the #stworldclass is the theatre created for children by Catherine Wheels, Visible Fictions and Wee Stories  — examples of companies which enjoy as great if not greater opportunities from international promoters than from home.  The demand exists here but not always the funding.

So, while politicians and others debate with us the future of our nation, and the role the creative and cultural industries can play in international promotion, let’s make sure audiences have as much access to world class Scottish produced work in Inverness as they do in Sydney.

[1] Lyceum and NTS are about to mount a new production of Tremblay’s Guid Sisters.