Booming industries should create opportunities for all

THEY were a barrel of laughs, yes, but no one wanted to be Eddy or Patsie, sweetie darling. When I was a wee child in the 1990s, Ally MacBeal and Frasier Crane were the real role models in the sitcom world. They had proper jobs.

The Ab Fab protagonists are stereotypical London luvvies we associate with the creative industries – a bit eccentric, posh and in jobs that aren't really that grown up. Not like those very serious people in banking and law.

But as the financial sector shrinks, the creative industries – fashion, art, advertising, media – are set to play an even bigger and serious role in the economy we inherit after the recession. Between 2010 and 2013, the creative sector is forecasted to grow at a rate of four per cent a year.

It's already a crown jewel in the UK economy: Britain's creative industries are worth about 57bn, making our creative sector the largest in the world relative to GDP.

In this year's Budget, the Chancellor announced a 750m Strategic Investment Fund to help fast-growing companies in the creative sector, a substantial number of which are start-ups.

Allied with tax reliefs for the communications industry to enable universal broadband by 2012 – helping creative businesses with the

production and consumption of digital material – this Government thinks the expansion of the creative sector will create sustainable economic growth which isn't so dominated by financial services.

Good, you may say. The reckless behaviour of the bankers caused mayhem for the rest of us, especially the most vulnerable, with unemployment still rising. And their indifference to the plight of the poor – tax dodging rife and charitable giving falling over the past decade – ugly and unacceptable.

But this new economic landscape could pose even more problems for social justice. Social mobility could suffer as the creative industries are more difficult to access than financial services for the poorest in

our society.

Jen Lexmond and Shelagh Wright – in their new report Making of Me published by Demos – highlight that graduates ordinarily access jobs in the creative industries through who they know.

The middle-classes, well-connected through their professional lives and dinner parties, give their children access to career-enhancing social networks. Parents from more modest backgrounds, miles away from the creative types in the City, rarely can.

Even if you don't land a job through family and friends, a series of lengthy unpaid internships in London – 70 per cent of advertising internships are based in the Big Smoke – is the most common form of entry into creative professions, a luxury available only to those in close proximity to the City or with affluent parents.

When you finally get paid, starting salaries are low since most of the organisations are small – 85 per cent of them employ fewer than five people.

At least with financial services, internships are usually well- advertised, relatively well paid and short-term – often with the strong possibility of a job at the end of it – and starting salaries high enough to be able to sustain independent living in London.

The Neuberger Report, which examined access to the Bar, found that outreach work and the reputation of the profession also play a major part in creating a more socially diverse workforce.

Schoolchildren are less familiar with the work of creative types; in their minds, those who do well are the lawyers and doctors of the world. When I was at school, no one said they wanted to be an advertising director or TV producer.

The creative industries are almost never represented at university careers fairs, where banks, consultancies and law firms dominate. The lack of awareness about creative professions among young people, particularly from more modest backgrounds who are less likely to know people who work in the sector, is yet another reason why the creative sector is more socially exclusive than others.

A broader economy – with creative industries, green energy and hi-tech manufacturing playing a bigger role – is good for the UK's long-term future. But don't be fooled that because finance will play a lesser role, the poorest will benefit. It is even harder for the poorest

to get on in life in the creative sector.

Government and businesses urgently need to adopt the proposals forwarded by Alan Milburn in his report Unleashing Aspiration – micro-loans from banks and the Student Loans Company for the poorest to complete internships and a Quality Kitemark scheme to incentivise higher quality, better advertised and more affordable internships. That way, the expanding creative sector could bring more social mobility, not less.

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