Raymond Snoddy on media: A creative approach to 'commitment'

Sometimes you have to give politicians the benefit of the doubt. Sceptics should suspend their disbelief about the government's latest action plan for the creative industries. After all, what's not to like about an initiative that promises to take the creative world 'from the margins to the mainstream'?

There should be at least two cheers for culture secretary Andy Burnham - in office for only a matter of weeks, he has apparently managed to put together 26 key commitments for government and industry.

Who can take exception to the prospect of 'making a career out of your passion and a business from your ideas'? It must be a good thing, because the great and good of the advertising and marketing industries, including Advertising Association chief executive Baroness Peta Buscombe and IPA president Moray MacLennan, are firmly behind it.

But ideas like this have a history. Once upon a time there was Cool Britannia, where vaguely creative people who didn't know each other met at receptions at 10 Downing Street to drink champagne with new prime minister Tony Blair, and nothing much happened. Then, the culture and media department produced a vast report on how important the (very loosely defined) creative industries were to the UK economy and how they managed above-average growth.

Leaving aside definitions of creativity - scientists and engineers can be every bit as creative as someone with a guitar - the numbers are still big. In 2005, the creative industries accounted for £60bn, or 7.3%, of gross value added (GVA). But the average growth rate was 6% a year between 1997 and 2005 - double the rest of the economy. Advertising, as well as being fun, can claim to be the UK's third-biggest creative industry, with a GVA of £6.5bn and exports of £1.3bn.

More than 10 years on from Cool Britannia, the latest plan looks different. The pledges seem more concrete, although it might have been better if they had not felt the need for as many as 26 'key commitments' - maybe 18 or 19 would have sounded more credible.

But who could fail to warm to the headline '5000 apprenticeships to help people from all backgrounds make the most of their creative skills'? There is one small problem. Read on and it transpires that this 'commitment' is merely a target to provide 5000 formal apprenticeships a year. The target year is 2013.

A number of worthy organisations, including the BBC at Salford, the National Trust, Tate Liverpool and Unity Theatre, have all signed up. However, the names of advertising and marketing groups don't leap out of the list.

Fair's fair, though. A number and a date have been affixed, so we can all return to the issue on 22 February 2013 to see whether such a 'key commitment' has actually been met.

Meanwhile, the idea of having an annual World Creative Business Conference in the UK for the creatives, designed to rival Davos, is an inspired one.

When in doubt, throw a conference. Davos has always unfairly discriminated against the millions of non-skiers. Now, at last, an event of international importance for them too. The importance of it could be marked by the striking of a new creative gong - one for everyone who turns up.

Here is a commitment that can be judged. Everyone will notice whether such a conference is held and whether it is any good or not. We can also judge whether another key commitment - to take action on illegal file-sharing by 2009, by legislative means if a voluntary agreement proves impossible - is kept.

It all goes to show that MPs and civil servants really are part of the 'creative economy' too.


- Davos is a municipality and winter sports destination in Graubunden, the biggest and most easterly of Switzerland's Cantons.

- The resort is best known as the location of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum's annual meeting of the planet's global political and business leaders, which is also attended by leading figures from NGOs, trades unions, religious representatives and journalists.

- Davos' high altitude and valley setting means it enjoys a microclimate that made it popular among the wealthy and convalescents in the late-19th century. Author and tuberculosis-sufferer Robert Louis Stevenson spent the winter there in 1880.

- It went on to become famous as a ski resort. Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle wrote an article about skiing there in 1899.


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