Creativity: London’s Core Business

In 2000 I began working with the Greater London Authority (GLA) under the radical Mayor Ken Livingstone. We established an Economic Intelligence Unit and I held the brief first for the London Plan, then the Creative Industries and later, the Living Wage.

This Mayor set out to establish London as a world Creative Hub. The first step was to undertake a full stocktake of London’s Creative Economy. This called for a new standard – there was no recognised world or national way of measuring either the output of London’s creative industries, or how many people worked in them. I therefore adopted the standard defined in the ‘Mapping Document’ issued in 1999 by the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The results were riveting. Between one-sixth and one-fifth of London’s workforce (depending on the definition) worked in the Creative Industries, or in a creative capacity outside these industries. The ‘sector’, so definied, was growing faster than any of the standard sectors of the national accounts. And most surprising of all, this was what I termed a ‘benign productivity revolution’ – both jobs and output were rising at the same time, unlike the hoped-for productivity gains produced by Thatcherite austerity, which drove out inefficient industries but failed to replace them with new sources of employment, giving rise to a ruinous rise in unemployment,

It was also clear that this branch of the economy was a completely new type of technology, requiring a completely different set of theoretical instruments, and a totally different way of thinking, from what economics (at least, neoclassical economics) had hitherto employed.

Graham Hitchen’s monthly ‘creative breakfasts’, bringing together practitioners, scholars and theorists, became an incubator for an entire small community of innovators, stimulating collaborations of which the foremost for me were a long partnership with Hasan Bakhshi of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and Peter Higgs of Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and a further series of engagements that changed not only London, but the entire way in which it, and a widening circle of international collaborators, approached the new and potentially world-changing domain of Creativity.

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