We need a greater focus on the Creative Sector by Irish Policymakers in Ireland

This article first appeared on RTE Brainstorm available here

The term ‘creative’ is popular, but a fuzzy concept. Humans are the carriers of knowledge and we are inherently creative. Human capital has long been identified as a major source of economic growth. Richard Florida (a leading author on economic competitiveness) stressed the important relationship between culture, creative occupations and innovation and he argued that creativity should be seen as an occupational based measure, rather than an educationally based one. He pointed out, that the educational measurement of human capital leaves out a small but incredibly influential group of entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates or Michael Dell, who for various reasons did not go on to or finish college. And also, many people may be very well educated, but not in a position to be very creative. For instance, a taxi driver or a security guard may have a PhD but they are not in a position to be very creative, as the environment in which they carry out their job is constrained – there is no opportunity for creativity. It is for these reasons, that Florida suggested the use of an occupational measure of creativity.

In addition, the term ‘cultural industries’ or ‘creative industries’ are used interchangeably. Florida’s ‘creative occupation’ metric can also be extended to a ‘creative industry’ metric. Those employed in the creative occupations produce goods and services making the firms in which they work in – creative firms. There are very few definitions of the creative industry but the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are one of the leading institutions attempting to get a more defined categorisation around the term. They incorporate activities such as: advertising; architecture; art and antique markets; designer fashion; video, film and photography; music and the performing and visual arts; publishing; software, computer games, and electronic publishing; radio and television; craft; and design.

Ireland has been identified as exhibiting a good environment for creative occupations and the creative sector. In the 2017, European Cultural and Cities monitor: Irish cities are ranked better than most of their European rivals. Cork, ranked first for ‘cultural vibrancy’ among the small and medium cities category. Dublin ranked well across all measures, which further included measures on the creative economy and the enabling environment. And of course, Dublin was designated the status of an UNESCO literature city in 2010 and Galway, the UNESCO film city status in 2014. From this, one would think Ireland should be a hothouse for creative occupations and creative industries alike. However, in Ireland, the number of people employed in the sector is lower, than that exhibited in other EU countries. They represent only about three per cent of total Irish employment. Ireland also has one of the lowest creative average intensity (creative occupations/all occupations in creative industries) levels in the EU. And we lag behind many of countries in the Global creativity index, particularly in the areas of R&D investment and patents. Internationally, and despite the recession, creative industries are a rapidly growing category of industry within the wider economy. The creative industries in the UK have almost doubled from four to eight per cent of total employment since the 1980’s, to the present. Sweden has 8.9 per cent and Finland have 8.2 per cent of total employment in the creative sectors. And, the sector represents about five per cent of total employment in the EU.

The significance of the creative sector in driving future growth will increase. As incomes rise, standardised goods become cheaper and the demand for unstandardized goods and services like those from creative industries will increase. We know from the international literature that firms in the creative sector have a significant innovative capability, relative to firms in other sectors. But very little is known on the innovative potential of the creative sector in Ireland. Recently, Justin Doran (CUBS, UCC) and I decided to try to address this gap in the Irish literature. And indeed, like the international literature, we identified that firms in the Irish creative sector are significantly more likely to introduce radical new to market innovations. This is a sector with enormous growth potential that should be leveraged and build upon. But, as noted earlier, we are behind other countries in traditional creative sector measures and improvements in this area need to be made. Given the nature of the types of goods and services they provide, they are under recognised, under-valued and have difficulty getting financial support. More focus from policymakers, and with carefully designed interventions towards the creative sector would un-tap this potential.