Original post : 2 May 2013

So are we creative or not?

When I saw the tweet from the Crafts Council flagging up the DCMS consultation paper, which seemed to be saying that craft was going to be removed from the list of Creative Industries, I have to admit I became quite indignant.  ‘How dare a bunch of bean-counting civil servants question our creativity!’ was pretty much how I felt, but my journalist’s nose told me there was bound to be more to this than meets the eye.

 So what’s it all about?

The first thing to understand is that what the DCMS has put up is a consultation paper on proposed changes to ‘Classifying and measuring the creative industries’. They are actively looking for our comments and contributions before June 14th 2013. Nothing has been finally decided and we can have our say – don’t you love democracy?

 So what is the document actually about?  Largely it’s about measuring the contribution to the economy of creative industries whether it is in terms of employment, occupations, skills or gross value added (horrible term but loosely how much money a sector generates).  It is quite normal for government to change the way it measures sectors in line with the changing business landscape and the current classification system has been in use since 1998 so nothing sinister in the timing either.

 Methodology and calculations

However it’s the methodology behind the measurement that is of interest to us at Planet Handmade.  The document states that DCMS ‘intends to produce a range of data….namely: Gross Value Added, Export of Services (note not products), employment, number of businesses.’  Sounds good so far, after all Creative and Cultural Skills’ Creative Blueprint valued Heritage Crafts at around £4.8 billion GVA with around 85,000 businesses employing in excess of 200,000 people.  That should make craft a considerable force in the DCMS ‘charts’.

 New to their calculations will be something called Creative Intensities which will be done by identifying creative occupations, their employment levels and finally grouping relevant sectors by Creative Industry groups. So DCMS want to add a further layer of refinement by looking at how creatively active a sector is.  Even better for us - until you look at the proposed list of creative occupations.  Nowhere among the marketing and sales directors, translators and librarians is there anything about designer makers unless you consider yourself to be an artist?  The list of Creative Industries embraces music publishing, translating, support activities to performing arts and cultural education – in other words lots of ‘meedja’ but no mention of CRAFTS.

It is around page 14 that you find the main changes and the bit that we are most interested in; the removal of 2 sectors, Arts and Antiques and Crafts.

 So why won’t they include us? 

It’s more that they can’t.  Using the existing form of measurement that the DCMS employs shows craft with a negligible GVA because most craft businesses fall below the VAT threshold, which makes us largely invisible in this case. We’re not doing anything wrong or avoiding taxes it’s just that with so many sole traders you have to be earning a fair amount before you have to pay VAT these days.

 The debate we’ve all been contributing to on twitter has definitely got their attention. A spokesperson from DCMS  was happy  to clarify what they are doing, hoping to reassure people that they aren’t taking anything away from crafts and their value.   “We’ve reviewed our classifications objectively to update them and try to remove any inconsistencies that may have crept in - there is no other motive behind what we’re doing.  We definitely recognise that a lot of craft activity is “creative” especially by smaller firms and value the economic and social contribution of all our sectors, but we can only live with the data and classifications we have.” In fact there has been such a reaction that the DCMS have put up a blog post which has been ‘authored’ by minister Ed Vaizey We were led to believe it would bring some more clarity to the situation but apart from reinforcing that this is a consultation paper we do not think it is adding anything to the debate – frankly it’s a bit fluffy.

 However they did go on to say: “A lot of crafts businesses are small and don’t get picked up in business surveys and the ones that do may be the larger businesses more concerned with production than design eg larger jewellery making firms.  We want to improve our measurement in this area and are in dialogue with the Crafts Council.”

So it’s not that we are being declassified or shoved into a dusty old filing cabinet….yet.

The Crafts Council were able to explain things a bit more by telling us that the way that employment is classified internationally (SOC codes) places craft in a number of different groups rather than one on its own and the way that industries are classified internationally (SIC codes) means that as a result of the lack of data on craft businesses (the VAT issue) DCMS feels they cannot include craft as a group of industries. According to Julia Bennett, Research and Policy Maker at the Crafts Council: “(the) DCMS will continue to represent craft, but their case is likely to be weakened by the lack of good evidence on the size and turnover of the sector. It is hard to predict the disadvantages at this stage and for this reason we will be exploring alternative ways of measuring craft to propose to DCMS, and resisting the current proposals.”

 What of the future? 

If, as DCMS and the Crafts Council seem to be saying we will still be represented broadly by a number of different government departments, our question is who will champion us and our continued development? If we are less visible with a fragmented a voice, how can we campaign for better funding or support in the future?

 Lelsey Butterworth of NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design) says it’s already tough out there particularly in education. “Craft is not taught to art and design teachers as a subject in its own right.  They have to rely on CPD (continual professional development) funding.”  Each school has its own budget but if a head is faced with having to spend their money either on a course in behaviour management or one in craft we can imagine which way they will go and would you blame them?  Lesley spends some of her time searching for partners like the Hamlyn Foundation who support NSEAD’s training initiatives in craft:  “What worries me is that, in the future, without any facts and figures to show how important craft is as a creative industry it is going to get harder and harder for us to secure funding for our members.” And this is just one example of what might happen.

 So ultimately will it be about perception?  If government aren’t seen to back us why should anyone else?  Will craft become more marginalised in the future? Whichever way you look at it £4.8 billion GVA IS significant and we fully intend to participate in the consultation process.

 What can we do?

The thing to hang on to is this is a consultation paper so here’s how you can contribute – please make sure you read the paper first because there is lots more information than we have been able to cover.

  •  You can email me your thoughts to Juliet@planethandmade.net by 1st June 2013
  • Email the Crafts Council policy@craftscouncil.org.uk by 1st June 2013
  • You could write to your MP
  • We are setting up an online petition which will be up within 7 days so make sure you are registered with us so we can let you know when it goes live.

Together we can at least have our say.


Talking Textiles gives interesting coverage of this that you may not have seen:
Comment by Nicolas - 26 May 2013 02:41
Rita, you make some very interesting points. Thank you
Comment by Juliet - 6 May 2013 14:10
Although most of us are too small to qualify for VAt - we buy products for our crafts which do carry VAT. We also support businesses supplying the products for our crafts which may otherwise decline. Why are there suddenly so many more wool shops? - it is because knitting & crochet are thriving crafts, 'cool' things to do for all ages and genders, and we need to keep it that way - not marginalise them again into something that keeps your granny quiet. I think the government would be amazed by how much money is brought into this country by people from outside the UK buying our goods over the internet; via ravelry/etsy/notonthehighstreet, etc etc.
Comment by Rita Taylor - 3 May 2013 09:05
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