The changing spatial distribution of employment in creative industry clusters in England 1991-2018

16 June 2020

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Ben Gardiner, 

Ben Gardiner

Director at Cambridge Econometrics

Professor Peter Sunley

Professor Peter Sunley

Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Southampton

Total creative industry employment has grown substantially and spread across the regions and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) since 1991. The rapid growth of London during this period has produced increasing relative concentration of most creative industry subsectors in London, with London’s divergence from other regions increasing in the period since 2005. This report looks to understand creative industries growth trends from 1991-2018 by mapping and measuring the geographical concentration and patterns of creative industries employment over time. The research has been undertaken by Professor Peter Sunley, from the University of Southampton, and Ben Gardiner, from Cambridge Econometrics, for the PEC and Creative England. 

The analysis shows that, prior to the start of the 2008 recession, the degree of geographical concentration in many of the subsectors was fairly stable across English LEPs. Since the recession, London’s growth has proved particularly resilient and creative industries employment has become more strongly concentrated in the Capital. In most subsectors there has been a switch towards greater concentration, coincident with the global financial crisis. The report suggests that this continued until around 2016, at which time locational trends have again become more varied and concentration has fallen in the majority of the subsectors. 

Many of these agglomerations are found in the Home Counties and ‘motorway corridors’ from London to South West, West and North East. Aside from the corridors, employment growth has been relatively fast in a relatively small number of regional cities such as Leicester, Bristol, Bath, Greater Manchester and the Leeds city region. Their relative success outside of London suggests that there are policy lessons to be drawn about the importance of connectivity and a larger nodal city. Other areas of fast growth have been much smaller rural areas where, in some sectors, rates of growth have been faster than those in London. This varies across different subsectors. 

While there are important variations between creative subsectors, in general the lowest rates of creative industry employment growth have been in some Northern LEPs and in some areas dominated by other strong sectors of industry. The uneven outcomes seen in mid-sized and specialised creative industry locations suggest that they have faced challenges in sustaining their expansion, consolidation and renewal. 

The report recommends that a key goal for place-based creative industry policy should be to support creative industries in these mid-sized and secondary locations. 

Read the policy briefing, which highlights lessons from the 2008 recession around the importance of a UK-wide recovery plan for the creative industries, which should be considered in the sector's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Published 16th June 2020

Photo by Juan Sisinni of 'Rare and Racy', a former independent book, art and music shop in Sheffield, England. 

This research report is published by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC). All PEC research reports have been peer reviewed prior to publication. In keeping with normal academic practice, responsibility for the views expressed in this research, and the interpretation of any evidence presented, lies with the authors. These views and interpretations do not necessarily represent those of the PEC or its partner organisations.