Culture-led Growth – How is your LEP measuring up?

Culture-led growth has perhaps never been as prominent in economic development as it is today.

Five UK cities have just been shortlisted for the UK City of Culture award for 2021, several others are beginning to plan bids to be European Capital of Culture in 2023, and 32 London boroughs are currently weighing up a bid to be the first ever London Borough of Culture in 2019. At the same time, Hull is mid-way through a highly ambitious 365-day cultural programme for its year as UK city of culture, and other major city festivals including Manchester International Festival are underway.

Strengthening the arts and cultural offer may once have been seen as a nice-to-have investment for local authorities and LEPs but is increasingly being seen a core part of economic development strategy. The potential benefits of investing in culture are broad. Economically the arts and creative sectors have great growth potential, and an area’s reputation for high quality arts and culture can be an important selling point as cities and sub-regions compete to attract and retain businesses and skilled people. Socially, arts and culture can bring people together, improve cohesion and understanding across communities, engage and inspire people and build confidence and pride in a city or area.

The Arts Council has responded to criticism of being too London-centric in its recent allocations to National Portfolio Organisations by increasing investment outside the capital by £170m over 2018-22, compared to the previous four-year period. The NPOs allocations represent the majority of Arts Council investment over this period, and so give a useful indication of relative performance of organisations within different LEP areas in securing this core arts funding to support culture-led growth.

In per capita investment terms, London remains up towards the top of the table, pushed into second place only by Coventry and Warwickshire, which is largely helped by the presence of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. Other LEPs containing major cities, including Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and Bristol are also right up at the top, however more rural areas including Cumbria and Dorset have also been very successful in securing funds. In contrast, some LEPs containing smaller cities such as Milton Keynes, Stoke-on-Trent and Chester are towards the lower end of the chart.

Our team at Regeneris has worked on culture-led growth programmes for DCMS and Cities of Culture in Derry/Londonderry 2013 and Hull 2017 and we have seen the enormous transformational potential of culture-led growth. We also understand the benefits gained by unsuccessful city of culture bidders. There are clear benefits from going through the process of bringing partners together, developing a vision for culture-led growth and beginning to build an ongoing programme of activities.

For LEP areas not currently involved in bidding for the UK or European culture prizes, there is still value in considering the local economic and social challenges which arts and cultural interventions can help address, baselining current strengths and weaknesses in the arts and culture base, and opportunities for this to be enhanced, and developing interventions that a range of partners could support in delivering.

The Arts Council data is a useful indicator of an area’s progress in securing funding for a sustainable arts and cultural offer in their city, however it is just one of many indicators. It should raise the question in each LEP area about where the area wishes to be, whether enough is being done to exploit culture-led growth and what more the LEP might want to do in the coming years to make the most of this opportunity.

Regeneris Consulting’s team are experts in analysing the broad range of economic and social impacts of cultural events, programmes and institutions. We provided advisory support to DCMS in the assessment of bids for the 2013 and 2017 UK Cities of Culture and are currently undertaking the programme evaluation for the Hull 2017 UK City of Culture Programme. We also shared some of our findings to date to help inform the London Borough of Culture Programme.

If you would like to discuss the role that culture can play in your LEP’s economic development and any support we could provide to your bid, please contact Stuart Merali-Younger (s.merali-younger@regeneris.co.uk) or Margaret Collins (m.collins@regeneris.co.uk) or call us on 0207 336 6188.

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