ORIGINALLY POSTED IN OCTOBER 2014
Catching up with the news from the craft sector I was surprised to learn that last year the government proposed that 'crafts' should be removed from the list of recognised creative industries. The changes were proposed as part of a review of the UK's creative industries set out in a consultation document released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in May 2013 which stated that "craft occupations are largely concerned with the manufacturing process, rather than the creative process."
You can understand how shocked I was when I read that (after spending four years at a renowned art college, supporting myself as a designer for twenty two years and making a living as a craftsperson for six more) I was officially not creative!
The DCMS changes were intended to update the government's 1998 Creative Industries Mapping Documents, one of the first attempts to quantify the value of creative businesses to the economy. The decision to remove crafts from the list of creative industries seemed to be a reaction to the difficulties of gathering economic data on the sector. According to the Crafts Council nearly 90% of makers in the sector are self-employed 'sole traders', and many of them have an annual turnover of less than the VAT threshold of £79,000. If a sole trader falls below the VAT threshold then, because the government chooses not to gather business data below that level, they become 'economically invisible'. Now whether or not I'm counted on a government list isn't particularly important to me, I still have work and my income hasn't changed as a result but a side effect of relegating crafts from the list of creative industries is that it obscures the sector's economic value and thus makes it increasingly difficult for designer-makers to obtain funding and support. There is also a wider implication for society in that it will skew the economic argument for crafts in education, so If crafts are seen to bring in very little money to the economy then it's easier to say there's no need to teach them.
The Crafts Council said the announcement had been met with "incomprehension" by the country's craftspeople. However, things were not all that they appeared; On October 22nd this year the Crafts Council released the results of new research. This latest report is based on new criteria agreed between the Crafts Council and the DCMS that takes these small businesses into account for the first time. The Crafts Council, and various interested craft sector bodies, had done their job and the small designer-maker had actually been counted for the first time as a delineated part of the larger revenue-generating creative business sectors.
The report shows that there are around 23,000 "micro-businesses" in the crafts sector, generating £3.4bn in economic benefit to the UK (a "micro-business" is one with less than five employees as opposed to the "small to medium enterprise" or SME with 5-500 employees). Now before you open the champagne we must put it into perspective; the largest part of the income that crafts generate for the economy come from craftspeople who are active in high-tech industries such as bio-medicine, science and engineering, contributing an estimated £2.4 billion. The rest comes through the crafts sector itself - That's us guys!!) at £745 million and creative industries such as fashion, film and architecture at £243 million. "The UK's Creative Industries are a veritable powerhouse and contribute more than £8 million an hour to the national economy," said Ed Vaizey, the UK's minister of state for culture and the digital economy. "This report highlights the key role that craft plays in this remarkable success story, and demonstrates the huge range of occupations through which craft skills are contributing to the phenomenal growth of the creative industries."
Let's just savour that fact again; Craft (designer-makers in below-VAT-threshold micro businesses) create £745million in business revenue per annum. At last we have a quantified business sector to call our own!
Quite a change in the government's position from May 2013. Is there an election due?
Here is a link (if I can get it to work) to the Crafts Council report for you to read yourself;