Coventry’s creative cluster

Stephen Roper, ERC and Warwick Business School

What do we want from creative industries? Why do we think they are important? Productivity? Jobs? Innovation? Or, a combination of all three?

We recently looked at the growth of digital creative industries in Coventry over the last decade. This was based on the DCMS definition of ‘digital creative’ which includes a wide range of manufacturing and service SIC codes. Based on this definition there has been a growth in the number of digital creative enterprises (with one or more employee) across each of the major urban centres of the West Midlands, with Coventry experiencing the fastest overall growth – 5.6 percent pa – over the 2006-16 period. This was equivalent to a rise in the number of digital creative enterprises in Coventry from 663 in 2006 to 1138 by 2016. Sales by digital creative businesses in Coventry also rose over the 2006 to 2016 period, increasing on average by 6.5 percent pa. This was the most rapid growth across any of the major urban centres, and meant that by 2016, digital creative businesses in Coventry had a turnover in excess of £510m. Over the same period employment in the sector grew more slowly, rising by only 1.0 percent pa in Coventry. In 2016, digital creative businesses employed 3,669 people in Coventry, up from 3,336 in 2006.

So, in Coventry growth in the digital creative sector has been through increasing productivity and sales not new jobs. The average number of jobs per firm has also fallen. This pattern reflects what we see in other sectors: fast-growing scale-ups tend not to increase productivity; productivity enhancing firms tend not to produce lots of new jobs. So, let’s be clear about our ambitions for the creative industries.

To complete the story of our recent study of the digital creative sector in Coventry we also did interviews with key informants across the city. These suggested:

  • There is strong competition from Birmingham for firms to relocate and the demand for digital creative skills from the gaming cluster in Warwickshire and digital firms in Birmingham and beyond also limits local skills availability.
  • To date there has not been any systematic support for digital creative businesses in Coventry. Other cities – Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Leicester – have been more determined and ambitious to draw on the benefits and opportunities offered by the digital revolution.
  • The lack of suitable premises means Coventry is not seen as a go-to location for digital creative start-ups or growing businesses. New developments, both planned and currently underway, however, may provide the momentum for change.

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