John Newbigin in Investment


John Newbigin: Discussing The Creative Industries at The UK India Business Council

Earlier this month Creative England chairman John Newbigin and board member Ian Livingstone joined Business Secretary Vince Cable and a host of UK business delegates in India for this year’s UK India Business Council.

These conferences are a great opportunity to beat the drum for UK Industry, attract inward investment and foster closer cultural and business ties between the UK and India.This particular Council conference was unique in that it was the first of its kind to feature a session dedicated to the creative industries which John planned and chaired. We asked him to report back on his trip and share his thoughts on the event. Read his guest blog below.

Trade between the UK and India was worth £11bn in 2009, £16.4bn last year and the government believes it’s on track to exceed £20bn by 2015, so doubling in value in just 6 years and making the UK one of India’s top three trading partners. And it’s a two-way business - the biggest single private investor in UK industry is the Indian Tata group, whose highest profile company is Jaguar Land Rover.

To help keep this amazing growth trend going, there’s an annual business conference in Delhi that attracts around a hundred British companies who want to get a better understanding of how Indian markets work and where opportunities lie by meeting Indian entrepreneurs, business executives and policy wonks.

In the past, the conference-goers have been what you might call the usual suspects – they’ve come from the automotive industries, aerospace, defence, financial services, education, pharmaceuticals. But this year, creative industries were added to the list and I was asked to plan and chair the inaugural session.

Despite its unique heritage of creative craft skills and the mind-boggling ingenuity of the country’s creative entrepreneurs (it’s a long-standing joke that there is no word in the Hindi language for ‘obsolete’ because nothing is ever obsolete in India – there’s always someone smart enough, or desperate enough, to re-cycle or re-purpose anything that’s been thrown away) the concept of the creative industries as a distinct sector is still relatively new in India. 

In fact, one of the intentions of our session was to dispel the idea that the creative industries are a distinct sector and, instead, highlight the extent to which the ideas, values and methodologies of creative businesses are continually being absorbed into every part of the 21st century global economy and society. Indeed, the fastest growing area for the digital economies of the UK and other developed nations is B2B (Business to Business) trading, with an increasing range of highly innovative cross-sector ventures that are drawing the skills, technologies and business practices of the creative industries for use in financial services, health, retail and publishing – there isn’t a sector unaffected by digital distribution, communications and production.

In a conference awash with people discussing the car industry as if it was all about engineering, we were able to point out that in reality it’s a fashion industry, dominated by in-car entertainment and comfort systems and with a top design team at Jaguar Land Rover drawn substantially from the video-games world.

I was happy to see that the session drew a large crowd, mostly comprised of those working in design and the arts, as well as the bored, the curious and the sceptical from other parts of the main conference. Its primary aim: to explore creative approaches to health and education – two of the major policy issues that are just as challenging for India as they are for the UK.

To this end, I invited games industry legend and Creative England Board member, Ian Livingstone, to talk about the potential of video games as powerful educational tools, and John Mathers, Chief Executive of the Design Council, to discuss his organisation’s pioneering initiatives with the NHS which are focused on the design of products and services to improve health care, increase efficiency and reduce costs – complementing Creative England’s own Interactive Healthcare Funds with NHS England.

We were also lucky enough to be joined on the panel by Meena Vari, a brilliantly innovative educationalist from the Bangalore College of Arts and Technology, and Raj Isar, the Indian academic who wrote the most recent United Nations report on the state of the global creative economy.

And so, with a sparky panel, an engaged audience and plenty of energetic, informative and optimistic debate, the UK India Business Council conference heralded in its first dedicated creative industries session in which a great deal of practical areas for closer Anglo-Indian collaboration in creative industry policy and practice were raised. Ultimately, the goal of such an exercise is to shine a light on the UK’s remarkable creative talent and capture more high value opportunities for business across the whole creative industries’ supply chain.

Elsewhere in the conference hall, delegates were exchanging business cards and visiting each other’s exhibition stands, on the assumption that a session on creative industries would be nothing more than a bunch of luvvies shooting the breeze. But at the wrap-up drinks reception that evening, two sombrely-suited Indian delegates asked Ian Livingstone for his business card, telling him “Everyone is saying your session was the most interesting and worthwhile. We’re sorry we missed it.”

I think it’s a safe bet that creative industries will be on the agenda again next year – and rightly so.  

Blog by John Newbigin. 

For more information on this event and the importance of the creative industries, read Ian Livingstone's interview with NDTV Gadgets.

John is Chair of Creative England, and was previously Chair of the RSA network Screen England. He is a freelance journalist and strategic consultant for the cultural industries. John serves on a number of boards including Culture 24, an online gateway to the UK's cultural sector with news and listings for 3,500 museum, galleries and heritage sites. John was Head of Corporate Relations for Channel 4 TV from 2000-2005. 

Prior to that, he was Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Culture, Rt Hon Chris Smith MP from 1997 to 1999, during which time he was closely involved in developing the UK government's first policies for the creative industries. His previous roles include Executive for David Puttnam's film company Enigma (1992-97), Policy Adviser to Neil Kinnock (1986-92), youth worker and Director of the London programme for International Youth Year (1985). He is a Visiting Professor at the University of East London, and other universities internationally and also a member of the British Council’s Advisory Board for Arts and Creative Industries.

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