For many years now, policy makers have struggled not just to grow the creative sector, but to make it better. After all, to varying degrees, every industry generates economic activity and employment – the more difficult challenge has been to produce good jobs, and businesses that can provide opportunities for the whole population.
On this, the creative sector performs far less well than it should, with a number of troubling characteristics that belie its reputation for artistic freedom and meritocracy. These include precarious working conditions, low levels of investment in training, stark regional inequalities and the widespread use of unpaid interns. As a result, it is little wonder that research has repeatedly shown that those from working class backgrounds are significantly under-represented in the creative workforce, as are women and those from BAME backgrounds – particularly in senior positions.
One approach to addressing these concerns, which has received relatively little attention up until now, is the potential for co-operatives in the creative sector. But the launch of a new report, Co-operatives in the Creative Industries by Dave Boyle and Kate Oakley, published by Co-operatives UK, may start to change this.
A co-op is a business owned and run by its members – often but not always its employees – who all have an equal vote in major decisions and are jointly involved in its management. As the report describes, there has not been a strong tradition of co-ops in the creative industries. In some ways this reflects the broader history of labour relations in the UK – in contrast, across much of continental Europe, co-ops have for many decades made up a substantial, and highly productive, element of the economy. But it also reflects a particular paradigm, the ‘entrepreneurial model’, which has come to dominate how creativity is discussed, promoted and taught – as the report points out, business teaching, whether at MBA or degree level, has embraced the creative industries, but the focus remains a narrow one, in which wider models of ownership, management and reward are rarely considered.
The report summarises some of the benefits of shared ownership, particularly in terms of greater equality and well being in the workplace. It also puts forward suggestions to encourage co-ops to develop and become better established in the sector. Many of these relate to teaching and study within Higher Education, but there is also scope to improve the support and, in particular, the promotion of co-ops, which are still poorly known and understood amongst creative workers.
As the authors acknowledge, co-ops are by no means the only answer to the problems associated with the UK’s creative industries, but it is a fresh approach, and one that warrants greater focus and investment from both policy makers and business.
A full copy of the report can be read here.