The offices in London’s “admin zone” may contain bureaucrats tending to their spreadsheets and town planners poring over demographic charts. But outside and inside, the new Greater London Authority and adjacent buildings near Tower Bridge look like sets from a 21st-century remake of Blade Runner.
The message is clear. London is cool, London is creative. If you’re not wearing a dark, open-necked shirt or Prada trainers you’re in the wrong place.
But behind the futuristic water features and walls lined with pseudo graffiti art, the spreadsheets and charts offer some interesting insights into London’s creative clusters and economy. Of course, they cannot be fully appreciated unless you talk to someone in a white shirt and tie with a calculator where their video iPod should be.
John Ross, director of economic and business policy at City Hall, is a self-confessed “hard-nosed economic person – finance is what I’m interested in”. And according to Mr Ross, the make-up of London’s creative economy can be best understood if it is viewed in the context of rents and productivity.
First, while many regard the West End and Soho as London’s media and advertising heartlands, this is not the full story. Yes, the largest number of creative jobs in the capital are in the borough of Camden and the City of Westminster – which together comprise the so-called West End. Together, they contain about 126,000 of more than 400,000 creative jobs in London.
However, those areas also contain a vast number of retail, leisure, and business services jobs too. There is simply a bigger pool of jobs there and the map illustrates how creative industries flourish in more highly developed areas. If the data is instead broken down according to those areas in which creative jobs are highest as a proportion of the total workforce, the map would look different.
Areas such as Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea would start to rival or even overtake the likes of Camden and the City of Westminster – even though they only contain about 40,000 creative jobs in total. Indeed, representing just 13,200 jobs on the adjacent map, Kensington and Chelsea does not even look like the creative hotspot it is.
“If you look at the area where creative businesses are dominant, it’s a cluster in a circle outside the central zone,” says Mr Ross. “They are establishing themselves in the area adjacent to but not in the centre.”
The reasons are simple: first, rents are higher in the centre. Second, in an industry that is becoming more and more globalised while face-to-face encounters still remain crucial it helps to be near Heathrow Airport. Hence the high number of jobs along the M4 corridor.
As well as being home to the BBC in White City, the Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea wards also include the London headquarters of global companies such as Walt Disney, EMI, Warner Music and HarperCollins.
But there is a more important insight. According to Mr Ross the struggle against high rents and wages in the City is one of the main engines behind the global competitiveness of London’s creative industries.
London-based creative companies need to be so productive to compete with financial and business services groups that, in doing so, they become more productive than creative businesses in other countries.
“They are competing for the same office space and the same people as the other sectors,” says Mr Ross. “This is why finance and business services tend to expand – because they can pay people more – while other industries are driven out of London.
“The creative industries, on the other hand, go against this trend. They are more effective at being able to compete with the finance and business services sectors, their rates of growth are much higher.”
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