Fuelling prosperity and growth

Culture and ‘soft power’

One of the clearest examples is the way that the humanities nurture the UK’s flourishing arts and creative industries, from which the UK draws growing international benefits.

The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, talks about the huge value of ‘soft power’. British culture and creativity, she says, ‘are now more in demand than ever before. We should be increasingly proud to use the label “made in Britain”.’ The UK has the largest creative sector in the European Union, the largest in the world in terms of GDP, and according to UNESCO is, in absolute terms, the most successful exporter of cultural goods and services in the world, ahead of even the US. Maria Miller, 'Fighting culture's corner in an age of austerity', speech at the British Museum, 24 April 2013.

Data on the creative sector taken from the British Council website.
Rising numbers for tourism, for gallery and theatre admissions, for international sales of movies, television programmes and digital products, and for architectural and design exports testify to the sector’s importance at a time when others are flat-lining or in decline.

A newly published British Academy report analysing the importance of ‘soft power’ and the UK’s role in the world concludes that ‘if we accept that soft power can be defined in terms of the resources that are thought to generate attraction on the part of others ... then we can focus on culture, political values and foreign policy. Britain undoubtedly has a wealth of such assets’. The report instances Britain having the world’s longest history of both parliamentary democracy and industrialisation, its intellectual heritage and legacy of renowned thinkers and scholars, and its pioneering reputation in science and technology from Newton to Berners-Lee which few countries can rival. In a world where capital and labour are increasingly mobile, choice of business location is increasingly influenced by the cultural and educational appeal of a particular country or city. Maintaining the UK’s rich legacy in these areas, fuelled by world-leading humanities and social science scholarship and expertise, can be a major magnet for economic and other activity. Similarly, a country’s strong reputation for tolerance and freedom can attract those looking for somewhere to create and build.

There is plentiful evidence of the UK’s attractiveness as a place to visit, do business in, invest in, or migrate to – and also as a place to come to for the quality of learning it affords and the opportunity for intellectual stimulation. Conor Gearty recently attended a seminar in a country that invests heavily in education. ‘But all the students want to leave, and they come in particular to UK universities’, he said. ‘The prime minister spoke directly before me, and he said: “why not come and do your degrees here? We have great engineering, we have great this, we have great that.” But what they do not have [in their country] is respect for freedom of expression, tolerance and diversity.’ It is hard to overstate the immense value of the UK’s open, intellectually rich environment, and vital to understand its importance in fostering growth and the innovative use of knowledge.