Belfast Telegraph

Imagine what we could achieve with creative thinking

By Christina Patterson

When a Yorkshire parson gave his children a set of wooden soldiers, he can't have known what he would unleash. First there were games, then stories and then hundreds of handwritten books.

There was a kingdom called Gondal and then a gypsy called Heathcliff and then a governess called Jane. And then 154 years after two books were published by two sisters under the names of two men, there was yet another film of Wuthering Heights and yet another film of Jane Eyre.

It's unlikely that the sisters thought that what they were doing when they dreamt of love and passion, was spawning a creative industry. People with the power to create characters and stories that live on in hearts and minds tend not to call themselves 'creative'.

But whether they knew it or not, they did start an industry - an industry that began with books which sold and sold.

In our poems and plays and novels and musicals we lead - or at least vie with those who lead - the world.

So three cheers since we're talking about national pride, for the shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis, who has decided that, if you're wandering like a Bronte on a moor or a Lear on a heath, it might be worth thinking about how to do something you know you can do even better.

If you have an industry which accounts for about 7% of GDP and employs about 800,000 people, but you think it could employ more and account for more, then you need expert advice.

Lewis would probably love to spend more money on the 'creative' sector, but even the party whose previous leader thought last year's election could be about 'investment versus cuts' now realises that there isn't a lot of money around for investment. He also seems to have realised that, if you want to get rich people to put their money into something, then you have to appeal to what got them rich - their greed.

So he has appointed as an adviser a man who has made £500m out of helping people with a lot of money make even more money.

Patrick McKenna runs a banking group called Ingenious, which has advised Simon Fuller on his media company, Robbie Williams on a £50m record deal and part-financed films like Avatar.

McKenna may realise that, if you want long term growth, you need long term investment. And, if you want people not just to build a business to sell it out to an American, then what you need is proper incentives and a plan.

Those might be incentives like those that meant that writers, artists and rock stars who lived, at least some of the time, in the Republic of Ireland, paid little tax.

Some people might not like the idea of anyone paying less tax. They might think a tax cut is one thing for a Bronte but quite another for a Bono. And they might well be right. But they might also remember what poets and artists have always known: that anything, including a tax policy, can be a symbol.

The Republic's tax-exemption scheme was designed to send a message to the world about the value of art to its culture. A British 'creative industries' scheme could do the same.

It might also send a message to the children in this country, who may not see a future that looks all that hopeful; that there's something we all have access to, which might not make us richer, but which will make sure we're never, ever bored. You don't have to buy it. You don't have to steal it. You don't even have to pick it up.

You could, if you liked fancy phrases, call it 'creative capital'. Or you could just call it the imagination.


From Belfast Telegraph