Keele University and the University of Staffordshire are collaborating on the City of Culture bid for Stoke-on-Trent in 2021. I was invited to attend a workshop last week to discuss how we can support the bid.
Colleagues were present from a diverse range of academic backgrounds: criminology, social care, history, human geography, business studies, and sociology. We had a lively discussion on how our varied backgrounds could work together. We agreed on the importance of including people from a wide range of backgrounds who live in Stoke to contribute ideas as to what we could research, to get involved as researchers, and to define what was important about the City of Culture bid to them.
As a business studies academic, I was particularly interested in what the potential impact would be on SMEs in Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke is the largest town in the Stoke and Staffordshire LEP region. SMEs in this region urgently need support with innovation. Innovation is seen by policy-makers as being crucial, not only for the SME’s themselves, but also for creating high quality jobs and driving economic growth in their region (Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, 2017).
However, the Stoke and Staffordshire region appears to be doing less well than others. The 2015 Community Innovation Survey found that across the government, higher education, and non-profit sectors, the Stoke and Staffordshire region has a particularly low expenditure on R&D. R&D expenditure is a crucial precursor for innovation. Business enterprise expenditures on R&D is particularly low in the region: Stoke and Staffordshire’s businesses spent only £155 million on R&D compared to neighbouring Cheshire and Warrington’s £1,035 million. The same report finds that Stoke and Staffordshire also has the 4th lowest percentage of businesses engaged in product or process innovation: only 18% as compared to South-East Midlands (the highest) at 34%.
There is clearly a need for Stoke and Staffordshire to improve the innovation activities of SMEs in the region. The MCIL Project (of which this blog forms a part) is a leadership development programme designed to improve the innovation activities of Stoke and Staffordshire’s SMEs.
While Stoke bid is clear that quality jobs and economic growth are reasonable expectations, to what extent can a City of Culture bid encourage innovation?
In the evaluation of the European City of Culture in Liverpool, which ran from 2005 to 2008, the report authors concluded that:
- SME businesses in Liverpool and the sub-region were positive about both the change in the perceptions of Liverpool but also about a positive impact on their turnover.
- Employment in the creative industries showed a major increase, mostly in contractual, rather than permanent positions.
- Retail tourism employment in Liverpool showed above average rises during 2008, but could have been due to other factors, such as a major new retail shopping development.and improved infrastructure.
While increased innovation funding for SMEs may not be an outcome of the City of Culture, there is some evidence that shows that improved “quality of place” has a positive impact on innovation activities. Increased pride in the city, as well as improved cultural facilities and infrastructure, was an outcome of the City of Culture activities in Liverpool. There is some hope therefore that the City of Culture bid in Stoke could indirectly increase innovation activity in Stoke’s SMEs.
Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. (2017). Building Our Industrial Strategy. London: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Garcia, B., Melville, R., Cox, T. (2010), Creating an Impact: Liverpool’s Experience as European Capital of Culture University of Liverpool