Brighton Fuse Freelancer Report – Executive Summary

“An effect of the recession and subsequent signs
of recovery has been a growth in self-employment
over the last decade. This development has been
interpreted in various ways. Many in the policy
arena raise concerns that this is an economic
illusion: that these many individuals represent
displaced employment, possibly the residual that
is left after the essential workforce is identified. It
is suspected that the self-employed are keeping up
appearances with occasional odd jobs, struggling
by and would prefer the securities of a ‘real job’.

The range of self-employed circumstances
will cover a great many situations across the
country and with contact points with various
industries. These can only be fully understood
through comprehensive research. This report
enters the debate focusing on the self-employedmore
commonly referred to as freelancers and
contractors- in the Creative-Digital-IT industries in
one its concentrated clusters in the city of Brighton
and Hove. It has become clear that these are
high-growth sectors and which tend to organise in
specific places.

The report follows a previous study published
last year, The Brighton Fuse, which developed
a robust and rigorous set of data collection and
analysis methods to examine the phenomenon
of a creative-digital cluster from the bottom-up.
The study showed systematically the impressive
economic contribution and growth of Creative-
Digital-IT firms, the networked ways in which they
work, their extraordinary levels of innovation, and
the importance of fusion to their activities- that
is the combined effects of Arts, Humanities and
Design skillsets together with Science, Technology,
Engineering and Mathematics. The Brighton
Fuse showed that those firms with high levels
of this effect- the superfused- enjoy business
performance three times greater than those that
specialise. These insights brought new subtleties
to the knowledge and skills agenda, which can
often be oversimplified on the need for more
STEM graduates.

Beyond the firms in the first Brighton Fuse study
it was apparent there was more happening below
the surface in terms of trade and contracting
in the cluster, in that an essential proportion of
the new value was being created by individual
freelancers. This report, Brighton Fuse 2, analyses
their contribution and role, which has been
hidden thus far. With any hidden population, data
collection must be both pragmatic and creative and
the research design draws on the memberships
of various associations, coworking spaces and
meetup groups in the city to build a sample of over
300 freelancers, a 25% response rate, with their
motivations and behaviour researched through
over 30 interviews and 2 focus groups.

The results show that the CDIT freelancers in
Brighton are prosperous, and use a range of
different business models in their work, many
exploiting cutting-edge technologies. Moreover
they diversify their offer, and promote themselves
in different ways to different markets. This
professionalism belies the image of creative
freelancers as less than business-like, favouring
the products rather than the management process
of their work. We find that their income derives not
only from local and London clients, but also the
rest of the UK and a substantial proportion from
international markets. Like Brighton’s CDIT firms,
they display unusually high levels of innovation.

We find that few freelancers are ‘forced’ into this
mode of work, but prefer it to regular employment,
and intend to not only continue but to expand
their freelance activities. Aspiration drives them
whether to realise their personal business ideas,
or to achieve more flexibility and autonomy in
their lives. Many invest their time in side-projects
alongside their freelance work, some of which are
intended for future monetisation such as products,
others are the individual equivalent of R&D, and
still others are passion-projects, often for artistic
or philanthropic purposes. Some simply find
the autonomy of freelancing more convenient to
manage family life. Only a small minority freelance
through necessity, although many more do so to
earn higher pay.

There are contradictions and puzzles arising from
the research. We find for example that freelancers
are still more superfused than the firms in the
cluster, they similarly achieve more income with
greater levels of fusion, and yet levels of growth
do not match those of the superfused firms: on
the contrary superfused freelancers grow less.
The report considers possible explanations of this
variation of the individual agents of CDIT fusion,
compared to its collective forms. We show also how
they form and update these skillsets and compare
the relative importance of universities, selflearning
and on-the-job experience.

Also freelancers’ relationship to place and to
networks shows mixed signals. They are attracted
to Brighton with its reputation for creativity and its
amenities yet overwhelmingly work at home, and
less so in the city’s coworking spaces. They value
their networks for sources of ideas as well as work,
but few engage in networking such as meetups
very regularly. Over half identify with neither the
creative or digital communities, although we
observe that the superfused identify with both. The
dynamics of clustering for freelancers appear more
complex than is sometimes assumed in theories of
creativity and place, based on this evidence.

In spite of their general prosperity and levels of
satisfaction and wellbeing, which we compare with
national averages, freelancers face barriers and
challenges in their working lives, regarding finance,
the practice of freelancing, and skills acquisition.
We argue that this mode of work is a positive
phenomenon in the CDIT sectors, not a secondbest
to employment as is sometimes claimed,
and we observe that there are aspects of law and
policy that currently penalise freelancing. We
offer policy recommendations aimed at facilitating
and stimulating this growing and entrepreneurial
category of self-employed workers.”

Comments are closed.