Design in Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:53 pm on 29th January 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour 4:53 pm, 29th January 2003

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for initiating the debate. It provides a timely opportunity to acknowledge the importance of design in all parts of public life. It also allows me to stress how important the higher education sector is for encouraging improvements in design in public services and more generally. I declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK.

Too often the role of design is forgotten. Universities have a central role in research, teaching and knowledge transfer in all areas of design. Our universities have a reputation as world leaders in creativity and innovation. That is a reputation on which they are keen to build.

Design is just one of the 13 creative industries defined by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Others include architecture, music, performing arts, publishing and software and computer services. The creative industries in the UK are a massive success story. They generate revenues of some £112.5 billion, employ something like 1.3 million people, contribute around £10.3 billion in exports and account for over 5 per cent of GDP.

The universities already make an enormous contribution to improving the delivery of public services. They train the professionals on whom we rely. We might ask what that has to do with design. In the context of this debate, it means not so much the doctors, lawyers and engineers of whom we normally think, but the designers and architects whose creative vision provides modern hospitals with specialist equipment, attractive living accommodation in towns and the countryside, bridges across our rivers, new transport systems and so on. Design is not a sideline in universities but a mainstream activity.

I shall take 2000–01 as an example. In that year there were well over 40,000 full-time undergraduates taking degrees in design studies. In addition, there were almost 6,000 more who were studying courses that included elements of design. That enormous number means that just over half of all creative arts students in our universities were studying design. It does not stop with undergraduates. Also in that year there were almost 3,000 postgraduate students studying design, either as their sole area of study or as a component.

I think that that makes it clear that without the work of our universities there could be little possibility of improved design in our public services. Like other noble Lords I pay tribute to the enormous amount of work carried out by the Design Council in promoting the excellence of UK design. I was delighted to see its recent publication, Meeting of Minds. It illustrates universities' role in design, innovation and research and highlights what business and public services gain from working with universities.

I am delighted to use an example which will be close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Foster. I compliment him on his enlightening and uplifting maiden speech. I give the example of the partnership between Primal Pictures and University College London. Supported by the DTI and the Medical Research Council, that partnership led to the development of the interactive hand, a 3D virtual model of a hand, a new and important teaching and reference aid for the medical profession.

Where else are universities having an impact? The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will be pleased with my second example, as it demonstrates the progress for which he was looking. Brunel University has been involved in a project to design millennium homes that will be designed with state-of-the-art technology to enable elderly people to live independently in their own homes for longer. I could quote many more examples.

Where do we go from here? How do we increase the skills base of our designers so that they can help to improve the delivery of public services? How can we ensure that more of the innovation in design in our universities can be put at the disposal of the public sector? First, I hope that the Government will remember the importance of design and the other creative industries as they consider how they implement last week's White Paper on higher education.

In that light, I welcome wholeheartedly the announcement that there will be an arts and humanities research council by 2005, although I have a concern about the possible direction of research funding in the White Paper. It is important that the council will be able to support emerging centres of excellence and not just those that are already world leaders. It is an area of growth and innovation and if we stop innovating it will soon die.

I also hope that the Government will continue to press for overt reference to arts and humanities in the design of important research initiatives in Europe, such as the future framework programmes and the European research area. Finally, I hope that the White Paper will result in additional funds to teach the next generation of designers in universities whose skills are vital to ensure that design plays its full role in the improvement of public services.