In unexpected praise of Sajid Javid

This article has been written by our Director, Vicky Prior, and is not intended to wholly reflect the views of League of Culture


I don’t think it’s unfair to say that expectations of Sajid Javid’s performance as Culture Secretary had been brought low by his predecessors.


Jeremy Hunt was vilified by many in the sector for helping to slash arts funding, and Maria Miller failed to have any sort of impact, either good or bad.


So when it was announced that former banker Javid would be moving from the Treasury to Culture, no one was exactly whooping for joy. That said, the more sensible among us decided to wait for Javid to start work before we began criticising, unlike Michael Rosen.


Last week, Javid made his first keynote speech as Culture Secretary and to my rather uncharitable surprise, it was really good.


Managing to be both warm and witty, Javid took a gentle swipe at his critics (including Rosen) and set out his vision of a Culture for All.


Javid has thrown himself into his new job with gusto and has spent several months getting a crash course in culture. He is also making the most of his background. The son of a Pakistani bus driver, Javid’s humble origins meant that exotic trips to the theatre, especially those in London, were unthinkable. Sadly, this is still true of many children today, especially those located in poorer or more rural areas.


Josie Rourke, Artistic Director of London’s Donmar Warehouse, has written in the Guardian today of her upset that the Donmar was ‘picked on’ as somewhere Javid would not have been taken. Rourke explains that she has spoken at length to Javid about the outreach work that the Donmar does, and so perhaps it was unfair for him to namecheck it in this way. That said, with the battle for greater regional funding raging, and all London NPOs in the firing line, organisations like the Donmar need to light up in neon any work they do to reach out to non local communities.


Javid also took time to praise philanthropy in the UK, unsurprising given that this was his predecessor Hunt’s flagship policy for DCMS. Unlike Hunt, Javid did at least realise that far more needs to be done to create a true culture of philanthropy in the UK, including tax breaks for philanthropists and better training for arts organisations in how to attract donors.


There is little that can be done to erase the pain of the tough cuts imposed on the culture sector by the Coalition in 2011. But at least Sajid Javid appears to be attempting to understand the burden that was placed on the sector and to find ways of helping. I still don’t think anyone is realistically expecting the money to flood back in, but it’s nice to think that the money we do receive will be used to encourage wider participation.


It will take more than one good speech to convince us all that the new Culture Secretary is on our side, but if Javid can achieve even a fraction of his vision set out in Bristol last week, then maybe the Coalition will have produced one Culture Secretary that is remembered fondly.


You can read the full text of Sajid Javid’s speech Culture for All on the DCMS website