In Westminster Hall yesterday, 11 Labour and 6 Conservative MPs spoke in a debate on regional funding and the arts. Due to time constraints other MPs that were there did not manage to speak but it is understood by League of Culture that the Liberal Democrats were not present.
All participants tried to make sure that the debate did not become ‘London versus the rest of the country’, although many MPs were keen to point out the vast discrepancy between funding for the arts in London and elsewhere. Instead, each member went on at length about the wonderful cultural provision in their constituency, though nearly everyone conceded that such provision had been hit hard by disproportionate cuts to local authority funding.
Paul Blomfield (Lab), who had secured the debate, started things off with some economic facts, namely that ‘the arts provide nearly 1 million jobs in the UK economy every year, and 67,000 cultural businesses contribute £28 billion a year’.
Kevan Jones and Chi Onwurah (also Labour) both made the case for regional arts organisations being key to fostering emerging talent. There was also an emphasis on continuing to broker partnerships between regional arts centres and their national (and usually London based) counterparts. Jones pointed out that there is often a ‘snobbishness’ from London based institutions that cultural artifacts belong in London and not at a site round the country.
Richard Burden (Lab) explained how securing funding is made even harder by each funding body working to a different time frame and set of criteria. Time and again the disproportionate cuts to local authority funding were cited as a reason for regional arts being in crisis, with Labour’s Shadow Minister for Culture, Helen Goodman, calling on the Government to do more to convince Eric Pickles of the importance of culture.
Michael Gove did not fair too well either, with Conservative MP Sir John Randall highlighting the importance of arts engagement from a young age. He also provided examples that coincidentally chimed beautifully with League of Culture’s own aim; to use creative activities to aid a non-creative purpose. Randall described how a Rory Bremner satire was crucial in making his mind up to vote against the Iraq war and he sees art as a good way to explain the depths of an issue.
Bob Blackman (Con) described future investment in the arts as key to economic growth. This was another theme running through the debate, with each member keen to point out the economic value of the arts in their constituency.
Ed Vaizey, The Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, echoed a speech by Sir Peter Bazalgette (ACE Chair), repeating ‘arts funding is doing very well but it could be better’. Sadly, he was several times accused of evading answering a question and brought up the arm’s length principle as justification for not pushing ACE harder on the question of potentially disproportionate funding. He finished the debate by saying he was waiting to hear the outcome of Labour’s review into the Creative Industries.
Overall, while it is excellent that such debates are taking place, this seemed to be more of a way to highlight the cultural provision in each members constituency rather than solve the funding issue. On a brighter note, Sarah Newton (Con) publicised her APPG on art and health/well-being and Ben Bradshaw (Lab) told of the DCMS select committee enquiry into regional arts funding. So all is not lost for putting the case for better funding regional arts. It’s just a shame Ed Vaizey appeared so under prepared and that the Lib Dems were AWOL.
This report was written by League of Culture’s Director, Vicky Prior, and is not intended to wholly reflect the League’s views.