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Regional Arts Associations

Volume 81: debated on Monday 17 June 1985

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asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts when the Minister for the Arts next expects to meet representatives from the regional arts association.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. William Waldegrave)

My noble Friend met a number of directors of regional arts associations on 7 June.

When the Minister for the Arts next meets the chairmen of the regional arts associations, will he discuss the Arts Council report of 29 May? That report clearly reveals that an extra £37 million is required from the Government to make good the loss in arts expenditure if the GLC and the metropolitan county councils are abolished. Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the Arts Council has said that about 550 arts organisations are at risk? When the Arts Council responds, will the Government give a favourable and considered reply to this urgent case?

My noble Friend will certainly take account of these submissions in his consideration of the Arts Council's needs. We must be wary of scare stories. Last year there was a perfectly clear ploy by some of the authorities which will be abolished to increase expenditure. They tried to land the Government in some embarrassment. We have guaranteed that we shall fill the gap on the 1983–84 basis. We shall, of course, examine what else needs to be done. The boroughs in the new districts that will succeed the abolished authority areas must play their part.

When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and the Minister for the Arts next meet representatives of the regional associations, will they make it clear that many terminological inexactitudes from County Hall, such as that services in the arts will suffer when the GLC has been abolished, have been exposed for what they are—for example, the scare story by the GLC that concerts at Kenwood would cease?

A completely new organisation would be needed to counter the moving target of the stories put out by the GLC. My hon. Friend refers to one, but he could add many others to the list.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister for the Arts made a statement that, given good will and a positive spirit, the arts will be in no danger of diminishing in London? Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House about this positive spirit in the light of the possible £21 million decrease in arts funding?

The first and most positive response was the Government's quick move at the beginning of the abolition debate to put money on the table.

A large sum—£16 million—for the arts. This was made on the basis of 1983–84 expenditure. My noble Friend has made it clear that he will consider whether additional expenditure is needed.

When my hon. Friend next meets representatives of the regional arts associations, will he note that, although funding for Lincolnshire and Humberside has risen to £618,000 this year from £523,000 last year—a welcome increase—and expenditure is 44p per head in that region compared with 24p per head in Greater London, those figures do not take adequate account of the grave problems faced in funding the arts in rural areas? It can take at least two hours to travel from north Humberside to south Lincolnshire. Some citizens of small Lincolnshire towns never see Arts Council activities. Will my hon. Friend try to continue his policy of transferring grants from the great cultural wen of London to rural areas?

I do not necessarily agree with the description of London given at the end of my hon. Friend's question. It is central to the Arts Council's strategy, which has my noble Friend's support, to give greater support to the regions and provinces.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this has been a quite disgraceful response? The figures have been worked out, not on the basis of extravagant local spending, as alleged by the Minister, who made certain accusations, but by the arts associations and the Arts Council. There is a shortfall not of £21 million but of £30 million, because £9 million has already had to be wiped off. The arts associations recognise that fact. That sum is equivalent to three times the amount given per year to all the regional arts associations in London. That is a horrendous figure.

Secondly, instead of attacking the local authorities, will the Minister reiterate to the House the pledge given by his noble Friend the Minister for the Arts, who will be dealing with the matter today, that there will be full replacement of the money lost? The Minister's figure of £16 million is now £30 million. That is horrendous and cannot be replaced by Paul Getty. Will the Minister now give a pledge to this House, or ensure that his noble Friend will give a pledge this afternoon when the matter is debated in the other place?

The hon. Gentleman is a little off-beam. The pledge was on the 1983–84 basis, and that has been met. My noble Friend will be considering what is needed in addition, if more is needed. I am by no means attacking local authorities. By saying that everything should be done by central Government, the hon. Gentleman is providing an excuse for those boroughs which do not want to undertake their responsibilities.