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Volume 82: debated on Monday 8 July 1985

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asked the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if the Minister for the Arts has any plans to meet North-West Arts to discuss provision for the overall funding of the arts in the context of the Government's plans to abolish the metropolitan counties; and if he will make a statement.

My noble Friend met the director of North-West Arts and the directors of a number of other regional arts associations on 7 June and had a very useful discussion on post-abolition funding for the arts.

Is the Minister aware that we in the north-west believe that the amount of centrally allocated money that will be made available should the metropolitan authorities be abolished is grossly inadequate? Does he also recognise that the Arts Council is not considered to be an unbiased allocator of funds, especially to areas such as the north-west? In those circumstances, will he use the same principles as were used in the Priestley report to guarantee that the funding announced by central Government will go to the northwest to ensure that the Royal Exchange, the Halle Orchestra and other such organisations of national importance receive the money that they need to allow them to continue?

I am slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the Arts Council is biased in the regional distribution of funds, because this year's total allocation to North-West Arts represented a 17 per cent. increase on last year's grant. The Royal Exchange has received more funding from the Arts Council than has any other regional theatre. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that the Arts Council has discharged its obligation to the north-west as fairly as it can.

May we have an assurance that the financial grants and targets will be adjusted to make it possible for Manchester and Liverpool — both great cities — to make some contribution to the arts, as they obviously wish to do?

As my hon. Friend knows, my noble Friend was able to set aside £34 million in replacement of metropolitan county spending, of which £16 million went to the Arts Council, £1 million to the British Film Institute and £17 million to museums and galleries. The districts will be spared the task of having to raise the precept to hand on to the top tier authorities once they are abolished. That should give them the freedom to support worthwhile artistic institutions in their localities.

In view of the Arts Council's estimate that if and when the GLC and the six metropolitan counties are abolished there will be a shortfall of £46 million, and since the Arts Council is to be funded to the tune of £16 million, may we have a categorical assurance that the shortfall to North-West Arts of £790,000 will be met in full?

The Arts Council will be seeing my noble Friend shortly to discuss provisions for the 1986–87 budget, as is normal at this time of the year I am sure that that will be one of the matters that it will wish to raise with him.

Is it not unfortunate that the Minister is deputy to a deputy? He might have been warned that in the last month there was a £30 mill ton shortfall below estimate for all the arts, including North-West Arts. Is it not a fact that no guarantee has been forthcoming for the north-west or for other areas? Next year there will be £30 million short for a start. Will the Government replace that money, or not?

I must make it clear that the Government do not accept the Arts Council's estimate of the shortfall, which includes provision for some capital items which the GLC and the metropolitan counties have not provided, and a number of other items which fall more appropriately to the district councils. I cannot accept the premise. Of course, my hon. friend the Member for Bristol, West would have answered the question better than I, but at least my answers have been shorn of the Latin and Greek analogies, which I understand adorn his remarks.