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London Local Authorities

Volume 116: debated on Monday 11 May 1987

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asked the Minister for the Arts what discussions he has had in the last month with arts organisations in London about the level of financial support from local authorities.

I regularly visit arts organisations in London, and their representatives come to see me. We discuss the level of support from local authorities whenever the question of finance arises.

Have not the Tory Government savaged public support for the arts in London by abolishing the GLC and making cuts in local authorities finances? Have not the Liberals, when they have had control in Tower Hamlets, also devastated their local arts? Is it not the case that Londoners who want access to their own culture, recreation and heritage without paying through the nose will have to support Labour?

The hon. Gentleman is living in a world of his own if he thinks that there was a cutback in arts support as a result of the abolition of the GLC or the metropolitan authorities. The opposite happened. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the metropolitan counties throughout the country, he will see that there was a net increase in overall resources made available to the arts as a result of abolition. The local authorities produce more money than before abolition, and it is time that the hon. Gentleman recognised that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that arts organisations in London need funding not only from local authorities but from business sponsorship schemes? Will he report progress on that, and will he say whether the recent reports are true about a deathbed conversion on the part of the Labour party in favour of encouraging business sponsorship of the arts?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who repeatedly in the past has supported business sponsorship. It is making an increasingly important contribution to the arts. As a result of the business sponsorship incentive scheme, over 450 new businesses now support the arts. That is yet another important way in which we can add to the overall resources of the arts. As for the Labour party, it is for it to speak for itself, not for me to do that.

I confirm that when they are in office in a month's time the next Labour Government will continue the business incentive sponsorship scheme. However, does the Minister agree that that scheme is totally irrelevant to Tower Hamlets, and will he join me in condemning the actions of the Liberal-controlled group in Tower Hamlets, which has annihilated arts spending there? The Minister is quite wrong to say that his hands are clean, because it was the abolition of the Greater London council that put pressure on that group, and funding for the arts in London will continue to be under threat while this Government are so hostile to local government expenditure.

I should start by welcoming most warmly the fact that the hon. Gentleman has changed the views of the Labour party. Last week he opposed the business sponsorship incentive scheme. Now he says positively that the Labour party will support it. Even though it may be a deathbed repentance, I welcome it most warmly. It is absolutely true that the alliance-dominated council in Tower Hamlets has cut back its expenditure on the arts to such an extent that the Whitechapel art gallery has had its overall finances reduced and the Half Moon theatre has also had its finances reduced. I very much regret that.