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Arts Funding (West Midlands)

Volume 167: debated on Monday 12 February 1990

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To ask the Minister for the Arts when he intends to meet the director of West Midlands Arts to discuss what effect the uniform business rate may have on arts funding in the west midlands.

I have no plans to do so. The Arts Council is looking into the effects of the change on a sample of its clients among arts bodies nationwide and I am asking it to keep me informed.

Is the Minister aware that many people are worried about the impact of the poll tax on the many arts buildings that do not have charitable status? Is he further aware that the main public library in my constituency faces a rate increase of 24 per cent. and that the main headquarters library in Stafford faces an increase of 55 per cent? Does he see that as a poll tax on reading?

The question is about the uniform business rate. The hon. Lady will realise that under the new law and rules an arts organisation that is a charitable body will receive up to 80 per cent. mandatory relief and that it is within the discretion of the local authority to give relief on the remaining 20 per cent. If an arts organisation is not a charitable body, it is subject to the normal law, as are all other businesses in the area. Obviously, it is impossible to have a clear picture of how the rate will affect different arts organisations in the area.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the uniform business rate will have a bad effect on many craftsmen in the west midlands and elsewhere, and that many craftsmen's shops and artists' studios are being significantly uprated? Will he promise to discuss this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?

I acknowledge the importance of the growing number of craftsmen in this country. A considerable number are classified as business people and to that extent will be subject to the new rules and regulations. I will discuss this issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Evironment, but if they are classified as businesses they should not be treated as exceptions.

The Minister should not be so complacent. He should examine the position in the west midlands and elsewhere. It is not good enough to come to the Dispatch Box and say that he is not sure how the uniform business rate will affect the arts. He should find out. That is his job and he should do it.

The Department of the Environment estimates that, after the introduction of the uniform business rates, small businesses and businesses as a whole in the west midlands will pay less rate. Of course, it is impossible to be precise. Some arts organisations that are businesses will find that the amount they have to pay has declined, whereas others will find that their charge has increased. The important point about which we have to be absolutely clear is that organisations that are classified as charitable bodies will be in no worse a position. Indeed, with local authorities having full authority to give complete relief, they should be in a better position.