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Arts Funding

Volume 460: debated on Monday 21 May 2007

3. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of expenditure on the Olympic games on arts funding; and if she will make a statement. (137927)

The Government announced on 15 March that, subject to parliamentary approval, Arts Council England would contribute a total of £112.5 million towards the cost of the Olympics over four years. The Arts Council should still receive nearly £500 million of new lottery money between 2008-09 and 2011-12.

The cuts in lottery funding for good causes could not have come at a worse time for my Reading, East constituents. The slashing of the European social fund grants budget in the south-east and the Government’s decision that only 2 per cent. of it will be replaced by community grants means that we will be hit by a double whammy of cuts in arts funding and cuts in small community grants that help hard-to-reach local groups. How will the Minister ensure that important local groups continue to be supported?

It is important that the hon. Gentleman understands that core funding for the arts continues and has risen by 75 per cent. He should also take comfort from the Big Lottery, which has made it clear that voluntary organisations and the third sector are to be protected. That will benefit his constituents.

My hon. Friend will be delighted to hear that my home city of Brighton and Hove was mentioned at the south-east launch for the Olympic games last week. It is currently hosting a cultural festival, which is in full swing and well worth a visit. It also hopes to hold a cultural festival in 2012. Does the Minister agree that, with its close proximity to London and its future sporting venues, it would be ideal for a sporting event?

I congratulate everyone in Brighton on the festival’s continued success, which I understand is attracting £20 million of inward investment to the city. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might also want to discuss with the local authority the possibility of Brighton hosting one of the training camps for the Olympics.

If the arts have to suffer a funding cut due to the Olympics, will the Minister confirm that one of the projects that will be cut is the Decibel Penguin prize, a short story competition that he launched and that has fallen foul of the Commission for Racial Equality because it discriminates against white people? Will he confirm that the prize will never see the light of day again?

The manner in which the hon. Gentleman puts his question is rather unfortunate. The Decibel programme, across the Arts Council, has been successful in bringing black and ethnic minority people into the arts and encouraging and supporting them. It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman degrades the success of the programme in that way.

An important part of the Olympics will be the cultural Olympiad, and Wakefield is blessed in having two fantastic venues: the Hepworth gallery, the launch of which my hon. Friend the Minister attended and which will open in 2009, and our wonderful Yorkshire sculpture park, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited to see the Andy Goldsworthy exhibition. Will my hon. Friend write to me with the results of the meetings between the sculpture park’s director and departmental officials about the costs of the park? The grant is just over £1 million a year for looking after 500 acres of historic landscape and many historic buildings and getting international artists such as Andy Goldsworthy along, which represents very good value for money. The park needs a one-off injection of funds to help Yorkshire and Wakefield fully to participate in the cultural Olympiad.

I thank my hon. Friend for that. The achievements in her constituency represent a stunning success, and I was pleased to visit it a few months ago. I will look into the matter she has raised, and I will write to her.

The Minister has referred only to Arts Council England. Will he confirm from his own departmental figures that the total cut in funding to the arts across the United Kingdom to pay for the Olympics will be well over £200 million? Will he also confirm that there is very little additional funding—only £28 million—coming back from the legacy fund, much of which will come from the lottery anyway? How does he square that huge cut in arts funding with the Prime Minister’s comment that the arts are of “fundamental importance” to the country?

When we came to power, the arts were on their knees. The National Theatre was surviving on a diet of musicals, orchestras were going bankrupt, and regional theatres were having to close. Core funding for the arts has now increased by 75 per cent., and we are proud of that achievement. There is no bigger good cause than the Olympics, which will lift the aspirations of one of the poorest parts of London and of young people across the country as we aim to put on the best Olympics that the country has ever seen. The hon. Gentleman cannot support the Olympics while offering no proposals of his own for their funding.

There is no doubt that funding for the arts is crucial to this country. In regard to the assessment of the impact of the increased spending on the Olympic games, will my hon. Friend assure the House that working class communities will not suffer as a result of that spending, especially at a time when some of those in the Government are rediscovering their working class roots?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the participation of working class people—people in the lower socio-economic groups—in the arts. That is why the Department has public service agreement targets. It is also why we were keen to establish free museum entry, for example, which has resulted in as much as a 100 per cent. improvement in the participation in the arts by people in the poorer socio-economic groups.

When the Secretary of State announced the latest raid on the lottery to pay for the Olympics, she described it as a “temporary diversion” that would be repaid through the sale of land. Since then, however, she has described the money as venture capital, but we have had no details of what the good causes can expect to receive. In fact, my written parliamentary questions on the issue have gone unanswered for a month, so no luck there. Will the Minister tell the House exactly how much the arts and the other good causes will eventually receive back? Will it be a fixed amount? Will it be a percentage share? Or is it simply the case that, two months after the announcement, neither he nor the right hon. Lady has any idea because they cannot secure an agreement from the Chancellor?

Grow up. It is ironic that the Tories have a problem with investment. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as everyone else in the House that no one can predict property values in 2012. We have made a pledge, however, that the money should come back to the lottery good causes after it has gone to the Olympic Delivery Authority. We will stand by that pledge.