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Regional Theatres

Volume 488: debated on Monday 2 March 2009

Audience development is a core objective of Arts Council England. That is why, earlier this month, it launched its “A Night Less Ordinary” scheme to give 618,000 free theatre tickets to people aged under 26 over the next two years. Arts Council England’s projected spend on theatres is £318 million during this spending review period, an increase of 8 per cent. on the previous period.

I congratulate the Government on that excellent scheme, because a visit to the theatre can be life-changing. In my region, the west midlands, we are blessed with many outstanding theatres, including the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon. Unfortunately, the excellent Grand theatre in Wolverhampton does not seem to be participating in the free ticket scheme. Will my hon. Friend reconsider the participation of the Grand theatre?

The Grand theatre in Wolverhampton was not in the final choice that Arts Council England made from an extraordinarily strong field of candidates—so strong, in fact, that it issued more awards than it had originally planned. The Drum, the Repertory and the Hippodrome theatres, along with the RSC in Stratford, are involved in the scheme, and I hope that young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency can benefit from that opportunity.

Promoting regional theatres is also important for economic development and regeneration. Unfortunately, in Croydon, which suffers from such challenges, arts funding has declined in terms of council support for the Fairfield halls and the Warehouse theatre. Can the Minister give any advice on trying to tackle the decline in the arts and arts funding in the London borough of Croydon?

In fact, arts funding nationally has risen, but I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about Croydon, and I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that in detail and see what can be done to help.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we are to boost regional theatre audiences, we need more confidence in the regions? We have already got rid of the regional activity of libraries and museums, and we now seem to be running down the Arts Council. When will she support the Arts Council’s regional work more vigorously?

I assure my hon. Friend that, as I am a regional Minister, the regions and particularly arts activities in the regions are extremely close to my heart. They are not being run down; they are being reorganised and, I hope, strengthened.