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Bassetlaw (Arts)

Volume 489: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mark Tami.)

Considering the controversy about youth a few minutes ago, I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will pass on to Mr. Speaker the thanks of my young constituents who have participated in a parliamentary summer school here over the past two summers. They have considered matters such as the arts, and Mr. Speaker has been informative and courteous in inviting them to meet him in his chambers. His welcome was gratefully received, and the feedback that I have had from those young people is that it has been the highlight of their visits to Parliament over the past two summers. I hope that you will pass on their grateful thanks, Mr. Deputy Speaker: they have expressed them in writing already, but I would like them also to be recorded in the pages of Hansard.

Young people in my constituency inform much of what I have to say about the arts, thanks to an advisory committee made up of youths of all ages. The committee has worked with me over the past 18 months to prepare proposals to remedy the deficit in support for the arts that my constituency, like others in the former coalfield areas, suffers from. I know that the Minister and funding bodies will be interested in our proposals, not least as they affect money coming directly and indirectly from national Government.

The Government generally have a proud record on arts spending, which has increased nationally by 73 per cent. since 1998, to a total of £412 million last year. Investment in this country’s creative industries has grown, and we are global leaders in advertising, craft, cultural heritage, design, music, literature and the performing and visual arts. I know this because the sector employs some of my constituents. The statistics show unequivocally that there has been an almost 40 per cent. increase in the number of people attending performances, that 85 per cent. more new plays have been produced, and that nearly 6,000 performances are given at home and on tour annually.

The Government have made successful efforts to get more young people involved in the arts. For example, the Creative Partnerships programme works in some of the most deprived wards in the country. It has worked with 330,000 students in 2,700 schools, and 90 per cent. of the head teachers involved thought that it had improved pupils’ confidence and communication skills. We would like the opportunity to spread such good work to the schools of Bassetlaw.

The Government’s national record on the arts is something to be praised and to be proud of, but there is a deficit in constituencies such as mine, particularly in former coalfield areas. On other indicators, in the eight years since I became the Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw, we have done well compared with the national average. We have had the largest investment in new secondary school buildings per capita anywhere in England. Our primary care trust had the largest increase in funding anywhere in Britain in the last settlement, and we have been the most successful part of Britain in terms of health performance for some time.

The jobs market is experiencing difficulties in the rest of the country, and in my area as well. However, in January, Laing O’Rourke created 300 new jobs in my area, and MBA Polymers is creating 90 new jobs. Even now, we are creating jobs, and our record has been good on roads and infrastructure. The recently completed improvements to the A1, costing £30 million, represent a significant boost to local people and local businesses, and they supersede achievements in other parts of the country. Would that that were the case with the arts.

Let me give the House some examples of the problems. Berry’s music shop used to be on Bridge street in Worksop. It acted as the centre for the burgeoning music scene, selling sheet music for the colliery brass bands, new electric guitars, tickets for classical concerts and much more. But Berry’s was bought by Williams Music, which went into liquidation in 2007. It closed down, leaving nowhere to buy music or classical instruments, and no single place to find a music teacher in my constituency.

Then there is the shame of the Regal arts centre, which was once run by Bassetlaw council. It suffered under-investment over the years, and in 2004 it was closed down and handed over to the Bassetlaw Studio Project. The project was well-meaning and successful, but very small. It ran small-scale music projects for young people, but it had neither the resources nor the experience to take over the Regal arts centre.

The Regal arts centre, as well as having a small cinema, used to run a programme of live comedy, theatre, children’s workshops and a regionally acclaimed folk programme, attracting people from a wide area. It also used to stage performances by local groups such as the light operatic societies, amateur theatre groups and dance schools. Sadly, it is now in great decline. It receives no more local authority funding, as such funding is no longer available for such operations.

The Regal was never ideal. It was old and dilapidated, and needed a great deal of investment. The films that were shown there were on their second release, following their screening in the multiplexes. My constituency is 44 miles across—the size of Greater London—yet it now has no cinema. In the United Kingdom, 3,661 screens currently receive advertising in more than 700 locations. We are the size of Greater London, but we have no cinema.

Areas such as Bassetlaw are rather important when it comes to the arts. For many years, the county council had a strong touring programme. Its Stages programme brought groups such as Northern Broadsides within reach of my constituents, if not quite inside the boundaries of my constituency. Music in Quiet Places took professional music into our churches around the constituency. These European-funded programmes have now stopped. I could give other examples.

There are many good activities going on, involving young and old people. People across all sectors of society are performing without the resource or facilities to do so: for example, through the Worksop music and drama festival, Ryton Chorale’s concerts, and Worksop Miners Welfare Band and other bands around the area. They have been going for centuries and are still going today. I wish to put on record and acknowledge the hard work done by people in such groups as the Worksop light operatic society, Bassetlaw youth theatre and many more, who put great effort into keeping the performing arts alive in my constituency. The traditions of the brass bands in mining communities—the marching bands from my constituency that led the way—are not long gone, but they are gone.

The reason is simple. In my area, we have the creativity, the ingenuity, the people prepared to put in the time and effort, and the performers; we have the artists, the painters, the musicians. In every form of the arts we have the talent, but it is undernourished and under-resourced. Let me cite some starkly contrasting statistics to demonstrate why the money does not come to my area or to such places as Ashfield, Bolsover and all the other former mining communities in the vicinity. I hope that the Minister will take these statistics and this debate to her own officials, to the national lottery, to the Arts Council, and to the Department for Children, Schools and Families project, myplace, in order that they can learn from them.

There is bias in the system. I calculate that since the lottery was formed, £1.63 billion has gone to the arts in London, which has the same geographical space as my constituency. That may be an underestimate, but it is a minimum. In my constituency, we are talking about a rather smaller sum—£439,389. I have been through the figures. Some allocations have been made to things not in my constituency and should not have been included, so in fact the figure is slightly lower still: just over £400,000 for Bassetlaw, but £1.63 million for London. Kensington and Chelsea has received £133 million; Islington, South, £100 million; Islington, North, £39 million; Hampstead, £27 million; Hammersmith, £25 million; Bethnal Green, £31 million; Holborn and St. Pancras, £116 million; Cities of London and Westminster, £356 million; Vauxhall, £127 million; Regent’s Park, £22 million; Southwark and Bermondsey, £41 million; and Hackney, South, £50 million. I could go on and on.

Those figures compare with £400,000 in my constituency and similar amounts in adjoining former mining constituencies. That is why the arts are not flourishing there. That is why we do not have an arts centre that people of all ages, but particularly young people, can be proud of and utilise—that can garner their skills, take their talents forward, and give them the opportunity to express themselves in the way that people in London and the other big cities do.

One would expect that with this absurd bias in the London-oriented, London-dictated, London-run lottery, the Arts Council might, with its modest funding, redress the balance. I have last year’s figures for Arts Council funding, and what do we see? Which constituencies get most—more than £500 million—of the money? Those in London. Some 27 London constituencies got more than £100,000 from the Arts Council. London, and the centre of London in particular, gets all the lottery money, which is hundreds of millions of pounds, and on top of that it gets the Arts Council money. Instead of redressing the gross, awful imbalance in lottery funding, particularly as regards the arts, the Arts Council does the opposite, and reinforces the discrimination against my constituency. Bassetlaw got £13,716. We are thankful for that. A quarter of it—in fact a quarter of all Arts Council money for my area—has gone to the Harley gallery on the Duchess of Portland’s estate. We are grateful for that.

However, the deprived communities—the centre of Worksop, and the mining villages and former mining villages—are not getting any money from the Arts Council or the lottery for the arts. That is why the arts are struggling. There are brilliant people such as David Jordan, who created the Acorn centre, having received no funding whatever to put towards the running costs. With tiny amounts of capital coming in, he created a centre that allows people to perform. Why are the Government not directing the Arts Council, and not advising the lottery, to put money into such facilities to allow the arts to flourish?

We would accept 5 per cent. of what some of the London constituencies have got. I would take 5 per cent. of the money for City of London and Westminster; that would make a huge difference. It is not that we have not put proposals forward. We do not have all those arty-farty people—professionals in the arts—who spend their time running around bidding for money. We have decent, working people, who do a job, raise their families and get on with life. They spend their spare time creating the arts in my constituency, and they deserve a slice of the cake. It is a shame that the Arts Council in particular does not attempt to redress the balance by putting money where it will make a huge, major difference.

My constituency demands the right to have a cinema, like every other place, so that we can get kids off the street and give them the opportunity to see the latest films. We demand an arts centre, so that the talents of people of all ages can find expression. We demand what everyone else, particularly the large cities, and particularly London, is getting in excess. The Government need to redress the balance. In areas such as mine, people need a chance to express their creativity. I look forward to hearing a positive response from the Minister on how the imbalance can be redressed.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I know how much he cares about the subject, his constituency and his constituents, and I commend him on his tireless work in support of the arts in his Bassetlaw constituency. That part of north Nottinghamshire has a long history of interest in the arts—in fact, one of the longest such histories in Britain. Creswell Crags near Worksop contains the country’s only known examples of ice age rock art. Stone age, bronze age and Roman artefacts have also been found in Bassetlaw. However, it is the present, not the past, that my hon. Friend and I are concerned with today.

I know that my hon. Friend shares my belief in the power of the arts to transform communities and the lives of those who live in them, because he has worked closely with Arts Council England, East Midlands to try to do just that in his constituency, and because of the impassioned speech that he gave in defence of his constituents’ need for better arts provision. His close involvement in the issue is demonstrated by the detailed examples that he has given of instances in which he would like to see improvements to arts provision for his constituents. He has also detailed the funding provision that he would like there to be.

However, as my hon. Friend knows, I am constrained on the subject because the funding of individual projects is, very properly, decided at arm’s length from Government by Arts Council England. It would, therefore, be wrong for me to comment on the level of support that the Arts Council gives to particular projects, but I am more than happy to comment in general on the issues that he has raised and to give my understanding of the steps that Arts Council England, East Midlands is taking to deal with them. I will make sure that Arts Council England East Midlands is fully apprised of his concern.

Like my hon. Friend, I am glad to say that over the past decade there has been record investment in the arts in this country, both inside and outside London. As an MP with a constituency outside London and as a Minister who has visited a number of very active artistic endeavours outside London, I cannot remember when the arts scene outside the M25 was as vibrant and as active as it is today. I am doing all I can to ensure that it remains so and keeps growing, despite the downturn.

My hon. Friend’s constituency is in the east midlands region which, like others, has seen a real improvement in artistic activity in the past 10 years. That is, as he mentioned, due in no small way to an increase in funding. Arts Council England East Midlands in this spending round will make grants of more than £50 million. This money will help to support more than 50 regularly funded organisations, or RFOs, including Sinfonia Viva, the region’s professional chamber orchestra, the Leicester, Nottingham and Northampton Theatre Trusts, numerous other dance troupes and folk groups, a fistful of festivals, and a very active forum for participatory arts organisations.

In addition, during the past three years about 900 grants for the arts have been made. Those are worth £16 million and have been funded from lottery funds in the east midlands region. This year sees the culmination of the £130 million arts venue programme in the east midlands. When the Nottingham Contemporary is completed this autumn, the city, which already has the New Art Exchange, will have two brand new arts venues. Those, together with the QUAD in Derby, First Movement in Rowsley and the Curve in Leicester, will give the region five exciting new arts centres.

I thank the Minister for kindly giving way. From my constituency to Nottingham, to give the equivalent distance south of where we are now, would take us into the sea beyond Brighton. Therefore whatever happens in Nottingham or Leicester is of little concern to my constituents because it is nowhere near. That is my point.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point and I will deal with it now.

I am glad that so many residents of the east midlands have taken advantage of schemes such as Own Art and Take It Away to bring more than 1,000 musical instruments and 75 pieces of art into their own homes. A guitar propped up against a bedroom wall or a picture by an up-and-coming British artist in a living room provide a wonderful opportunity for interaction with the arts in people’s own time, in their own home and on a daily basis. But as my hon. Friend stressed, proximity is important, and I realise that distance plays a great part in access to the arts. People should not have to travel if they want to attend arts events, and those should most certainly not be restricted to the big towns and cities.

I am sorry to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituents do not have a cinema. When I first became the Member for Stevenage, there was a similar situation there. I would like to meet my hon. Friend to discuss ways of attracting a cinema to his town. If we are to engage and enthuse people, it is important that there should be projects and events happening within their own areas—within walking distance and in their communities. I therefore fully understand my hon. Friend’s concerns about provision in his constituency and the lack of an arts centre.

I am glad that my hon. Friend is in discussion with Arts Council England, East Midlands and that it has been meeting not only him, but local arts providers and Nottinghamshire county council, to try to address the issue. Discussions are also being held about other issues in the area, such as support for “Young Potential”, the scheme at the Worksop Regal for young people who live with real disadvantage which my hon. Friend mentioned. There are issues with the lease and required refurbishment at the Regal, and I hope that they will soon be resolved, not least because the Arts Council and Nottinghamshire county council are providing funding for a programme for learning-disabled people called “This Stage Life”, which is to be held at the Regal.

Further discussions are also being held about increasing the number of applications for creative partnerships, which my hon. Friend mentioned. Netherfield infant and nursery school and Meden school and technology college are already involved, and Arts Council England, East Midlands is working with Nottinghamshire county council to encourage more schools to participate. Arts Council England, East Midlands is also involved in talks about the development of the arts on offer for young people at Manton community and learning centre; it is particularly interested in working on dance provision. Arts Council England, East Midlands has also provided small amounts of funding for both development and building work for the Acorn community theatre, which my hon. Friend mentioned, in Worksop.

As I said at the outset, it is not proper for me to be involved in these discussions, but I am glad that the executive director of Arts Council England, East Midlands has been in contact with my hon. Friend, and I encourage my hon. Friend to develop that relationship.

I turn now to the lottery awards and other money. In the past five years, my hon. Friend’s constituency has had 24 Grants for the Arts awards, with a total value of more than £290,000. However, I have discussed with Arts Council England and the lottery the amount of money that is going from the good causes to local authorities with coalfields in them. Only about 10 per cent. of the total are involved, and we are doing what we can to raise that. However, for lottery awards to be made, lottery applications also have to be made. Sadly, we had only five grants for the arts applications in Bassetlaw in 2007-08. I hope that my hon. Friend will encourage his constituents to create schemes and events and apply for funding.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has been consulting with local young people about exactly what facilities and schemes they would like to see in Bassetlaw; I am sure that one of their requests was for a cinema, as that was top of my constituents’ list. That desire to engage the next generation has led to a number of initiatives. One of the schemes about which we are most excited—and of which his constituents can take advantage—is the “A Night Less Ordinary” scheme, which will provide more than 600,000 free theatre tickets to people under 26 over the next two years. I realise that the nearest theatres are some distance from my hon. Friend’s constituency—about 30 miles away—but I hope that people will take advantage of this offer to experience some of the Shakespeare, Arthur Miller and Tchaikovsky, among others, being put on in Sheffield, Nottingham, Barnsley, Scunthorpe and Derby over that two-year period. I also hope that the Find Your Talent programme, which has 10 pathfinders running across the country, will eventually help his constituents.

The Government are involved in many national initiatives in music and dance, creative apprenticeships and singing. I hope that we are paving the way for a bright cultural future for our young people. I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns about local provision, and I hope that he will continue to work with Arts Council East Midlands, and with me, to take his ideas forward at a local level, and that arts provision continues to grow in his constituency. I will be watching developments closely and am willing to help him wherever and whenever I can.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.