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Live Theatre

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011

4. What recent discussions he has had with the chair of Arts Council England on the provision of live theatre in rural locations. (52627)

I regularly meet the chair and chief executive of Arts Council England to discuss a wide range of issues. A number of organisations based in or serving rural communities will receive Arts Council funding. Rural areas will also benefit from the £18 million of lottery income earmarked for touring from April 2012.

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the organisations that take theatre to village halls in rural communities are disproportionately hit in the Arts Council review? Many are losing 100% of their funding, including the excellent Northumberland Theatre Company, which is based at Alnwick Playhouse. Is the Arts Council not failing to meet its objective of bringing theatre to new audiences by making that decision in this difficult situation?

I know that the Arts Council carefully considered funding for Northumberland Theatre Company, and it will still have funding next year. It is worth noting that the Maltings centre in Berwick-upon-Tweed received a 300% increase in funding—the fourth largest funding increase; that the Berwick film and media arts festival will become a national portfolio organisation; and that Queen’s Hall Arts and Highlights, which tours in the area, will continue to receive funding.

May I begin by paying tribute to officials in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who have done so much to support the arrangements for tomorrow’s royal wedding, and to the thousands of public service workers, police officers, community support officers and emergency service people who will keep the streets safe so that the occasion can be joyous? Members from all parts of the House wish the royal couple a happy day. Of course, they were not responsible for aspects of the guest list in terms of the DCMS.

Like many arts activities, live theatre in rural communities faces a bleak future. Does the Minister regret the following statement made by the Secretary of State just before the election:

“People have had certain assumptions in the past about Conservative governments…that appeared to say public spending on the arts was something you might want to progressively reduce. That isn’t where the modern Conservative party stands.”?

Is the Secretary of State still in denial when hundreds of arts organisations have suffered cuts, some are going to the wall, others are increasing ticket prices at a time when people’s incomes are being squeezed, and many are scaling back their educational and outreach programmes to the most disadvantaged communities? Is not the modern Conservative party the same old Tories?

Perhaps I, too, may use this opportunity to thank officials in my Department for the hard work they have done on the royal wedding, and to wish Prince William of Wales and Catherine Middleton great joy on their day? I know that the Secretary of State is looking forward to attending the wedding tomorrow. It remains to be seen whether he will tweet throughout it.

I hear what the shadow Secretary of State says, but I do not regret what the Secretary of State said. We have achieved a fantastic settlement for the arts, with an 11% decrease only and a significant increase in lottery funding of 43%.