Skip to main content

Access to Culture and the Arts

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 3 December 2015

2. What steps he is taking to improve access to culture and the arts for more disadvantaged communities . (902529)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for this question about the important issue of improving access to culture and the arts for people from disadvantaged communities. I was delighted with the Chancellor’s autumn statement, which did not cut funding for the arts and heritage. That will be welcomed very much by Labour Front Benchers, who were predicting doom and gloom. There are a number of schemes that help disadvantaged people, but I want to work on the issue for my White Paper in the new year.

The Arts Council will have more than £1.5 billion to support the arts over the next three years. GPS Culture has calculated that 43% of that will be invested in London—a spend of £81, compared with just £19.80 per head for the rest of the country. Frankly, people in Dewsbury, Mirfield and the rest of Yorkshire feel let down. Will the Minister take action to rebalance funding between London and the regions to ensure that everyone, including those from disadvantaged communities, gets access to culture and the arts?

My understanding is that tonight in Dewsbury there will be a fantastic free arts event for families at Crow Nest park funded by the Arts Council. The creative people and places fund targets funding outside London. More than half of the multimillion-pound Grants for the Arts programme goes to a quarter of the most deprived areas in England. The Arts Council is doing a lot. We are doing a lot more than was done under the last Labour Government. We have massively increased the funding that goes outside London, which Labour never addressed.

Last Saturday evening, my family and I attended the Kettering gang show at the Lighthouse theatre in Kettering, organised by the local Kettering scouts. It was a fantastic show. Given that the scouts do so much very good work with boys and girls in disadvantaged communities throughout this country, will the Minister take this opportunity to praise the scout movement for how it encourages young people to get involved in the arts?

I would love to take this opportunity to praise the scout movement and all the volunteers and voluntary organisations that do so much for the arts. Their contribution should not be forgotten; we should not simply look at those organisations that are funded by the Arts Council.

On the issue of disadvantaged communities and their languages, the Gaelic language is the most endangered in these islands. Why, therefore, in the autumn statement did the Government withdraw their total direct UK funding of £1 million, and can I ask him to reconsider?

As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, there were two one-off grants in the last Parliament to support that important work, and those contributions have made a valuable difference, but they were not annual grants stretching way back into the past. They were two one-off grants strongly supported by the then Chief Secretary.

Does the Minister agree that the £40 million commitment from the Discover England fund will also help to promote arts and culture across Britain?

Yes, I do, and it is extremely important that that fund is co-ordinated with the arts and heritage funding that the Chancellor has kept stable for the next five years. If we combine the funding for arts, heritage and tourism, we can generate some meaningful interventions across the UK.

The Government’s official annual figures, “Taking Part”, published in July, show a marked decline in the percentage of young children participating in key activities including dance, music, theatre, drama, arts and crafts. In 2010, on average, more than 50% of five to 10-year-olds took part in those activities: it is now just 30%. Is it not the case that under this Government access to arts and culture has undeniably gone backwards, and it is disproportionately disadvantaged communities and working-class kids who lose out the most?

Our museums have never received more visitors and our arts organisations are thriving. Rather than criticising the arts, this is the hon. Gentleman’s opportunity to apologise for the appalling scare- mongering he undertook last month, claiming that the arts would be cut by 30%. He should apologise now at the Dispatch Box.

It is an odd request to be asked to apologise for the Government’s figures, but I am more than happy to highlight their poor performance. I shall give him some more figures—not scaremongering, but real figures. Recent research by Ipsos MORI revealed that 70% of children of non-graduate parents spend fewer than three hours a week on cultural activity. That compares with 80% of children of graduate parents who spend more than three hours. Last week’s spending review, which the Minister mentions so much, means that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will face a 5% real-terms cut, and the central grant for local government is being cut by a massive 56%—a £6.1 billion reduction by 2019-20, which is not exactly a cause for a circuit of honour. What assessment has the DCMS made of the impact of local government cuts made by the Government on libraries, museums, galleries and theatres that all rely on local councils?

I take the issue of access to arts by all our communities very seriously, which is why I support all the schemes that the Arts Council is undertaking. But again, the hon. Gentleman can make a difference. He does not have to feel powerless on the Opposition Benches: he can ring up Labour Lancashire now and ask why it is withdrawing all its funding from all its museums.