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Local Authority Plans for Culture

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

1. What steps he is taking through the culture White Paper, published in March 2016, to ensure that culture forms a core part of local authorities’ plans and priorities. (904597)

May I begin by wishing Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday today? I know that the whole country will be celebrating.

I am delighted to have published the first culture White Paper for more than 50 years and I am also very pleased that at the core of that White Paper stands our Great Place scheme, which is exactly designed to encourage local authorities to put culture first.

I join the Minister in wishing Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday.

Does the Minister agree that devolution combined with the possibility of an elected mayor, as we hope to have in Gloucestershire, would be a really good thing, providing more scope, more leadership and more resources for culture, media, music and everything else that a good community needs to have?

Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is quite clear that local leadership plays an absolutely crucial role in ensuring that the power of culture makes a real impact on local communities.

The Minister’s Government have implemented £685 million of cuts to Lancashire County Council, resulting in massive library and museum closures. When will his Government take responsibility for this attack on our heritage and culture, which amounts to treachery when we lose them forever? It is disgraceful. When will his Government take responsibility?

The amount of cash going to local authorities is going up. The hon. Gentleman should look to his own Benches first, because it is Labour local authorities that are overwhelmingly closing local libraries, and it is Conservative ones that are keeping them open.

Order. Members should not be standing while the exchanges take place. I can perfectly well see them, and I may or may not come to them in due course.

I join the Minister in wishing Her Majesty a very happy birthday.

“Even if councils stopped…maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres…they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face”.

That was a quote from Lord Porter, the Tory chair of the Local Government Association. That black hole is of the Government’s making and local cultural institutions lose out doubly, because councils can no longer afford to match-fund European, Heritage Lottery or Arts Council grants. Our creative industries generate £84 billion per year. They are drivers of growth, economic regeneration as well as inspiration, hope and future jobs. Why are this Government starving their local roots?

I certainly do not agree that we are starving local roots. We are increasing the amount of national funding that is going out of London, which is something that the last Labour Government never did at all, and I see examples of success all over the country. Hull, for example, is preparing to be the City of Culture next year. The Great Exhibition of the North the year after will celebrate our culture rather than doing it down. I ask the hon. Lady to have a word with her colleagues in Labour local authorities and ask them to stop closing their libraries.

Where is a sense of reality from the Minister? My local authority, Kirklees, is desperately fighting to keep libraries open and to keep the museums going, and it is a very tough call indeed. I know that there are problems—I am not making a cheap political point—but is it not about time that we put more resources into local government and also into universities so that they take their local communities more seriously in terms of innovation and the arts?

The hon. Gentleman’s point about universities is very well made. Universities play an increasingly important role in local cultural provision. That is something that they themselves have driven, and it is very welcome. They are very important partners.