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Town of Culture Award

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2019

This debate is obviously not very popular! It is scheduled to run until four minutes past 6 and about 15 people have put in to speak, so I guess that is about two minutes each. I will leave you to sort that out. I call David Hanson to move the motion.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the establishment of a town of culture award.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their turnout, which shows the Minister the strength of feeling and the focus on towns that we all share. I am pleased to see Government Members here, too. The debate has one clear aim: to explore with the Minister the possibility of establishing a specific town of culture award on similar terms to the city of culture award, so the smaller towns we all represent can participate on equal terms and enjoy the benefits of such an award.

Is it not the case that towns can apply for the city of culture award but it is very much a David and Goliath competition, because towns often do not have the resources to put in a bid of the necessary quality? For that reason and others, I support the right hon. Gentleman’s initiative.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. It is true that towns are part of the wider city of culture establishment, but I defy the Minister to name a town that has won that award. I think there is merit in enabling towns to regenerate, promote themselves and participate, because they have a great deal to give.

I hope the Minister focuses on our one demand and establishes a town of culture award, but will he also discuss the idea with the devolved Administration in Scotland and my colleagues in the devolved Administration in Wales, and meet his ministerial colleagues in Northern Ireland and, in due course—I hope—the devolved Administration there, to establish the scheme on a UK-wide basis? We could have winners in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, and perhaps an overall town of culture for the whole United Kingdom.

This idea has gained traction over the past few weeks. Although I welcome the support of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), the idea had its genesis in the Labour Towns group, where Labour Members who represent towns have looked at how we can help regenerate our towns and communities through transport, housing, employment and tourism. The Minister will know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has written to the Secretary of State to ask for our central demand—the establishment of a town of culture award—to be considered. It is an idea whose time has come.

I commend my right hon. Friend for securing the debate. Does he agree that the attendance indicates the real sense of frustration among non-city Members of Parliament that there has been far too little discussion of the beneficial effect of culture on towns up and down the country? That needs to change.

I look forward to hearing my hon. Friends’ contributions in due course. They know that culture is an economic generator for towns. It provides individuals with an opportunity to promote themselves and their skills, it can bring towns together to celebrate their history, and it can be a catalyst for change, confidence and support for economic regeneration.

D. H. Lawrence, the internationally famous writer, was born and raised in the town of Eastwood in my constituency. We have a fantastic birthplace museum there. It is run by the local authority, which is obviously under financial pressure. We could do so much more to celebrate and promote our most famous son. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we could do a lot more to enable our towns to reach their full potential if there were equitable distribution of lottery funding?

Indeed. There is a separate debate, albeit relevant to this one, about whether towns, which contribute to the lottery pot, receive a fair share of lottery funding. In effect, there is a transfer of wealth from poorer towns to cities. That enables the promotion of important cultural projects, but I think my hon. Friends would agree that we should look at how we can invest that money to promote culture in our towns.

On that point, as of last March, my constituency had received £13 million of lottery funding since 1995, compared with £64 million for the Prime Minister’s constituency. Barnsley is a fantastic cultural town; in my constituency, we have everything from Elsecar Heritage Centre to Worsbrough mill. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate. I totally agree with him, not least because I think Barnsley would win the award.

Well, I think participating in the award would be as important as winning it, because it would energise community groups, local councils and businesses to aspire to meet the objectives that I am sure the Minister will share.

I thank my right hon. Friend for securing the debate and for being generous with his time. We will hear all sorts of amazing examples of the culture and heritage in towns across the country. Pontefract is the home of a historic castle and a liquorice fair, and Castleford was the home of Henry Moore.

There are amazing examples right across the country that are just not celebrated because we do not have the investment we need. We also need investment in new arts and culture jobs. Given the widening gap in jobs growth between city and town constituencies, does my right hon. Friend agree that the town of culture campaign has to be part of a much wider programme of investment, and that we must ensure we get our fair share of investment and jobs in towns across the country?

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend knows that we are focused on transport, the economy, jobs, businesses and the regeneration of our town centres, but culture and activities celebrating our history and what happens in towns are linked to all those things, because they bring people in to spend.

Two of my favourite cities in the United Kingdom—Hull, where I went to university, and Liverpool, where I was born—have recently been part of the city of culture programme. The city of Hull estimates that that programme generated £60 million in 2017 alone from visitor income and additional drive. It generated 800 new jobs, 5 million visitors and £220 million of additional investment in Hull. After Liverpool was city of culture, 44% of its residents expressed a positive response to the programme. It made them feel proud of where they lived—perhaps even more so than things have in the past. I am very proud of where I was born and I am very proud of where I live now, but the city of culture gave the people of Liverpool an energy that could be translated into action and used to create jobs.

Towns are extremely important. I do not want to take up too much time, because I know many Members want to speak, but I cannot resist mentioning the four towns in my constituency as examples of the potential benefit of a town of culture award. Flint, where I live, has a population of 13,000 people. It was founded around a castle built in 1277. That castle is still there. It is a historical monument that people could and should visit. It was the scene of the deposition of Richard II, who was put on trial in Westminster Hall. The whole second act of Shakespeare’s “Richard II” is set in Flint castle, and that play has been performed in the castle. We have had festivals, we have had choirs—male and female—and we had the Eisteddfod in 1969. Even Tom Cruise’s great-great-grandfather came from Flint, which shows that people can aspire to achieve in the arts. There is a Turner painting of Flint castle, which—believe it or not—has never been to Flint. It is currently in a gallery in London. If Flint won the town of culture award, that painting could be brought to Flint to be seen on a regular basis.

I have been to Flint—I had my photo taken in front of the station sign. On my right hon. Friend’s point about national treasures being in galleries and museums in our cities, a cultural award for our towns might not only embolden and encourage our communities to celebrate their creativity, but be part of a much wider debate about the disproportionate amount of funding that goes to our cities. We should share our national treasures and, on occasion, allow them to go back to their home town to be seen by local people.

As I said, a number of things are happening in Flint. They could all be celebrated by the people and that painting could return as part of being a town of culture.

Without revisiting my maiden speech, I should say that another important place in my constituency, when it comes to this debate, is Mold—a town of 10,000 people. The Mold gold cape is an ancient gold object currently in the British Museum: it is not being displayed in Mold. Let me turn to culture. Mold has Theatr Clwyd, the only production company in the United Kingdom owned by a local authority. It produces plays, some of which will shortly be in the west end. We have a food festival and a Novemberfest beer festival, as well as art installations through the town. This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the Mold riots, in which four miners and one bystander were shot dead. We will be having a community play in the town this summer to commemorate that, which will involve people and make them feel part of the history of the town.

We have a blues and soul festival, the eisteddfod, and the Daniel Owen festival, which is a major Welsh language poetry festival, in the town. We have the football. Rhys Ifans, who people will know from “Notting Hill”, came from Mold, as did Jonny Buckland, one of the guitarists in Coldplay. Siân Gibson, who is in “Peter Kay’s Car Share”, is currently resident in Mold. There is a cultural appetite and there are cultural aspirations for people to do things in the future.

In Holywell, in my constituency—where the actor Jonathan Pryce was born—there is the Well Inn music festival, as well as a country music and line-dancing festival and the Cadi Ha Welsh dancing festival. There are also heritage walks and the Greenfield Valley Heritage Park, which has historic buildings on display.

The smallest town in my constituency is Caerwys, with just over 1,500 people, but the eisteddfod held there in 1523 and 1568 led to the first ever legislation to control minstrels and bands, which was passed by Elizabeth I’s Parliament in 1588.

There is a cultural history that people need to understand and celebrate, but it also has an economic impact. Theatr Clwyd, as a major production theatre, employs hundreds of people and produces quality plays. Flintshire County Council invests something like £750,000 into the theatre. For every pound it invests in that theatre, we get an external economic impact within Flintshire of £8 and across north-east Wales, including Wrexham, of over £10. That is because people come to the theatre, but they also go to the shop and the petrol station, stay in a hotel and eat in a restaurant. They support the local economy in that theatre by buying goods for sale in the local theatre, and by spending their wages in the theatre. It has an economic impact.

Flint, Mold, Holywell and Caerwys are all supported by their local councils, which are active and engaged, and invest ratepayers’ resource in supporting activities. Mold, Flint and Holywell happen to be Labour-controlled councils that are investing, supporting and sponsoring activity that is having an economic impact. I hope the Minister will recognise that and look at how we can celebrate and promote it, and be engaged by it. With due respect to those three towns, great as they are, Flint, Mold and Holywell cannot compete with the cities of Hull or Liverpool, in terms of their scale or ambition. What they can do is have great activity in their own world, which the town can celebrate and look to promote in the future.

The central ask today, from all of my right hon. and hon. Friends, is for us to relish the chance for those four towns, and every town that those of us here represent, to be able to say, “We aspire to do better, to increase our economy, to engage with our community and to put culture at the heart of our towns.” All our towns have had that in the past—through miners welfare clubs, social clubs and a whole range of activity. We have to give that back to the community and support that for the future.

There is a city of culture, which is a great thing that we relish, welcome and appreciate, but the challenge for the Minister is that there is scope for a town of culture within that. The Minister has the chance to encourage investment, to reignite county pride, to celebrate history and culture, to encourage diversity, to promote ambition and to nurture talent. I hope that he takes that chance today.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this important debate, about which I am very keen—so keen, in fact, that my recent column in the Slough Express was entirely devoted to a town of culture award.

Slough is on the up: we have moved on from John Betjeman’s poem. We want no friendly bombs, there is grass for cows to graze, we do not just eat tinned food and it is certainly fit for humans now. We are keen to show that we have a lot more than just David Brent and “The Office” to offer. Slough is a fantastic, diverse cultural melting pot and now it has become a major business, creative and cultural powerhouse, with Pinewood Studios right on our doorstep. A lot of people from Slough are working there, contributing to our collective national culture and increasing our collective national pride in our country.

We have the iconic old Adelphi cinema in Slough, where the Beatles performed on more than one occasion. The council and other organisations are doing brilliant work. We have the Slough youth awards, which exemplify the magnificent creativity of our young people. I think our town would do very well if we were competing with other towns up and down the country.

I impress on the Minister that there is so much support for this idea: we would be obliged if he confirmed that an annual town of culture prize rather than just a city of culture prize would be conferred. If it comes to sharing the money more fairly, current statistics show that Arts Council funding is more than four times higher on average in city constituencies than in town constituencies. About 70% of Arts Council national portfolio theatre grants awarded in 2015 to 2018 went to cities, with a pitiful 12% awarded to towns. The current scenario is not good enough; our towns are being left behind.

Many people from working-class backgrounds, residing in towns, are being excluded from arts and culture. Our communities can benefit. I am well aware that there are many different Members wanting to speak, so I will bring my points to a conclusion, but please, please let us have the annual town of culture award.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on bringing forward the debate. We were proud to be the home nation of the first UK city crowned city of culture in 2013—lovely Londonderry. As the Member for Strangford, I well remember thinking that Newtownards, despite all that we have to offer, could never be considered for that prestigious title because it is not a city. That is why I am pleased to be here and to support the right hon. Gentleman.

The award would enable the tourism industry to point its eyes and minds towards the hidden gems throughout this beautiful United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; it would be worth every penny needed to set the initiative up.

Let me give the example of Newtownards—we are all here for our constituencies, and why not? The little town is 25 minutes from the airport on a great road with enhanced travel links in the form of local bus routes, which are fully modern. Visitors could stay in the local hotel or in one of the many B&Bs that dot the area. The B&Bs have phenomenal views of countryside and the incomparable Strangford lough; I live on the edge of it. Ulster Scots culture, history, verse, poetry and music— it is all there.

People can have an active holiday as well, with water sports, cycling and quad racing parks, sedate walks in our forest parks and country rambles. We have the world-famous Mount Stewart gardens and country home, Scrabo tower and Exploris in Portaferry, which is renowned the world over. Those who want the arts can enjoy choral performances in the old Priory, which dates back to St Patrick, and the independently-owned Lyric theatre, as well as all the other things that come with cinema and nightlife. For those who want to shop—everybody likes to shop, especially the ladies—we have a high street packed with boutique shops to suit anyone’s tastes. For the kids, we have the Ark open farm, which is exactly what we need.

You want a spa weekend? Of course you do. We have a brand new all-singing, all-dancing Ards Blair Mayne Wellbeing and Leisure complex, with clip and climb, crazy golf, soft play and swimming facilities for the children, Swedish saunas, steam rooms, aromatherapy rooms, heated seating, heated relaxation pools and beauty appointments, all in one place—Newtownards. We have fine dining, because once you have got rid of all that extra weight, you can go for Thai, Chinese, Indian, or Italian food, good homemade cooking and even pub grub. It is all there—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) knows it, too.

I know that other MPs can well boast of their towns, and they should, but I will say this: I do not think any of them can really compare to Newtownards. Yet the sad fact is that not enough people know that the £50 flight to Northern Ireland is well worth every penny. This award is something that could highlight Newtownards and other towns like it. I thank the right hon. Member for Delyn and give him my full support. I have my application ready for the first award.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this debate. In thinking about the decline of towns, we have concentrated a lot on shopping and shops, and I think we have the balance wrong. The idea of a town of culture award is really important, because people want far more in the place they live in than to be able to go shopping.

My constituents have a fantastically rich heritage. Barnard Castle, for example, was the home of Richard III and it is now the home to the greatest collection of European paintings between London and Edinburgh, at the Bowes Museum. Shildon is the birthplace of the railway and at the moment we are limbering up for the celebration of 200 years since 1825, with a heritage action zone. Bishop Auckland itself has been the home of the Bishops of Durham for 900 years.

Perhaps this is the most interesting example of how culture can be used to regenerate: the Church Commissioners had the idea of selling Zurbarán paintings that hung in the palace, and local people completely opposed that. We ran a very successful campaign to keep those works of art in Bishop Auckland and not to let them be taken to a gallery in London or even the west coast of America. Consequently, a philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer, came and has invested in the castle. We are now seeing an absolute flowering, including a new Spanish art gallery, in partnership with the Museo del Prado in Madrid, a mining art gallery, a summer night show, Kynren, and a museum of the history of religion supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

That is all absolutely flourishing and it is giving people a new focus and a new sense of pride. It is great for people who live there, but it is also a reason for tourists to come to the town, and that has economic spin-offs. We have created lots of apprenticeships and are hoping to create 1,000 jobs. If anybody wants to get off the train between York and Edinburgh, I suggest that a long weekend in my constituency would be fantastic.

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, which was opened so magnificently by my right hon. Friend and near neighbour, the Member for Delyn (David Hanson); I am sure the Minister can feel our enthusiasm.

I do not want to sound biased, but of course the constituency of Clwyd South has the best range of towns and villages, the magnificent Chirk castle, the outstanding Llangollen international eisteddfod and of course Corwen, the great home of Owain Glyndŵr. All those towns have magnificent histories and culture and so much going on, but I also want to put in a word for our villages. As we speak about the importance of developing a town of culture, it is important that we recognise the culture in our villages.

I think of Glyn Ceiriog in my constituency, which so magnificently hosted the Powys eisteddfod a few years ago. I think of the community of Cefn Mawr, which has the wonderful Cefn Mawr and District Museum, entirely run by volunteers. Such is the interest in that museum that local schoolchildren produced a wonderful history set at the time of the first world war armistice. Among the other many magnificent villages in my 240 square mile constituency is my home community of Rhosllanerchrugog. My right hon. Friend spoke earlier about the miners’ institute there—the wonderful Stiwt—with several choirs and so much more. It has a great Welsh nonconformist heritage. Those are just a few of the things in my constituency that I can do justice to in a couple of minutes, but as we speak about the towns, let us speak about the villages too.

On the subject of Rhosllanerchrugog, I know it has a fantastic working men’s hall and institute. In Blaenau Gwent we have a world-class brass band, the Tredegar town band, and the estimable Beaufort male choir, who recently performed with Public Service Broadcasting. People may be surprised to know that in the villages above Trefil in Tredegar we now have a growing film industry, which has contributed to Hollywood blockbusters and, of course, “Doctor Who”, which is produced in Cardiff in Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree that this initiative would be brilliant for boosting our cultural pride across our country?

I agree totally with my hon. Friend. I am aware of so many people still wanting to speak that I will end my speech, but I think the award is a wonderful idea.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this important debate.

Something happened to me last night that illustrates the importance of this debate. I was talking to a colleague of mine who represents, shall we say, a more prosperous south Manchester seat. I told him I was going to speak about Heywood and Middleton’s rich cultural heritage, and his response was, “What are you going to talk about for the other 59 minutes?” He probably had not envisaged how popular the debate would be—I actually have only two minutes, so in the other minute I have left I will talk about the rich cultural heritage of Heywood and Middleton.

Even the Wetherspoon pub in Heywood is named after the Lancashire dialect poet Edwin Waugh. Steve Coogan was born in Middleton. The Chameleons and the Courteeners are famous bands born and bred in Middleton. Julie Goodyear, also known as Bet Lynch, was born in Heywood and still lives there. We have Middleton Arena, a fantastic cultural hub that is currently rolling out a new programme of National Theatre live broadcasts, making theatre from here in London accessible to residents in my constituency. We have Heywood Civic Centre, a venue providing a programme of live events and community participation, aiming to become a borough-wide hub for community-led cultural participation and creation.

We have my friend, Labour councillor Kallum Nolan, who has made a film about Sam Bamford, the radical who led the march from Middleton to Peterloo—the film is a rival to Mike Leigh’s film, “Peterloo”—and used local people as actors. We have Cartwheel Arts, based in Heywood, and we have the architecture of Edgar Wood, who left Middleton with a fine collection of historical buildings, immortalised in a recent film, “A Painted Veil”, made by Middleton filmmaker Anthony Dolan and which I was proud to host in Parliament last year.

I wish I had more time to talk about the artistic and cultural activities that go on in my wonderful constituency. I will finish by saying that I cannot wait to enter Heywood and Middleton for the newly founded town of culture award.

It is an honour to speak under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) for securing the debate.

Why do we need a national town of culture award? It is really simple: it is about pride and confidence in where we live, bringing our communities together, enhancing social cohesion and growing economic and social investment in our towns. According to the 2011 census, more than 38 million people live in towns—about 59% of our population. Yet despite being the majority of the population, people in towns frustratingly feel that they are competing with cities for jobs, infrastructure and wider arts and cultural investment, so it is about fairness, too.

Obviously, I will speak about Batley and Spen, which includes the wonderful towns of Birstall, Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike and Batley. We have amazing organisations, such as the Batley festival, the Bagshaw Museum, the Cleckheaton folk festival and the Batley and Spen Youth Theatre Company. I would love to celebrate all those things, but I also need to say to the Minister that we know that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport understands the impact that winning the city of culture award has. Impacts derived from that award were referenced in the recent cultural development fund announcements, in which funds were awarded to Wakefield, Grimsby, Plymouth, Kent, the Thames estuary and Worcester. Of course I congratulate those communities, but we want to take the impacts of that award much further; we want to bring them to our towns and communities.

Buxton, in my constituency, has world-class arts; it has the Buxton festival and the Buxton opera house. It also has fantastic community arts, in which people can get involved to boost their health and wellbeing; that is an amazing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Given that we have less mental health treatment in our towns and rural areas, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should look at the ongoing benefits of supporting the arts in our towns?

I thank my hon. Friend for that powerful statement about how creativity can affect mental health. Certainly Creative Minds in my constituency works with social prescribing to support mental health.

Other Members want to speak, so I will conclude. I am co-chairing a parliamentary inquiry on social mobility in the performing arts. My personal commitment, in supporting the call for a town of culture award, is to work to ensure that we have diverse participation in both the bidding and the implementation process.

Being a town of culture is a key opportunity to drive better access and social mobility in the arts sector. We cannot continue to see statistics such as 12% to 13% working-class participation in the arts. We must do better, and we can. As they say, “If you don’t see it, you can’t be it.” I ask the Minister to please let us make this happen. Let us celebrate what makes towns great.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing the debate.

I fully support the call for a town of culture for the UK. Culture plays a huge part in our economy—it is worth £90 billion a year. One in every 11 jobs is in the cultural industries. The percentage of our GDP spent on goods is going down; the percentage spent on experience is going up. The UK is a world leader in music, theatre, film, literature, architecture and design, but that has been too closely focused in cities. We need to expand that to towns. We need to increase the amount spent by central Government on culture, which is 0.4% of GDP, even though it produces 9% of jobs.

I was approached recently by creatives in my home town of Rhyl, who want to use creativity to encourage regeneration. They reminded me of the great people from my town who have been involved in the creative industries: Mike Peters and The Alarm; Lisa Scott-Lee from Steps; Nerys Hughes from “The Liver Birds”; Lee Evans the comedian; Adrian Henri, the beat poet, who worked in a fairground in Rhyl; Carol Vorderman, who was educated in Rhyl; Paul Higginson, my friend, who is chief executive officer of 20th Century Fox in Europe, Africa and the middle east; and Sara Sugarman, the Hollywood film director. We have had a folk club in Rhyl for 55 years, a musical theatre for 100 years, a brass band for 120 years, a classical music group for 70 years, and the first purpose-built children’s theatre in the whole of the United Kingdom.

I ask Members to look at examples of seaside towns. Where arts come, regeneration follows. St Ives was regenerated around the Tate gallery. Margate is regenerating as we speak, as a result of Tracey Emin and her art. Southport is regenerating through the Gormley statues, and the billionaire Roger De Haan has invested his own money—tens of millions of pounds—in art and creativity to regenerate the town of Folkestone.

We should tap into the passion in the Chamber, so that we can be leaders in our towns and communities, and ensure that culture plays its proper part in the regeneration of our towns.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this debate. It is already clear that the case for a town of culture award is absolutely irresistible. I am sure the Minister will stand up and tell us that it is nailed on. The competition is so intense that whoever will be on the judging panel will have a difficult job.

As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, the award is about aspiration, celebration and pride. It is about identity around people and place, and about culture. Those are all important things. Our towns are in danger of being forgotten a bit. Putting them on the map with a town of culture award would make a real difference.

Let me mention the three towns in my constituency. The town of Bottesford has the magnificent St Peter’s church, and interesting cultural activities around Bottesford Beck, which spawns all sorts of interesting things. The town of Kirton-in-Lindsey celebrated its diamond jubilee town hall by renovating it in the 60th year of this Queen’s reign, although it was first put there in the 60th year of Victoria’s reign. The town of Scunthorpe has its magnificent steel heritage. Only a few weeks ago, thanks to the work of Jim and Christine Pearson, former mayors of Scunthorpe, a steelworkers statue was unveiled. People thronged to see that. That is just one example of how culture lifts people’s spirits. The town of culture award will lift everyone’s spirits.

As the only south-west Member of Parliament here, I am here to speak up for the west country and our fantastic array of towns. There is so much more competition than just the excellent towns we have heard about from the north and from Wales; there are those in the west country, too. We are about so much more than clotted cream and whether it should be jam first or cream first. We have fantastic towns right across our region. We have the world heritage site in Tavistock; the Tate at St Ives; our Cornish tin mining museum; amazing food in Dartmouth; Fowey and its sailing; and Plymouth, the creator of the pasty, Plymouth Gin and the Mayflower Steps. The Mayflower Steps and the Mayflower story are so powerful.

We have the opportunity to tell stories that connect our towns right across the country, from Scrooby and Babworth in Bassetlaw to Gainsborough, Boston, Immingham, Harwich, Rotherhithe, Southampton, Dartmouth and Plymouth. We need not only to have a towns of culture competition, but to join up our towns, because telling the story of how our towns are connected will create more jobs and more passion. An awful lot of people are proud of their towns in the west country. This competition would be such a boost for that.

I fully support all those who have spoken. In particular, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this debate on a wonderful idea.

The past few years have seen immense success for the UK city of culture, which has created renewed interest in those cities that have had successful bids. The bidding process has been beneficial even for cities that have not been successful. Crucially, it has showcased culture and arts outside London and the big metropolitan hubs. Government figures show that 53% of the population of England live in an urban settlement that is not part of a conurbation, but towns get less than half the Arts Council funding that cities receive.

Towns are the fabric of our nation, and their cultural offer needs to be acknowledged, respected and celebrated. Unfortunately, too often they are the areas that are made to suffer as a result of private and public sector decisions, such as closures, underinvestment and consolidation in cities. When Hull’s year of culture was launched in 2017, there were unprecedented crowds; hundreds of thousands of people came from all over the country to celebrate. It was 12 months of visitors, events and inward investment in the city from tourism.

Many Members have mentioned their towns. I represent six. Like all small towns, there is an element of pride to them. Composers, bands, authors, scriptwriters, “Coronation Street” actors, artists, Dave Pearson, politicians come from the towns I represent. My home town of Accrington has the beautiful Haworth art gallery, with its Tiffany glass collection—the only one outside the United States. We also have the club that would not die, Accrington Stanley.

We have to go beyond arts and look at engineering and textiles in some of these proud towns. Accrington produces the hardest bricks ever produced; they prop up the Empire State building and others. I am trying to save a tower that dates from 1148, which is hard to do in a town where the local authority does not have the funding for that. Some of these towns suffered as a result of globalisation, and they need the resource and the support that cities get. A fraction of the £220 million that Hull received would go a long way.

I will conclude by saying that this is a fantastic initiative. I support this debate and personally congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, who secured it. I hope the Minister listens and takes this initiative forward.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this debate. Yesterday was Great Grimsby Day. If Members did not know about that, they know about it now. They can put the date in their diary for next year and can expect something spectacular, because my town will be doing something amazing, thanks to a Labour council and Charlotte Bowen of the Culture House; I especially wanted to mention her tireless, assiduous efforts to bring a range of cultural activities to north-east Lincolnshire, and her assistance in securing the £3.2 million of Government funding for culture and arts that was recently announced. Members need to come and get involved in that.

Grimsby is a proud, tough, hard-working town full of committed and enthusiastic people who are keen to improve the area and make it a more desirable place to stay, work and play. On top of the exciting events and installations that we hope to see once this money comes through, we have had our town deal agreed. We have had agreements from the landowner and the port operator, Associated British Ports, that the famous Kasbah area of the Grimsby docks can start to be developed and opened up. It has received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and has been given a boost by a company called Creative Start Art, which is taking up a tenancy to kick-start regeneration in the heritage action zone.

Culture comes in many different forms. Grimsby has not only a wonderful concert venue, the Grimsby central hall, which more people should go to, but the annual Bradley youth festival, which showcases local acting, musical and spoken word talent. We have an amazing arts section at the local college, which excels in designing for movies, doing makeup and theatre sets. We have the Caxton theatre, the auditorium in which Kevin from Grimsby will star in “Burn the Floor”; the fishing heritage centre; the Time Trap museum; and a range of knitters, sportspeople and dancers. The people of Grimsby know that they are much more than “Skint” and Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Grimsby” film. How wonderful it would be if we had the chance to put all those positive things together and won what will clearly be a much-coveted award.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing the debate. Sir Walter Scott sat in the Boat Inn pub in the village where I live and drafted his novel “Ivanhoe”, inspired by Conisbrough castle. Ted Hughes lived in Mexborough, did his newspaper round through Old Denaby, and went on to write his famous poems. Of course there are others, such as Diana Rigg and Lesley Garrett, and let us not forget Brian Blessed—all home-grown in Doncaster.

Today’s debate is about having a showcase to celebrate our heritage and what we have achieved over the centuries in our towns and villages, but I would not like the Minister to think that this is all about the past. It is about the future as well; it is about creating new art, new music, new plays, new novels and new poems, as well as enriching a sense of aspiration within our communities. A person does not have to go to London or our cities to get a job as an actor, musician or artist, or to work in the creative sector. We can grow those sectors in the towns and villages of the UK. I hope the Minister will act quickly to establish the town of culture award.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe, and I congratulate my colleague on the Select Committee on Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), on securing this debate. I am pleased that this ever-so-slightly oversubscribed debate is taking place, and I fully support the initiative that he set out so eloquently. I am not sure what the record is for the number of contributions in a 60-minute debate, but so far we have heard 19 passionate sales pitches on behalf of constituencies across England and Wales, and we are about to hear one from Scotland.

And from Northern Ireland, with apologies to the persistent hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I will come to him. We have heard so many pitches. In a 60-minute debate, we have heard from the right hon. Members for Delyn, and for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), the hon. Members for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), and for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), the right hon. Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), and the hon. Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Strangford, for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), for High Peak (Ruth George), for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn). The strength of feeling is pretty clear.

It is vital that we recognise the value of our towns, big or small. They often have bigger personalities than cities many times bigger. I am proud to be an MP for Paisley, the town I was born in. My friend George Adam, the MSP for Paisley, often refers to it as the centre of the universe. In an Adjournment debate in November 2016, I provided evidence to show that, for its size, Paisley is unrivalled in its contribution to the world. It can be said that Paisley is one of the reasons why we are having this debate: as some hon. Members will be aware, the Paisley 2020 campaign for UK city of culture helped raise awareness of Paisley’s spectacular, historical and ongoing cultural contribution to the world. Although we were robbed blind of what was rightfully ours, the bid alone was fantastic for the town and will leave a legacy of its own. The fact that Paisley was the first town to make the shortlist highlights the issue with the city of culture award, as it stands, without an accompanying town award.

A city or town of culture award will provide an excellent opportunity to boost the profile, economy and self-confidence of the winning town or city. The bidding process alone is a huge opportunity and can be cathartic. I can speak only for Paisley’s experience, but at the start of the process, the number of Paisley buddies and those from wider Renfrewshire who were highly cynical about the bid and viewed the town negatively far outweighed the number who supported the bid. However, as the months passed, buddies were reminded of what was and is great about the town, and learned about some of the planned investments and events, and that opinion rapidly shifted.

Despite losing out on the award, some of the investment plans have remained in place; there is a £110 million investment plan for the town centre and venues. To me, the real value and prize of the bid was getting buddies to believe in the town again. Unlike the majority of UK cities, the name Paisley is known worldwide, having given the world the famous pattern of the same name, though we may have borrowed it from somewhere else, as you may well know, Mr McCabe. Paisley’s textile mills—the first of which was built by the Coats company, which at one point was the biggest company in the British empire and the third-largest company in the world—started mass producing shawls with the pattern. The name Paisley is literally woven into history.

Paisley was home to the world’s first constituted Burns club and is also home to the UK’s largest youth theatre, PACE, which has helped produce fantastic performers—this is where Paisley outshines the towns mentioned in the rest of the contributions, I would say—such as James McAvoy, Paolo Nutini and Richard Madden, who recently won a Golden Globe for his role in the BBC drama “The Bodyguard”, which featured a fantastical plot about a UK Government Minister up to no good, which obviously would not happen in real life. Paisley can also boast of calling Gerry Rafferty, David Tennant and Gerard Butler our own.

Paisley is not the only town or village in my constituency with a proud cultural heritage. From Bishopton to Bridge of Weir, and from Elderslie to Erskine, everywhere has something to offer. The historical capital of Renfrewshire, my home town since I was four years old, has a proud history that few can match. Renfrew is known as the cradle of the royal Stuarts, as it was an early home to the final royal family of the Kingdom of Scotland. In 1164 at the battle of Renfrew, King Malcolm IV of Scotland repelled Somerled, the Lord of the Isles.

We all have many towns and cities rich in history and culture, many of which miss out on vital investment. This proposed town of culture award would potentially unlock that investment and bring a sense of pride back to these places. My message to hon. Members across this House is that Renfrewshire stands ready to win any such award. I urge the Minister to take this proposal forward.

There is not a lot of time left, but I remind the Minister that he will not need long to say, “Yes,” in response to this debate. I endorse the proposal by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) and other hon. Friends. I congratulate the Labour Towns group on turning up en masse and coming up with such compelling arguments, as well as the other hon. Members who spoke. My right hon. Friend rightly said that there was an opportunity to do something on a UK basis and involve the devolved Administrations; I thought his proposals were very good. He also took some very good interventions, including those of my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who are no longer in their places, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). He mentioned Richard II and Flint castle; as he may know, my brother Patrick is an actor who once played a small part in promoting Flint indirectly—he starred in “Richard II” at the Globe theatre.

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) spoke passionately about his constituency, putting to bed the reputation that it was perhaps unfairly given by John Betjeman. My hon. Friend quite rightly said that arts funding tends to be higher in cities than in towns—we really need to look at how to redistribute resources much more effectively through the arts budget.

It is always very comforting when the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) speaks in a debate—when he turns up, we know that things are normal in the world. He made his constituency sound like the garden of Eden, although I remind him that that is where original sin was invented. I look forward to playing crazy golf with him in Strangford some day.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) referred to Richard III—another king who met a dodgy end. I look forward to a long weekend in Bishop Auckland, which sounds like a wonderful place.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), may I take the opportunity to mention Rhosllanerchrugog? She took an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who is no longer in his place. My mother was born in his constituency—in Nantyglo, another town that would really benefit from the sort of initiative we are debating.

As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) spoke passionately about her community. So did my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), who made the important remark: “If you don’t see it, you can’t be it.” I know that her constituency work is very much based on that idea. She took an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George), who mentioned Buxton and the importance of cultural and artistic activities to health and wellbeing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) spoke passionately about Rhyl. I remind him of Cerys Matthews’s song “International Velvet”, in which she sang, “Darganfyddais gwir baradwys Rhyl”—“I discovered true paradise in Rhyl.” My hon. Friend reminded us to “tap into the passion”, and his speech certainly did that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) spoke brilliantly, rightly pointing out that the judging panel will have a difficult job. He also pointed out Scunthorpe’s steel heritage, which he knows that I share in my background.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) mentioned clotted cream and the question whether the jam or the cream should come first. What I say to the Minister is that we do not mind which it is—as long as it is not “jam tomorrow.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) spoke, and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) spoke brilliantly about the welcome investment in the arts in her community. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) promoted her constituency, as ever, and gave us a remarkable list of people from it who have risen to prominence—they have a very prominent MP as well. The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) spoke for the Scottish National party.

I represent a city seat, but I was born and brought up in Cwmbran, a new town. Every time I drive back to see my 89-year-old mother, a song comes into my head: Simon and Garfunkel’s “My Little Town”. One of the lyrics is:

“And after it rains there’s a rainbow, and all of the colors are black.

It’s not that the colors aren’t there—it’s just imagination they lack.”

If we have the imagination and the investment, we can do wonderful things. We all know what has happened to our towns through the evisceration of local government funding, the removal of services from our high streets and the loss of banks, libraries and museums. Those institutions are very important. Let us have a renaissance in our towns, let us have a town of culture, and let us hear the Minister say yes.

It is a real pleasure to close this debate, Mr McCabe. I thank the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) for securing it and all hon. Members present for their valuable contributions and advertisements for their towns or localities. I also thank those hon. Members who co-signed the letter to the Secretary of State asking that our Department establish a town of culture award.

I am thrilled with this debate, because it really is recognition of the value of culture generally, which we all know about; as Culture Minister, people would expect me to say that. I have been to 35 locations around the country in the past 12 months and seen the value of culture in towns, villages and cities alike, and how important it is for society as a whole.

I join colleagues in celebrating the rich heritage and culture of towns across the UK. I must confess to being possibly a little biased in favour of this motion, as my own constituency is in a town. Of course that town is the very best of towns—I was born and brought up there and it has its own very generous share of cultural heritage—so I recognise, first and foremost, the value of towns. Creativity, arts and heritage make our towns and all our places—cities included—unique, and our communities better places to live in. A Conservative colleague suggested recently that we should also have a county of culture. Culture goes across the board.

As the right hon. Member for Delyn has highlighted it, I will say something about the UK city of culture award, because it has a powerful social and economic impact on the winning bidders. Hull 2017, which has been alluded to, leveraged truly enormous private investment and generated £300 million through increased tourism alone.

I understand the potential for arts and culture to transform communities, which is why a range of places, including towns, can already enter the UK city of culture competition. Of course I recognise that towns will have a lot to compete against when they come up against cities in the same competition. The bidding process for the title of the 2021 UK city of culture, which was awarded to Coventry, invited bids from cities and towns, and it allowed partnership bids from two or more neighbouring cities or towns, or from a closely linked set of urban areas. That is one way of dealing with this issue.

It is for individual places to weigh the benefits of bidding, in terms of galvanising local partners and raising the profile of the place, compared with the costs of putting together a bid. I am currently reviewing the criteria for any future competitions and will continue to keep under careful consideration the offer to towns, as well as the burden of bidding. This debate has been very influential in that regard, so I again congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing it.

It is welcome that the Minister is reviewing the competition criteria. When does he expect to report back on his conclusions?

The hon. Gentleman will be among the first to know. Of course, there are already a number of Government-wide initiatives to invest in our towns and high streets. I have only a few minutes left to highlight some of them; indeed, some have already been alluded to by hon. Members.

I am also keeping under careful consideration the effectiveness of different types of support to help towns and other places to prosper. Wider Government support for towns and high streets includes, of course, the future high streets fund, which is worth £675 million. It was announced in the autumn Budget to encourage vibrant town centres where people can live, shop and spend leisure time.

The prospectus for that fund was only published in December. It invites local authorities to submit expressions of interest for capital funding. There is a lot of money available, so I encourage hon. Members to invite their local authorities to take an interest in the fund and submit expressions of interest.

Of course, DCMS-related sectors contribute to successful and healthy high streets, and it is key that they do so. The Royal Society for Public Health report, “Health on the High Street: Running on Empty 2018”, found that residents of towns with healthy high streets live on average two and a half years longer, and that libraries, museums and galleries contribute to the healthiest high streets. Culture has a powerful health as well as wellbeing benefit, and has a positive cultural impact.

The Government’s plan for the high street also includes the creation of a high street taskforce in 2019 to support local leaders. The Government already run the Great British High Street awards, a hotly contested competition to find Britain’s best high street. Crickhowell was announced as the overall UK winner for 2018, and I was delighted to see St Giles Street in my town of Northampton win the category in 2015. Towns can win, and this competition enables towns to raise their profile and celebrate local efforts to create vibrant town centres that are loved by their communities.

Just before the Minister finishes, I want to try to tie him down. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has written to ask for a meeting with Members of Parliament to discuss this process further. Will he and the Secretary of State agree to attend the meeting?

I cannot speak for the Secretary of State, but I will agree to meet. We will set that up, and I am happy to do so.

My Department believes that place-based cultural investment should be a key part of the local growth strategy for all towns and cities in England. The cultural development fund, which has already been mentioned and was launched in 2018, is a £20 million competitive fund to support towns and cities to develop and implement transformative, cultural and creative growth plans. Just last week the Secretary of State announced the winners: Grimsby, Plymouth, the Thames estuary, Wakefield and Worcester.

Grimsby will receive £3.2 million to deliver a new programme of international events and public art to revive the town centre, provide a business support programme for local creative businesses, and create new production facilities in the town’s historic centre. The Thames estuary will receive £4.3 million. The cultural development fund and the UK city of culture projects are exemplars of local enterprise partnerships. We also welcome the innovation of local areas developing their own initiatives to celebrate local culture. For example, the Liverpool borough of culture and the London borough of culture are attempts to broaden the impacts of cultural titles and moments to areas beyond city centres.

I want to stick up for Arts Council England. Some 75% of its funding goes outside London—it is being distributed widely. We of course have to bear in mind that large centres of population are within cities, but my experience of Arts Council England is that it recognises that its role is to spread its resources around the country, which it is doing. Some 9.2 million people saw British Museum exhibitions and objects on show outside the museum in 2017-18, and more than 2,500 objects were loaned to 126 venues around the country.

A lot of work is already being done in this area. I am very happy to meet colleagues and interested partners to discuss the matter further, and I am keeping the situation under review. My Department and the Government recognise the value of culture. It is a precious part of our community life and has multiple assets and benefits. We will continue to support it.

I thank all Members who have turned up today. I thank the Minister for his positive response, and we will be in touch to make further progress. The time has come to encourage economic development in our towns on a cultural basis.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the establishment of a town of culture award.

Sitting adjourned.