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Arts: Local Provision

Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 10 May 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage the provision of arts at a local level.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government will invest more than £2.2 billion in the arts over the next four years via Arts Council England. This money will support artists and organisations working at every level, from small community arts groups to our major national institutions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. However, in view of the fact that we already have unacceptable levels of funding to the arts locally—100 per cent cuts have been made by some local authorities—and that we are just at the beginning of this, does the Minister agree that what is urgently required is the introduction of a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide proper funding of the arts and cultural services, since these are such a necessary part of the life of local communities?

My Lords, I understand fully the thrust behind the question of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, but we feel that imposing a statutory duty would also place added burdens upon local government at a time when deregulation is a priority. We want to continue to give the funding responsibility to local communities and local authorities so that they can take the decisions which are most appropriate for their area, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all model of cultural provision.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Arts Council England, to which she referred, has made a pretty good effort through the creation of its new national portfolio to ensure that there is coverage across England of arts organisations at all scales, as she mentioned? I should, perhaps, register an interest as the author of a report, three years ago, on its last effort, which was, perhaps, slightly less successful. Does she not agree, however, that the random nature of the way in which funding has been withdrawn by local authorities makes the Arts Council’s job a great deal more difficult and means that the available funds are used less well? It would be in the interests of the Government, as well as those of arts communities, for local authorities to be more consistent in the way they apply their funding to the arts and culture.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The arm’s-length principle means that individual arts funding decisions are taken at arm’s length from government. To go back to the main part of her question, on 30 March Arts Council England announced its new national portfolio organisations. These are bodies which will receive regular funding over the next three years. As for the geographical breakdown, the spending will remain largely the same, so it will cover all areas.

My Lords, we hear a lot about National Lottery funds and the fact that the lottery gives money to the arts. Will the Minister say how that compares to the amount given by DCMS to the arts?

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, for that. While grant in aid, just one part of the Arts Council overall income, is being reduced, we are reforming the lottery so that more money will go to the arts. An additional £80 million will go to the arts from the National Lottery each year from 2013.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the patron of the wonderful Docklands Sinfonia. In terms of the Cultural Olympiad planned for 2012, will we be picking up local arts activities within schools in the East End and also all the musical possibilities, rather than just going for stilt walkers and things like that—not that I have anything against stilt walkers?

The noble Lord brings up a very good point regarding the Cultural Olympiad, with which we in the department are all deeply involved. He is absolutely right and that is what we hope to continue to do.

My Lords, is it right that the Department for Communities and Local Government is preparing guidelines to assist local authorities in deciding what approach to take to proposed cuts in the fields of the arts, heritage and sports? If it is right, is it right also that these are proposed to be given statutory effect? Will the guidelines, once produced, come before Parliament for approbation?

To return to the actual funding, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport feels strongly that individual arts funding decisions must be taken at arm’s length through Arts Council England.

My Lords, there is immense talent throughout the United Kingdom. What is being done to encourage the exchange of art collections between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England? It is not just Arts Council England that is involved in this.

Decisions in the Welsh Assembly regarding the Arts Council, for example, are devolved. It is a devolved issue and does not come under Arts Council England.

Does the Minister agree that in practice the situation facing local arts organisations is made much worse by the fact that, in addition to the 29.6 per cent cut in Arts Council funding over the next four years and the reductions in local authority funding, about which we have just heard, the RDAs, which significantly supported our creative industries and the arts right across the country, have been abolished? What progress are the Government making in replacing those lost funds before too much damage is done?

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has negotiated a substantial settlement for the arts, and it is not true that they are facing major cuts. As your Lordships know, though, we need to contribute, like others, to reducing the deficit. In the longer term, our areas that rely on several different sources of funding will benefit, like elsewhere, from a strong economy and stable public finances. It is simply not an option to protect arts funding while cutting public spending in other areas, but in time much more money will be coming from the lottery, as the noble Lord knows.

My Lords, however regrettable and inevitable the cuts in funding for the vital arts in this country, unlike other sectors that are susceptible to cuts, the arts sector has the opportunity to find a new source of funding from charitable giving, which is the foundation of the thriving arts in the United States where there is no public subsidy whatever. It is time that we worked harder at finding incentives for charitable giving. Does the Minister agree?

I thank my noble friend Lord Grade for that question, which he knows is very near to my heart. We have announced a package of measures to boost charitable giving, including an £80 million matched funding pot. In the Budget of 23 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a significant package of new measures to support a drive towards greater charitable giving, worth around £600 million to charities. We would all like still more, and perhaps we should follow the American route a little more.