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Arts: Regional Theatres

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 20 July 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage and support theatre within the regions.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government invest money via Arts Council England. In the financial year 2012-13, the Arts Council will provide over £50 million of grant-in-aid support to regional theatres. Money has also been designated for greater touring opportunities and the refurbishment of some major theatrical buildings.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but is she aware of the current extent to which not only companies but venues whose job it is to serve local communities, such as the Northcott Theatre in Exeter and the Derby Theatre, are at risk of closure? Is she also aware that Tom Morris, co-director of “War Horse”, has said that the great international critical and commercial success of “War Horse” and “Jerusalem”—the product to a large extent of seeds sown in the regions—would not have been possible without public subsidies, and that those productions have been regarded with envy by Americans whose own far more conservative funding model Jeremy Hunt wishes to emulate?

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has been consistent and is extremely knowledgeable on this issue. I am aware of the theatres and that “War Horse” has been a fantastic success; we are thrilled about that. However, I suggest that bald statements on funding do not tell the whole story. Thirty-seven per cent of London’s regularly funded organisations were identified as touring in 2010, and “War Horse” has been touring everywhere with great success. Their influence spreads well beyond the M25. We must acknowledge, too, that the Arts Council is investing in capital projects across the regions through National Lottery funds.

My Lords, first I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a former executive director of the Royal National Theatre. I echo the point that the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, made about the interdependence of the major companies, the National and the RSC, both of which are currently enjoying huge success in America. They are hugely dependent on the health of the regional theatre sector, as has already been pointed out. The Minister will be aware that the Arts Council has already implemented cuts of nearly 30 per cent in its awards across the country this year and for the next three years. She will be aware also that it is faced with the necessity to cut 50 per cent of its own costs in the next few years. Does she think that it is likely that the Arts Council, faced with those difficulties, will be able properly to fulfil its remit as a strong, arm’s-length body supporting the arts?

My Lords, the noble Baroness made some very valid points. More than 100 organisations that identified touring as a core part of their work are recipients of regular Arts Council funding. In the near future, there will be an additional £80 million a year of lottery income invested in national portfolio organisations for touring.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Lowry. Is the Minister aware of the excellent programme, Schools Without Walls, run by the egg theatre in Bath? Children from primary schools in Bath are taught their lessons at the theatre for a few weeks during the summer term, and creativity and drama are introduced across the curriculum. The programme has no public funding. What do the DCMS and the DfE intend to do to help theatres to engage in such good outreach programmes?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter for that question regarding children in primary schools and the theatre. It is a very important issue, and the Government and DCMS have brought forward a project with match funding. Arts Council England recently launched its £40 million Catalyst Arts scheme, which will provide £30 million of match funding to arts organisations exactly as the noble Baroness mentions, and will help smaller bodies to build their fundraising capacity.

Does the noble Baroness understand that the success of the West End is built on the bedrock of the professionalism of regional theatres and the professionals whom they offer to the West End? Secondly, does she realise that regional theatres build up the new generation of theatregoers that we must encourage to make sure that the theatre has its right and proper place in our cultural life?

My Lords, I agree totally with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. Towards that goal, in his Budget of 23 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a significant package of new measures to support a drive towards greater charitable giving exactly in this area. It was worth around £600 million.

My Lords, I declare a modest interest as a friend of Salisbury Playhouse. Perhaps through my noble friend the Minister I may congratulate the Arts Council on the manner in which it dispensed what I acknowledge were reduced funds and say that, because of the quality of the Salisbury Playhouse, it was not cut in any way.

My Lords, my noble friend brings up a valid point. I congratulate the Arts Council and the Salisbury Playhouse.

Does the Minister agree that, with notable exceptions such as those in Chichester, Sheffield and Leicester, the combination of local authority cuts of up to 60 per cent and the declining income from audiences in areas of high unemployment is posing real threats to this sector? Is there nothing that the Government can do to assist the Arts Council, which has been forced to impose a 10.9 per cent cut in real terms on regional theatres in the period to 2015?

My Lords, the Government have negotiated a substantial settlement for the arts in these times of economic constraint. We have limited the cut to the Arts Council’s overall budget, grant in aid and lottery, to just 11 per cent. While grant in aid—just one part of the Arts Council’s 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 into the arts from the National Lottery each year from 2013.

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Arts Alliance, which consists of all the organisations delivering arts to offenders. Does the Minister include in the funding of regional arts, the arts being delivered in prisons and to other offenders in the regions?

My Lords, I do not have the details of that here, but I very much hope so. I will write to the noble Lord with the answer.

Does the noble Baroness accept that while we can all share in the pride that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, feels in the theatre of which he is patron, quality has not been the major determinant of the cuts inflicted on the Arts Council and by the Arts Council? There are many companies up and down the country, in London and in the regions, that are recognised to have world-quality status but have had their funding savagely reduced.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, is not quite right. The overall budget for the Arts Council will be reduced by just 11 per cent over four years. This is hardly going from feast to famine.