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Arts Council: Spending Outside London

Volume 757: debated on Thursday 20 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Arts Council’s spending outside London.

My Lords, the Government want everyone to have the opportunity to experience arts and culture wherever they live. Currently 60% of the Arts Council’s grant in aid and 70% of lottery funding is invested outside London, and the Arts Council intends to build on this further over the next three years.

I thank the noble Lord for his reply. London’s role as a cultural centre is, of course, crucial but there is an imbalance in grant in aid, which the Arts Council cannot rectify due to cuts. The disproportionate cuts to local authorities in the most disadvantaged areas affect their ability to support local arts bodies as they would like. What advice would the Minister give to those struggling arts bodies outside the M25, and does he agree with those who argue that National Lottery funding for the arts should be allocated on an equal per capita basis?

My Lords, there were some important points there. The point about London, which the noble Baroness made, is that it is currently the cultural centre and, I think, the cultural capital of the world. We must ensure that that remains the case because so much of what happens in London goes out on tour. There are many examples of touring companies based in London, probably 78% of whose activity is outside London. That is important. There are many good examples of local authorities all around the country, including Durham, Lincolnshire, Wakefield and Portsmouth, which recognise that arts and heritage are routes to economic growth.

My Lords, more than 80% of private giving to the arts goes to London-based organisations. Does the Minister agree that the Government and the Arts Council need to redouble their efforts to get more private giving to go outside London, not least because many institutions headquartered in London are deriving substantial profits from the work they do outside London?

My Lords, all these points lead to the feature on which we need to concentrate—partnership. This involves the ability for London-based institutions to tour the country and the fact that our museums are loaning all around the country. These are happening and the examples are increasing.

My Lords, does not the Minister accept that this squabble will not in any measure be resolved until we have again a proper level of public subsidy of the arts, including local authority funding in the regions and—it has to be said—in London, where small companies are struggling as much as anywhere else?

My Lords, I do not think that the arts sector feels that it should be immune to the current economic conditions. Restoring the national economy is absolutely vital to ensure that we have the funding we need for the arts. That is the important point. In fact, I think that the arts sector recognises that in the last spending review it had a positive outcome, given national conditions.

My Lords, is it not inconceivable that the Arts Council should cease to fund our great national cultural institutions, many of which are, for historical reasons, located in London? I join the Minister and other noble Lords in pressing the point about local authorities. If we are to make up the deficit of funding in the regions, surely it is important to find better scope to enable local authorities to support the arts, as well as continuing to diversify various sources of funding. Should we not congratulate the Arts Council on the extent to which it has succeeded in sustaining funding for the arts outside London?

I think that it is universally and widely accepted that the Arts Council is doing a very good job in difficult circumstances that we all acknowledge. There have been some interesting developments regarding the way in which a number of innovative councils have been looking at how to deliver services on the arts and heritage more efficiently, whether by setting up charitable trusts, creating mutuals, outsourcing or sharing services. There are many good examples of local authorities of all political compositions doing well in that.

My Lords, will the Minister have a word with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government in respect of some of the schemes it administers for arts outside London? Recently, under one scheme it is administering, it changed the closing date for applications while the process was under way, thereby depriving hundreds of small arts groups around the country of the chance to complete their applications. That has to be unfair, and is bad administration. The Arts Council does not operate like that; this was a central government department.

My Lords, it would be most helpful if I could have a conversation with the noble Lord so that I can take back specifically the point that he has made.

My Lords, given the fact that we all agree that local authorities are major players in supporting the arts, museums, libraries and so on, what does the Minister think about the recent Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report highlighting the Government’s ignorance of the key role of local authorities in supporting arts and culture? It said that the committee was “staggered” that the Arts Minister Ed Vaizey could not recall a single conversation with any local authority. Is this now being addressed?

My Lords, that Select Committee report was interesting. I assure your Lordships that its contents will be looked at thoroughly by DCMS Ministers. There is £720 million of local authority money—that is, taxpayers’ money—going into the arts. That is a lot of money. I know that times are difficult, but they are doing very well with that amount.

My Lords, did the Minister see the chair of the Arts Council’s recent article, which stressed how investment in arts and culture can help to stimulate in our cities not just social success but economic success, and does he agree with that position?

I wholeheartedly endorse what the noble and gallant Lord has said. In fact, the department is very conscious of the economic, social and intrinsic value of arts and heritage. That is part of the work that the department is undertaking.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned favourably the county of Durham. However, even there, with regard to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the people of County Durham put in 30p per head and receive only 12p in grant funding.

I understand what the noble Lord is saying. That is precisely why the Arts Council is looking at moving the trend to the regions and I think that that will bear fruit. I want to go back to the importance of the working partnership between institutions that we cherish in London and those outside. There is a great cross-referencing of art and material from regional museums to London and vice versa.

My Lords, to illustrate the point that my noble friend the Minister just made about that partnership between Arts Council support in London and what happens in the provinces, those of us who are lucky enough to see beamed into our local cinemas the most excellent productions from London—from the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company, for example—experience, at second hand but at cheaper cost, the very extensive work that is being done in London.

My Lords, I think it is so that more than 75% of cinema audiences looking at Royal Opera House productions live outside London. Those are the sorts of changes and new ideas that are making culture and the arts so much more accessible. What a great success they have been.