Skip to main content

Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design

Volume 767: debated on Thursday 3 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will intervene to halt the sale of the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design building, Central House in Aldgate.

My Lords, the strength of our universities rests on their autonomy and government is, rightly, discouraged by statute from direct intervention in their affairs. The consolidation of the estate of London Metropolitan University, as set out in its One Campus, One Community strategy, is entirely a matter for the university. The Higher Education Funding Council expects any university to take appropriate professional advice when engaging in any major sales of its estate.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that, with the intended move to a single campus, London Met is saying that it cannot support the Cass, the loss of which would be a tragedy for art design and manufacture in this country? Will she accept that the Cass should remain in the East End, where it belongs, as an independent centre of excellence—a solution that the Government could expedite, as they now own one of the three campus buildings? This is a matter for the Government.

My Lords, I am afraid I must reiterate that this is not a matter for government intervention; it is for the university to make the decision. However, I can certainly say that this Government absolutely support art and heritage in this country. That is why we announced in the comprehensive spending review £1.6 billion of capital investment in culture across our country in 2021.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in view of the importance of the creative industries both nationally and regionally, we should be expanding and developing art and design colleges, that Cass is a total success, that there is no necessity for its move, and that its closure is not in the long-term interests of east London?

I thank the noble Lord for his question and am delighted to tell him that in the comprehensive spending review the Government indicated that they will support the £100 million development of a new Royal College of Art campus in Battersea, subject to the business case. We agree that the creative industries are extremely important, which is why we are, for instance, helping to support that project.

I declare a past interest in that my husband did silversmithing there at the same time as Baroness Serota’s husband, who was a much better silversmith, I might add, and had been doing it for many more years. Can the Minister assure me that those courses will continue, because they are extremely valuable?

As I have said in answer to a couple of questions, I am afraid that I cannot comment on this particular case. It is a matter for the university. But I am very happy to talk about the fact that the Government provide around £60 million of funding for specialist art and music colleges, which do this country proud.

My Lords, the Sir John Cass faculty is one of the most successful and highly regarded educational institutions in London, maybe even in Britain. Part of its success has always been attributed to its location in the East End close to the City, where it has thrived for more than 250 years. It seems that it is now likely to be forcibly moved out to Holloway, due mostly to London Metropolitan University’s financial difficulties. Surely this is the sort of situation in which the Government should step in and help.

I know that noble Lords around this House value university autonomy. As I have said, this is a matter for the university, not for the Government.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that with this move we will lose the only musical instrument building course in the country at a time when the Chancellor is quite rightly, and very admirably, focusing on building up the arts? But this is about the next generation. How are we going to train people for the future?

My Lords, as I have said, we provide more than £40 million in funding to specialist arts and music colleges around the country, such as the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, the Royal College of Music and the Royal College of Art. This Government are committed to supporting the creative industries in this country.

My Lords, following on from the noble Lord’s question, would the Minister say what the Government are doing to allay the very strong concerns of the arts and creative industries community that the introduction of the EBacc, with its concentration on STEM and not STEAM subjects, has meant the downgrading of art and design, and that without the facilities, courses and teachers at places like the Cass the next generation of creative talent is being diminished?

I reassure the noble Baroness that, in fact, since the introduction of the EBacc, the proportion of pupils in state-funded schools taking at least one GCSE in an arts subject has increased. In 2005, entries for GCSE art and design were 2% higher than the year before, and for music the figure was 3% higher. We absolutely believe that the arts and culture are part of a well-balanced broad curriculum, which we support.

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that the Government’s commitment to art and design is admirable, as is their commitment to the autonomy of universities?

My Lords, will the Minister tell me, as an innocent in these matters, why she does not agree to at least say that the concerns of the House, which she has listened to, will be transmitted to the university concerned? Churning out figures about the millions of pounds that have been spent is no good at all to the people who are losing this very valuable asset.

As I have said, this is not a matter for government. But I am very sure that the university will take note of what has been said this morning.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that music teaching in schools is a very important part of building resilience and self-confidence and improving self-discipline, and that cutting state schools’ provision of music—the number of music teachers is currently going down—is a major step back for precisely those state schools that need to build all those qualities in their pupils?

I entirely agree with what the noble Lord says about the value of music and the enjoyment that pupils can get from it. But as I have said, in 2015, GCSE entries for music were in fact 3% higher.

My Lords, I turn the attention of the Minister to the other bit of the Question, which is about the physical building in this ancient area of Aldgate, just beyond the Roman and medieval city walls. What steps can the Government take to preserve this building? It and the Whitechapel Gallery alone have survived the replacement of our physical heritage by ever-more anonymous, overpriced sky-scrapers, which serve neither the local community nor the built environment.

I am afraid that this is not a matter for the Government. As I said in my original Answer, the Higher Education Funding Council expects any university to take appropriate professional advice when engaging in any major sales of its estate.