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Arts and Cultural Services

Volume 802: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the provision of arts and cultural services at (1) local, and (2) regional, level.

My Lords, the Government have committed to supporting our vital cultural and creative sectors across the country. In October 2019, we announced a new £250 million cultural investment fund—the largest ever single investment in regional cultural infrastructure, local museums and neighbourhood libraries. DCMS’s arm’s-length body, Arts Council England, invests more than £600 million in arts and culture each year. It is spending more outside London than ever before, particularly targeting places where cultural engagement is low.

My Lords, arts and cultural services have been among the first to go as a result of the Government’s policy of austerity, with £400 million cut from local authority spending for England alone since 2011, according to the County Councils Network. Museums have been squeezed, libraries have closed and there has been a significant decrease in serious theatre production originating outside London. Does the Minister not agree that local authority funding remains the most effective means of day-to-day maintenance of the arts? The future will be bleak if the Government do not reverse the cuts. Will they do so? The regions deserve better.

The noble Earl is obviously right to reflect on the challenging funding environments faced by local authorities over the past few years, but he will be aware that local authorities across England will see a 4.4% increase—£2.9 billion in real terms—in their core spending power in 2020. Local authorities are extremely well placed to decide how to prioritise their spending. We are clear that expenditure on arts and culture is one of the best decisions that local authorities can make.

My Lords, we were told a year ago that there was a plan for business rate relief for music venues, particularly in the regions. When will we get it?

My Lords, I welcome the £250 million cultural investment fund and the allocation of £90 million to the cultural development fund, but the Minister will know that the former focuses on infrastructure and the latter on urban, not rural, areas. Can she clarify plans to improve cultural services in urban areas where there is little in the way of cultural infrastructure and where revenue, not capital funding, matters? Can she say more about how the Government will address the discrepancy in provision between urban and rural areas, which have suffered the most by far as a result of the local authority cuts mentioned?

The noble Baroness is right to raise the issue of need in rural areas. The Government are approaching this principally through the lens of ensuring equality of access to cultural provision; we have focused on programmes such as Creative People and Places, reaching more than 3 million people in the areas in the bottom quartile for access. All the funds being looked at at the moment will look through the lens of rural access but our principal aim, in the words of the noble Baroness’s speech the other evening, is to unleash the creative potential of the nation.

My Lords, while the provision of arts and cultural services by local authorities is clearly crucial to our society’s well-being, does the Minister share the frustration felt by many of us at the increasingly utilitarian approach taken by schools and further and higher education, which often devalues arts and culture at a time when we know less about what skills will be required in the workplace of the future but we know that the sort of broad vision provided by arts and culture—and, perhaps, religion—will be invaluable?

The right reverend Prelate makes an important point. He will be aware that the Government committed in their manifesto to offering an arts premium to secondary schools to fund enriching activities for pupils; we have committed £107 million of funding to that for 2021-22. On careers progression, good work is going on between Arts Council England and the creative industries body to develop apprenticeships, particularly in this area.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware of the importance of the creative arts and creative industries to the economy in general. Is she aware of a recent survey showing that 42% of employees in the creative industries generally lack the necessary skills, that 22% of employees in those industries come from overseas, and that 10% came as freelance workers from the EU last year? How does all this fit with the Government’s immigration policy?

As the noble Lord knows, the Government have set out a points-based immigration system that will recognise skills and talent rather than the origin and nationality of the individual. The UK’s existing rules permit artists, entertainers and musicians to perform at events. I know this has been a concern of a number of your Lordships.

We have not had a question yet. I thank the noble Earl very much. Does my noble friend accept that, where a wonderful purpose-built gallery and grade 2 listed building—such as the Usher Gallery in Lincoln—is at risk, the local authority has a duty to consider every possible means of maintaining it, and perhaps to explore the creation of a trust to which the gallery can be transferred? Does she accept that to deprive people of a gallery that is the most important benefaction the city has ever received would be a very serious step indeed?

I hear the concern about the situation in Lincoln in my noble friend’s voice. I feel, however, that it is up to the local authority to look at every possible option, as he says.