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Regional Arts Facilities

Volume 837: debated on Wednesday 27 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to protect regional arts organisations and facilities funded by local authorities, particularly where those local authorities are facing financial difficulties.

My Lords, we recognise that local authorities face challenges. That is why we have announced an additional £600 million to bolster our existing support, alongside our £64 billion local government finance settlement. We have also made permanent the increases to cultural tax reliefs and provided support for energy bills over the past two years. DCMS continues to advocate for and help local decision-makers understand the full value of culture, including through our culture and heritage capital programme.

My Lords, local government funding has been the foremost means of support for our arts and cultural services. How then will the Government address the significant underfunding which, over so many years, has deprived organisations across the country of the core investment essential to the day-to-day running of our museums, galleries, libraries, theatres and orchestras? Does the Minister accept that tax relief and the kind of capital investment the Arts Council announced this week, though welcome in themselves, are not the solution to a problem now driving our arts and cultural services to the point of collapse?

The noble Earl is right to point to the importance of local government, which is a bigger funder of the arts than national government or the Arts Council. It is a really important partner. He points to the things that the Government have done through the cultural tax reliefs—making them permanent is an important part of the help, alongside the support we have given to organisations in the face of rising energy costs. But, as I said in my initial answer, my department advocates for the importance of cultural spending, not just because it is a good in itself but because it is a way for local authorities to deliver many of their other statutory obligations in education and in health and well-being. That is why we capture the data and measure it in a Green Book-compliant way, so that we can have the conversation with our colleagues at the Treasury and bring the successes that we saw in the Budget, but also so that we can make that case clearly to our colleagues in local government.

My Lords, one of the most important cultural institutions in Northern Ireland is the Linen Hall library in Belfast. As a member, I would be delighted to host the Minister in the Linen Hall the next time he is in Belfast, so he can experience it for himself. It has been there since 1788 and it holds collections of national and international significance—yet it is significantly underfunded. Will the Minister think about the possibility of looking at all the UK cultural institutions that are critical to cultural well-being across the UK? I think it would be very useful to find out where the critical institutions are.

Many elements of culture are devolved, as the noble Baroness knows, but other elements, such as the benefits through the National Lottery, apply UK-wide. I would be delighted to make the case for those benefits of our United Kingdom for cultural organisations right across the UK.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the fact that there is a cost—to things such as education and other bits of government—if you do not have these functioning properly. Can the Government give us some indication of the input needed from, for example, the Department for Education, to deliver an acceptable level of operation properly to the nation, and also the on-costs for things such as the night-time economy?

Many of these things are the responsibility of local authorities. That is right—they are accountable to local people for the way that they deliver them, but they have statutory obligations, including in children’s services and education. The Department for Education works closely with local authorities as they discharge that duty and the Government provide help—my department allocated £33 million only this week for library services and museums around the country, helping people with their education outside school settings.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, when local authorities cut back and have an impact on the arts in their own area, it impacts not only on the audiences, performing companies and organisations there but also on the touring arts companies? I think particularly of the Welsh National Opera, which circulates considerably in England. In looking at this Question, will he take a strategic attitude and have regard to the knock-on effect that that can have?

I talked with the Welsh National Opera only last week about the importance and benefits of touring, as it does, between England and Wales. I am sure the noble Lord would share my despair that the Labour Government in Wales are cutting arts funding by 10% and considering reintroducing fees for museums. I hope that he sees the positive contrast with the increased budget that the Government provided to Arts Council England at the last funding round.

My Lords, we have a bit of an impasse. Could we hear from the Conservative Benches and then the Labour Benches?

Thank you. My Lords, despite financial difficulties, some national museums are prevented by law from deaccessioning. What is the Government’s policy towards regional museums?

As my noble friend rightly points out, some of the national museums are prevented in statute from deaccessioning items in their collections. Other museums are under the direction of their trustees, and about 18 months ago the Government, working with Arts Council England and the sector, provided some guidance so that the trustees of those collections were able to reflect on the importance considerations as they made those decisions.

My Lords, the Minister will know that, for the past 40 years—probably more—the arts sector in this country has been reliant principally on three sources of income: one is what it can earn for itself through trading, another is the public funding that comes from the Arts Council and local authorities, and the third is private giving. He will also know that all three of those funding streams are currently under enormous pressure. Therefore, while accepting and being grateful for the work that the Government have done recently, in view of the widespread challenges that all arts organisations are currently facing, does he think that it is enough?

The noble Baroness is right. All three elements that she mentioned are important, and all three are facing challenges at the moment. That is why we were so pleased that the Chancellor agreed to make permanent the tax reliefs in the Budget, because that encourages the sort of risk-taking experiment, such as touring a new production, that can help be a part of the commercial income of our brilliant arts organisations. I am glad that the noble Baroness has agreed to join the advisory panel for Dame Mary Archer’s review of Arts Council England, which can look at this important landscape and, I hope, inform the review and the recommendations that it makes to government.

My Lords, I declare my interest as set out in the register. Tomorrow sees the opening of the new Perth Museum, which is the new home for the Stone of Scone, or the Stone of Destiny. This has been made possible by £10 million of funding from the UK Government, and also substantial funding from the local council. This has been a brilliant model and will be transformational for Perth. Can the Minister tell us a bit more about whether the Government will make more of these types of transformational investments—capital investments—to allow regions that are relatively deprived to have vibrant arts and cultural organisations?

The noble Earl is right to point to the importance of partnership working. The Government are very proud to have contributed towards the museum in Perth and the new home for the Stone of Scone—I hope that the opening tomorrow goes well. In the Budget, we also joined the Welsh Government and Flintshire county council in supporting Theatr Clwyd, which does important work not just in north Wales but in the north-west of England. I had the pleasure of visiting the theatre and seeing the renovation that has been done there. Through both the levelling up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund, the UK Government are playing their part in helping arts and culture in every part of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I know the Minister supports Labour’s view of a positive approach to the arts and to culture. The UK originates blockbuster films; it is one of only three net exporters of music; we are the second-largest advertising supporter and the largest book exporter; and the cultural sector, as the Minister well knows, supports 2.5 million jobs and is worth £125 billion. Yet, in 2021, the Government said that arts subjects were not a strategic priority. Given that culture is one of our most dynamic and growing sectors, is this still official Government policy? If it is, will the Minister commit to reviewing and reversing this damaging and neglectful approach to our arts and cultural industries?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to point to the importance of arts and culture to our economy, as well as our society. It is one of the Chancellor’s five priority areas for the economy, and that was reflected in the Budget through the tax reliefs and through the direct investment that was made. He is also right to talk about the importance of cultural education, so that we can unleash the talents of everybody and make sure that future generations have the ability to join, enjoy and pursue a lifetime in arts and culture. That is why I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, is helping lead the advisory panel to inform our new cultural education plan, working jointly with DCMS and the Department for Education.