Skip to main content

Arts Council England Funding: Coalfield Communities

Volume 636: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2018

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Wendy Morton.)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for generously granting this debate. I rise to congratulate Arts Council England on its incredible deftness and artistic creativity in presenting to the world a list of the coalfield communities that it funds that is so expansive as to defy most critical logic. In attempting to demonstrate that the paltry amounts of money it spends in English coalfield communities is slightly larger, the Arts Council has through its vivid imagination incorporated into the English coalfields the centre of Newcastle, the docklands of Salford and the entirety of Huddersfield.

Were this 200 years ago, the latter would have some credibility, but one can see from the detail of where miners are under the miners’ pension scheme, and much more publicly through Hansard due to repeated questions about the number of former miners who have claimed compensation under the huge industrial injury compensation scheme, the precise number of retired miners —for they are what we are talking about when we discuss former coalfield communities—in each constituency in the United Kingdom. It is safe to say that Huddersfield, central Newcastle and the Salford docks are rather low down the pecking order. Indeed, they are virtually invisible.

However, one can see on the public record, which the Arts Council should read to clarify its statistics, where the former coalfield communities are. I have a list of some of them and the amounts of money generously given by the Arts Council in the past year: Nuneaton—zero; North Warwickshire—zero; Washington and Sunderland West—zero; Amber Valley— zero; Erewash— zero; Rother Valley—zero; Wentworth—zero; Blyth Valley—zero; Gedling—zero; Sedgefield—zero; Sheffield South East—zero; Cannock Chase—zero; Makerfield—zero; Easington —zero; Leigh—zero; Doncaster North—zero; Barnsley East—zero; Newcastle North—zero; Blaydon—zero; Sherwood—zero; Staffordshire Moorlands—zero; North West Durham—zero; Stoke-on-Trent North—zero; Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford—zero; Hemsworth —zero; Houghton and Sunderland South—zero; Ashfield —zero; Mansfield—zero; North West Leicestershire—zero; Bolsover—zero; Bassetlaw—zero. The figures were last put in the public domain by my good self in a parliamentary question in 2007, when the situation was slightly better—five had received tiny amounts of money. However, 85% received nothing in 2007, nothing since and nothing today. We are therefore talking about national funding by the Arts Council, in most coalfield communities, of zero.

Let us compare that, at random, with the borough of Islington. There, the Arts Council funded 26 projects in the last year, 14 of them at more than £1 million—up from 2007. In Bermondsey, 13 projects were funded—up from 2007. In Bethnal Green and Bow, the figure is 30 projects—up from 2007. In Cities of London and Westminster, 62 projects were funded in the past year, of which 35 received more than £500,000—up from 2007. In Hackney, North and South, 32 projects were funded, and in Holborn and St Pancras the figure was 26. To demonstrate that this is not entirely a London bias, Manchester Central received funding for 30 projects, Brighton Pavilion had 13 projects funded and the figure for Birmingham, Ladywood was 29. All those areas benefit more than all the coalfield communities in England combined every single year.

This debate is about arts funding, but if we look at sports funding, the picture is not quite as bad. London has merely four times as much as the entirety of the coalfield communities.

All of that prompts the question of whether this is fair or reasonable. Should my constituents not have the same access to the arts as everybody else? If someone takes a bus from my constituency, it is not like taking a city centre bus or the underground in London. It is not possible to get from parts of my constituency to the city of Nottingham and back in a day by public transport. The slightly more generous funding for the city of Nottingham, which was explained to me as benefiting my constituents, has minimal benefit, particularly for young people.

I am particularly concerned about young people. You, Mr Speaker, have always been rightly and appropriately generous in welcoming young people from my constituency to Speaker’s House. For them, it is not just a great honour; it opens their eyes and opens doors to the kind of places they do not tend to go into. You fully recognise that, Mr Speaker, as did your predecessor. Why cannot the Arts Council gets its head around the fact that young people in my area do not have such opportunities?

We are talking about scores of constituencies around the country. One that I have excluded—Bishop Auckland—has one project at the moment, so it is doing very well. However, that is hardly an example of fairness. Indeed, the Bishop Auckland project demonstrates a further problem: when arts funding goes in, it tends to go into the great, historic buildings and museums. So although Bowes in Bishop Auckland is a great place and a great museum, it is not in the coalfields. Technically, it can be put down as a “coalfield contribution”, and it is a very valid contribution, but it is not a coalfield contribution at all. Even the paltry amounts are skewed by the Arts Council—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Wendy Morton.)

My hon. Friend is making a passionate case. I think the bias is for London and against the regions. Not so long ago, the whole of Lincolnshire was given 25p per person. What can be done with 25p per person? That is absurd. At the same time, London was getting 14 times as much as the average across the rest of the nation.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I merely say that when it comes to the English coalfields, we are talking about zero, zero, zero, zero, year after year. So the young people are reliant on the schools, which do their best, but we all know that schools funding has been tight. Schools funding for the arts has been tight for successive Governments—this goes back to the Labour Government as well. It has always been tight, but it has got tighter. Where someone wants to be creative in music in Bassetlaw, there is no facility available in the community for them. Where someone wants to go into the world of theatre, they find that no youth drama is being funded by the national Arts Council. The amounts of money that are there ought to be spread to some extent, to allow us to do things.

When we bid for money, the way the Arts Council works is that it says, “We’ll give you a consultant. One of our consultants.” That consultant will advise the Arts Council on what should be done. It is a closed shop within the arts world, where they give someone they know the contract to bid for money from themselves and none of it gets into the former coalfield communities. It is a scandal. The Arts Council needs to have the integrity to open up opportunities to give us the chance to demonstrate that where we do not have the arts infrastructure to bid for money, we can do it in a different way, with its assistance, without needing that infrastructure. Where people have the time, wisdom, inclination and skills, coming from the arts world, I do not begrudge them their brilliant ideas, inventiveness and claims in respect of facilities that already exist. If those facilities were in my constituency, I would be proposing the same. But is this fair on the national level? What about not just the education but the health, not least the mental health, of young people and the importance of the arts to them?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his contribution. He has just mentioned the very issue that I want to bring to his attention—the health institutions. Almost 50% of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families and staff because of the health benefits of the arts to their patients. Surely if they can do it, we can see clearly the benefits that would be brought to the coalfield communities.

It would bring a huge benefit. We are talking about small amounts of money to give us a chance with the few projects we ever put forward, which get knocked back repeatedly, as the evidence demonstrates. That requires a change of mindset in the arts world and in Arts Council England, which must say to communities—not only mine, but the many others from all corners of England—“You have the right to benefit from the arts. You have the right and we are going to help you. We are going to get in there. We are going to provide that little bit of funding that would make such a big difference.” I predict, Mr Speaker, that if the young people in my constituency were given that opportunity—you, Sir, are witness to this—we would see that they are as inventive, creative and brilliant as any other set of young people in the country, but they do not end up in the arts world because their skills remain hidden. It is hardly a surprise that the talent shows uncover so many people from areas like mine.

We once had in the miners’ welfares and institutes many educational, artistic and sporting structures, based on the coalmining industries. That gave an entire set of generations opportunities. Over the past 30 years, those facilities have gently crumbled away in most places. The miners are not there and the employer is not there to provide the time, facilities and, indeed, money that there used to be. The void needs to be filled.

Will the Minister meet representatives from the Arts Council to take them through these incredible figures and challenge them? I am more than happy to go with him. The big-picture issue is not whether it is my constituency or one of the many others that actually benefits. I shall of course fight strongly for my area, but if it was only my area that was not benefiting, one could see that we were doing something wrong. When so many scores of constituencies get no national funding whatsoever from the Arts Council, that shows that the system is wrong.

I say in a non-partisan way—the Minister will note that this affects constituencies represented by Members from different parties—that it is long overdue that this issue is addressed. The Arts Council is currently reviewing its priorities; here is a chance to direct a modicum of resource to the former coalfields to give our kids a proper artistic chance.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on securing this interesting and important debate. I believe that he and I are in agreement about the vital role that the arts can and do play in binding local communities together and about the sense of pride—and enthusiasm, for that matter—that engagement with the arts can bring to individuals and to places; we are certainly in agreement about that. The Government truly believe in and recognise the power of the arts to transform places and, indeed, people’s lives. I passionately believe that and know it to be true.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Arts Council England rightly operates at arm’s length from the Government. In those circumstances, it would be wrong for a Minister of the Crown to intervene in, or comment too specifically on, individual funding cases. I shall therefore begin by discussing the Arts Council’s role and the support that it provides at a broader level.

The Arts Council’s mission is “Great art and culture for everyone”, which it seeks to achieve through advocacy and investment in line with its 10-year plan. It works to make the arts, and the wider culture of museums and libraries, an integral part of everyday public life, accessible to all and understood as essential to the national economy and the health and happiness of society.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, the Arts Council has worked very hard in recent years to ensure that investment outside London has increased as a percentage and in cash terms. He will be pleased to hear that last year some 70% of Arts Council funding was awarded outside London. Between 2018 and 2022, an additional £170 million will be invested outside London. The Arts Council is also on target to spend 75% of national lottery money outside London by April this year—that is expected in the next couple of months.

The Arts Council recognises that more can be done to ensure that more people have access to great art and culture. Its flagship Creative People and Places programme, for example, was set up to focus on the least-engaged parts of England. Current investment in that programme is more than £53 million. The scheme allows local people to have a say in the art that they want locally. It is about taking art and culture to the people. Through that programme alone, the Arts Council has reached 1,450,000 people who would not ordinarily participate in art and culture.

There are some great examples of Creative People and Places schemes working in former coalfield areas, such as St Helens in the north-west, where Heart of Glass was set up in 2015. The evidence shows that that has made a difference. Heart of Glass and St Helens library service will join the Arts Council’s national portfolio of organisations for the first time in 2018 to 2022—congratulations to them for that achievement.

The statistics the Minister has given would be reasonable if between a quarter and a third of the British population lived in London, but they do not. Moreover, although the Arts Council is at arm’s length, the Minister has under his own control a significant budget that he could use if he wished to make up for the deficiencies in Arts Council distribution.

The fact of the matter is that the Arts Council has made significant progress, as I have outlined, in delineating moneys outside the London area. It is also important that my Department and I access all people throughout England. Arts Council England is focused on that too.

I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate Sue Williamson, who joins the Arts Council as director of libraries from St Helens library service, which I referred to a moment ago. She most recently delivered its award-winning cultural hubs and arts in libraries programme, and oversaw the successful application to the Arts Council’s national portfolio.

Another Arts Council-funded scheme is First Art, which is a collective of four cultural and community organisations working within former coalfields in north-east Derbyshire and north-east Nottinghamshire. It aims to bring inspiring cultural experiences within reach of everyone in Ashfield, Bolsover, Mansfield and north-east Derbyshire over the next two years. It is a very exciting programme.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw raised the issue of funding for coalfield communities at Prime Minister’s questions a few weeks ago, when he alleged an inequality of funding by comparing funding for coalfield communities with funding in the London Borough of Islington, which he mentioned again this evening. I am happy to correct that assertion on the record. Having read his letter to me following Prime Minister’s questions, I see that his figures are based on the Arts Council’s national portfolio funding only, which led to the conclusion of a discrepancy in funding. In actual fact, although the national portfolio organisation funding is an incredibly important part of the Arts Council’s work—it provides regular funding over a set period to some of England’s most vital cultural institutions—it is by no means the only form of funding it distributes. The Arts Council has established various funding streams to tackle different issues across the nation. Many of those funding streams are heavily focused on supporting areas outside London. Some 80% to 90% of the funding for the Ambition for Excellence scheme, which supports talent, leadership and ambition, will be spent outside London. Recent research showed that 91% of touring activity funded by the Arts Council strategic touring fund was spent outside London. Some £35 million will be invested in the scheme between 2015 and 2018.

I fear that the Minister is not quite getting it. Yes, touring people come through the wealthy villages in my constituency—I live in one—and good people like me pay good money to see these productions. But that is not in the former mining communities. In most of the former mining communities, there is zero going on. The Arts Council could not even manage to agree to fund an artistic director in my constituency and others for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower pilgrims in 2020. We are getting zero into the coalfield areas. Let us not confuse constituency and coalfield area, as I fear the Minister is being hoodwinked into doing by the Arts Council.

No, I certainly would not wish to conflate any of those issues. As I have already delineated, the fact is that there are several examples of coalfield areas that have benefited from Arts Council funding.

As I was saying, £35 million will be invested in the strategic touring fund between 2015 and 2018. The Arts Council is continuing to work hard to create a fairer balance to its funding outside of London. It is no part of my suggestion that there is not more that needs to be done; of course there is. This is something to which the Government are fully committed. I consider that the Arts Council is doing a very good job, and Sir Nicholas Serota is doing very well. I understand that there are currently no national portfolio organisations in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, although I am sure that the Arts Council would be willing to discuss how that could be addressed in future. I know that, as he loves the arts and supports the priority that culture should and does have in our society, he will want to engage and be willing to discuss how the situation can be addressed.

I emphasise that there is investment through the national lottery grants for the arts scheme, most recently awarded to the Harley Gallery and the artist Anthony Cropper. The hon. Gentleman’s constituency has seen an increase in funding of 269% taking into account all Arts Council funding, when comparing data for 2012-13 with the current financial year.

May I just make a wider point?

In many cases, the perceived lack of funding in certain areas is due to the limited number of applications for funding that the Arts Council receives. This is the case in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, where the Arts Council has only received 17 applications through its grants for the arts programme since 2014.

That rather sums up the problem across every coalfield community. Of course, there is the Harley Gallery. Prince Charles has been there on several occasions, which is not surprising given that he is directly related to the family who own the estate. It is a great investment. People come to the Harley Gallery from all over the world. If we could get people to go there from my constituency as well, it would be even better. But let us not confuse that kind of high-end art work—as important and valuable as it is to the nation—to working in coalfield communities.

I want to do everything I can to support all parts of society to access all forms of art. The Harley Gallery is doing wonderful work, and it is open to all. I know that the hon. Gentleman will join me in encouraging people to visit that gallery and any other galleries nearby that people wish to visit.

The Arts Council recognises the need to increase levels of ambition and interest at the local level. This, of course, cannot be done in isolation. Partnerships are vital. They often extend beyond culture and tourism to include businesses, the local authority in a given area, schools and higher education establishments. In places where that co-operation exists, great things can happen. I know that, as a supporter of the arts, the hon. Gentleman will be a leader in Bassetlaw in working to make these things happen. Clearly, things do not change overnight. It is important that this House devotes time to discussion of the arts, given their importance to so many people in our country.

I again congratulate the hon. Gentleman on enabling this discussion to take place.

Before the Minister concludes, we know what the problem is, and we know it is difficult, but we want to know what he is going to do about it.

Well, this Minister is deeply supportive of our arts, our culture, our galleries and our museums—our entire sector. This Minister is going to give every ounce of support to ensuring that we support the Arts Council and other arm’s length bodies in the important work that they are doing to make sure that the widest section of society has access to the arts, crucial as we know that to be in broadening the horizons and vistas that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw has spoken of. As I have said, there is work to be done, but it is wrong, in my submission, to characterise the Arts Council in the way that it has been characterised, because it is working very hard on this, and 75% of its funding is now outside of London.

As we all know, arts and culture help to remind us of where we come from. They bring incredible stories to life and help us to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. This country is a world leader in culture and the arts and the Government are committed to supporting that. By continuing to inspire people through the arts, we can continue to create the practitioners of the future. With the leadership—the good leadership—of the Arts Council, the House can see that this Government are paving the way for a bright cultural future right across the nation.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.