Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am certain that the Minister and Secretary of State are both fully aware that cultural recovery post Covid in the regions of England is well behind London. In this debate, I am expecting the Minister to list the things that the Government are doing in terms of the performing arts, such as tax reliefs, the culture recovery fund and culture places—they are indeed needed and most welcome. He may point to pots of money available for projects such as town funds, levelling-up funds and so on. However, as Eliza Easton of PEC and Nesta asked:
“How can levelling up funding (which requires competitive bids) make up for the huge decline in the day-in-day-out revenue funding which used to come through local authorities?”
Moreover, the funding pots that are available just do not touch the sides of the massive cuts to local government funding of 30%. Local authorities are, or were, the biggest funders of cultural activity across the whole of England, and they have been comprehensively kneecapped. They fulfil the most obvious of place-based actors, as they are in every place.
In its recent report, Cornerstones of Culture, the Local Government Association makes it clear that there is a vital need for a sustainable, multi-year funding settlement to enable local authorities to support the arts. The report reveals a £2.4 billion funding gap. It rightly argues that greater collaborative work between councils and cultural partners, combined with place-based funding from the Government, is crucial for sustaining the ecology of art and culture in the UK, and that a shift towards place-led approaches that enable a greater diversity of communities, cultural providers and practitioners to shape local decision-making is vital.
Absolutely nothing that the Government are doing slows or reverses the decline in teachers of dance, drama and music, or in teaching hours or position in the curriculum—nor does it solve the apprenticeship levy or the much-needed support for work-based training for young people and for people already in the industry and freelancers. It does not deal with the potential decimation of music hubs—out to consultation—nor is there support for our small music venues, which are closing down at the rate of one a week. That is where real people meet locally for real music. It is where Ed Sheeran and Adele started—it is where local talent begins. I understand that Minister Lopez is to meet the music industry about support for small venues, so let us hope that it is not just a meeting but a catalyst to actual support. Some government pressure would not go amiss on the industry itself to step up.
Mid-scale touring is also under pressure and threat. What are the Government doing about support for it? The whole touring ecosystem has been shaken. Yes, tax credits will help a bit, but they will not help most of the mid-scale touring. Then there is the scarlet pimpernel of promises—the eternally missing manifesto pledge of a £90 million arts premium, which is nowhere to be seen. We were told that it was to fund enriching activities for all pupils. Rishi Sunak, now Prime Minister, promised £25,000 on average for each secondary school to invest in arts activities in his March 2020 Budget. Then teachers were told that the funding would arrive in September 2021. When it did not, the Schools Minister said that the arts premium was subject to that year’s spending review. But—guess what?— when the spending review arrived, Rishi Sunak made no mention of the arts premium.
The performing arts are vital for all sorts of reasons, not just economically but in terms of well-being and community; they help with depression and anxiety and building bridges between cultures and worldviews. In other words, they are a vital part of the existence of a civilised society, which no one should be denied. Ministers can regularly be heard to chant that very same mantra, paying verbal homage but without willing the means and the action to achieve the ends.
We need a new deal to ensure the maintenance of performing arts in England, one that will ensure that we re-establish higher numbers of students taking and learning performing arts subjects across the country. At the heart of this diminution of the performing arts—I am sure the Minister will correct me on this—seems to be a systemic reductionist approach by the Government by deed and by word. We see it in the choice of EBacc subjects, the slashing of 50% of funding for university arts courses and the reduction in the number of our brilliant teachers of drama, dance and music, together with, as I mentioned before, a reduction in teaching hours of those subjects and their position in the curriculum. It is exacerbated by perpetual derogatory references to those vital subjects, describing dance and other creative subjects as “low value”, “non-priority”, “dead-end” and so on.
The government message that only a knowledge-based curriculum is valid has resulted in 66% of educators reporting a decline in the uptake of, for example, dance qualifications for students aged 14 and over. Music, dance, performing arts, art and design, as well as media studies, have seen their subsidy fall from £243 per full-time student per year in 2020-21 to £121.50 —more than halved. Drama teacher numbers have fallen by 20% and drama hours taught by 15%. There are 9% fewer music teachers, and one in seven music teachers have left the profession.
This Government’s school reforms have caused pupils to move away from subjects such as dance, music and art. We need both STEAM and STEM. I ask the Minister where it is that everyone, no matter what their background, can be enthused, imbued, uplifted, find talents, and enjoy and expand their horizons culturally? It is school. If it is not school, it will be who your parents are, what your parents earn and where your parents live—and that is not very levelling up, is it?
When it comes to apprenticeships—such a great way to bring young people into the working world of performing arts—the apprenticeship levy is not fit for purpose. Under the current system, firms have to set aside 0.5% of their payroll for apprenticeships. However, many employers say that they are unable to use the funds, which are taken by the Treasury if not used within two years, because the condition imposed is that businesses are not allowed to fund any courses that are shorter than one year in duration. This means that they are often unable to use the funds because many performing arts opportunities are of less than one year; they are much shorter. It is not fit for purpose, so please just change it.
Then there are the music hubs, where the proposition that they should be reduced from 116 to 43 is out to consultation until tomorrow. How can the Government go on about levelling up when these sorts of retractions are proposed? Chris Walters, the MU national organiser for education, has said, quite rightly, that
“the Government’s rationale for wanting fewer hubs has never been clear, and its updated rationale remains a list of untested assertions”
and that if the reduction goes ahead, it is
“likely to cause a great deal of disruption with no guarantee that children will receive better music education”.
All in all, it is quite a bleak picture for the performing arts across England.
I understand that there is to be a new cultural education plan, chaired by the superb noble Baroness, Lady Bull, but can the Minister confirm whether that review will enable actual curriculum changes? Will it outsource the cultural curriculum away from the school estate and timetable? I am really concerned about that, because if it is so, it will be a nail in the coffin of every child being able to take part in dance, drama and music—literally, a death knell.
There is also to be a music education plan in 2024—I wait more in hope than expectation—and, of course, the all-important creative industries sector vision. Given that the new Secretary of State highlighted the creative industries as a
“key growth sector for the UK economy”—
I could not agree more—at the opening of Creative UK’s Creative Coalition Festival this year, expectation is running high.
I have had very little time to present the case for so many parts of our performing arts under threat—I did not have time to touch opera and many others. It was literally a gallop through, when each deserves its own debate. I look forward to the Government’s response and hope that all the issues that I have raised will be fully addressed.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and thank the noble Baroness for securing it.
As noble Lords will be well aware, last year music, performance and the visual arts contributed an estimated £11.5 billion to the UK economy and, importantly, provided priceless joy and entertainment to millions across England.
No doubt a lot of focus in the debate will be about funding but before I turn to that I too want to talk briefly about the immensely positive impact performing arts have on the well-being of those of us who are lucky enough to experience them. I put myself in that category: there is no feeling or adrenaline rush quite like the one you get at the end of a great concert or show. Personally, I particularly enjoy musical theatre and never tire of Les Mis—but I will not admit on the record how many times I have seen it.
Having said that, we know that too many people in communities across the country do not get the opportunity to go to the theatre or to hear live music and be inspired, entertained and challenged by that experience. So it is important that there is a sustained focus in government to support, encourage and expand access to the performing arts and creative sector more broadly; otherwise, the critical support provided to the performing arts through the culture recovery fund during the pandemic will have been in vain. That saw more than £1 billion given to over 5,000 cultural organisations across England. For many, that support during Covid was crucial to their survival.
In north-west Norfolk, Westacre Theatre received £158,000, which it described as a lifeline that enabled it to
“survive turbulent times and carve a sustainable and exciting future”.
Based in a small village, the theatre provides a year-round programme of in-house productions, visiting companies, concerts, cinema screenings, and so much more. It runs youth workshops, providing opportunities in rural Norfolk for young people who might otherwise not get them to act on stage in a theatre and experience the thrill of live performance.
It is to be welcomed that support for the performing arts has continued post the pandemic. In this month’s Budget, for instance, the Chancellor extended the higher rate of theatre and orchestra tax relief.
Obviously, Arts Council England plays a central role in supporting arts and culture in this country but, as we heard from the noble Baroness, it is just one piece of the funding jigsaw. Through a variety of initiatives and funding streams, not least in relation to the levelling-up agenda, the Government should be, and are, supporting the performing arts to extend access and opportunity for people to both enjoy and take part in them to all regions in England.
One such example can be seen in King’s Lynn, which successfully secured £25 million from the Government’s towns fund. Some £8 million of that funding has been allocated to refurbish St George’s Guildhall—something that had not been done for years and for which the local community had been campaigning for a long time—and develop a new creative hub. As noble Lords may know, the Guildhall is Britain’s oldest continuously working theatre, and one in which Shakespeare is believed to have performed.
The project aims to build on this important cultural heritage and develop an arts and culture centre, with the Guildhall at its centre, in the very heart of the town. Importantly, it will increase participation for young people through its educational programmes. I welcome such developments as, for me, extending the educational, economic and social benefits that come from culture is, and should be, a core part of the levelling-up agenda.
I would be grateful if my noble friend could set out what further plans the Government have to extend opportunities to young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, to get more involved in the performing arts.
Of course, it is not just taxpayer funding that supports the performing arts. Private sector investment and involvement are crucial if we are to continue to see the sector thrive. A great example of what can be achieved with local determination is Festival Too. In 1985 a group of businesspeople got together to put on a free music event to complement the established King’s Lynn Festival. The budget that year was £5,000. This year the budget will be £140,000, with the money for the event raised from local sponsorship, fundraising events, and bucket collections during the event. It is held over three weekends, is entirely free, features well-known and local music acts, and attracts around 60,000 people. It is a fantastic local initiative and, having been last year, I can thoroughly recommend it to all noble Lords.
Another oft-cited example of how government has successfully leveraged private investment into the arts is the tax incentives that have helped our film and television industry to become world leading. Shepperton Studios is currently on course to complete an expansion project that will see it become the second-largest studio complex in the world by the end of this year, with long-term leases signed with Netflix and Prime Video. In February, Buckinghamshire Council approved plans for a 1.4 million square foot expansion at Pinewood, which will deliver 21 new purpose-built sound stages, a backlot filming space and a training hub, creating more than 8,000 new jobs, importantly, and injecting £640 million into the economy. Having been fortunate enough to see first-hand the sets for “No Time to Die” on a visit there, I know how huge the existing site already is and what a vote of confidence such an expansion is for the UK’s film industry, with all the benefits for the wider creative and performing arts sector that will flow from it.
Although I am perhaps more positive than the noble Baroness and believe that there is a bright future ahead, there can be no room for complacency; I completely accept that the performing arts and broader creative sector continue to face an array of challenges. Can my noble friend give us any update on the progress and likely publication date of the creative industries sector vision, which I know is keenly awaited?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, on the helpfully wide view of her opening speech. I am grateful for briefings from the Independent Society of Musicians, Equity, UK Music and the Music Venue Trust. There are so many concerns now facing the performing arts—indeed, all the arts—that it is difficult to know where to start. Therefore, with six minutes, we will be necessarily selective.
Only four weeks ago, the three BBC English orchestras and the BBC Singers were unthreatened, highly regarded public assets—we should emphasise the word “public”, because if the BBC Singers are saved, and that is still an “if”, but end up being supported by private money, they will not be the same much-loved people’s choir that they have been for almost 100 years. That is a step backwards, not forwards. The huge outcry against the BBC’s decision has taken some by surprise; not just the classical music world has protested but, tellingly, much of the rest of the arts sector, which understands that an attack on classical music is an attack on all the arts because of the ecology that exists within them. It is the same principle that, if we diminish the arts in London, we diminish the whole country. That is why, in levelling up, robbing Peter to pay Paul is no solution.
We are getting mixed signals from the BBC over how significant budgetary constraints have been in this decision-making. However, the Independent Society of Musicians points out that the £1.5 million cost of the BBC Singers is a mere 0.04% of its broadcasting expenditure. Although the BBC’s finances are undoubtedly being squeezed by central government, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that there is an ideological component to these decisions—or a serious mistake has been made. The cuts are unnecessary and need to be reversed. The performing arts are a huge part of the significance of the BBC and are massively important for the country. As regards expenditure, the BBC needs to understand better where its real priorities lie. It says that it wants to concentrate on music education, but what is the point of that if there are no jobs to go to?
As has been pointed out, music hubs are being cut from more than 150 to about 40 and will cover a wider geographical area. Music should be brought properly back into schools and, ideally, every student would have the same opportunities. That means removing the EBacc and Progress 8, which have been largely responsible for the 40% fall in GCSE arts subjects between 2010 and 2022, with a 40% fall in A-level music entries over the same period. Numbers of hours taught for arts subjects, numbers of specialised teachers and teacher recruitment have all seen significant reductions, to the point that some secondary schools now have no music teachers at all, while the subject is replaced by an EBacc one.
Moreover, if the performing arts are not to be the preserve of the rich, significantly more money must be spent on these subjects in state primary and secondary schools. That should include free instrumental tuition across the whole of the UK. The shortage of workers with technical and behind-the-scenes skills in theatre is not just about the better-paid film industry poaching them; it is also about drama in all its aspects not being understood within schools as an exciting and viable career path. The current accountability measures have a lot to answer for.
In terms of touring, I ask the Government to continue to make representations to the US Government with a view to scrapping the planned 250% increase in the filing fees for certain US visas, which would be prohibitive for emerging artists and orchestras. Following Brexit, this would be a double whammy for many new artists—particularly when you consider that they need to accrue the points that European tours enable in order to tour the US. A survey by the #LetTheMusicMove campaign found that 70% of artists and managers said that they would not be able to tour the US with these changes.
Very little has happened to better enable music touring in Europe. The major problems around visas, work permits, carnets, CITES and merchandise remain. The Government could do much more both domestically and in talks with Europe, including negotiating a visa waiver agreement. Indeed, in evidence to the European Affairs Committee on October 11 last year, the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said:
“I do not see why we could not agree a narrow visa waiver arrangement covering defined categories such as musicians and actors … If the relationship warms up … these things are possible.”
Now that the Windsor Framework has passed through Parliament, there is no excuse not to do so.
Finally, I mention the importance of grass-roots music venues, which the noble Baroness has referred to, and the disturbing statistic that one music venue closes every week. High energy bills have hit all the arts, but smaller local live music venues are hugely important for the pipeline of talent. The Music Venue Trust recommends that tickets sold for the larger stadiums should contain a contribution to the grass-roots circuit in the same way that Premier League football supports the smaller clubs. It also asks for such venues to be included within the energy bills discount scheme and that VAT be removed from cultural ticketing, which would make a huge difference to this sector and be of considerable help to emerging artists. The arts sector has been grateful for the extension of tax relief to theatres, galleries and orchestras, but it would be more helpful still if the music element of the orchestra relief was widened to include other music artists.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, for securing this debate and share the concerns of many other noble Lords about the challenges facing BBC musicians and the need to support small venues and touring programmes. The case has been made eloquently.
I am also grateful for the Library briefing, but I note that it begins—as has already been quoted—
“In 2022 music, performance and visual arts contributed an estimated £11.5bn to the UK economy.”
Have we really reached the point where we primarily describe the arts by the financial contribution that they make? Can we not imagine a world where the House of Lords Library produces briefings which say that, in the past year, 39,000 people had their minds opened and changed because of the plays they saw at the National Theatre; scores of people entered into the grim reality of migrants because they went to something at the National Theatre and then came back and signed up to some campaigning organisation to support them; and 40,000 people felt that they touched eternity in that breathtaking silence at the end of the Rachmaninoff “Vespers”? Can we not somehow talk about enriching the human soul? That is surely what it is about. We cannot and must not measure the performing arts primarily in financial terms but in the way that they expand our imaginations, unlock our sympathies and confront us with alternative realities that take us out of our comfort zones and demand that we engage with them.
In the few moments that I have to speak, I want to focus on one specific section of the performing arts: church music. The world has never considered the UK to be an especially musical nation—others can sometimes be rather rude about us. Yet, when you look back over the past 150 years, you can see that many of our greatest composers—Gurney, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Howells, Walton, Parry, Stanford, Tavener, Rutter and so on—started out singing in church choirs. Most of them did not come from privileged backgrounds. Often their fathers were church organists and their earliest compositions were hymns and anthems. Without church music, most of them would never have become composers. That tradition continues today among popular contemporary musicians, such as Ed Sheeran, Annie Lennox and Chris Martin of Coldplay—he was a chorister in the Exeter Cathedral Choir.
Take our Anglican cathedrals, which currently employ over 100 professional musicians and are involved with 4,000 choristers. Catholic cathedrals, other large churches and some Oxbridge colleges also employ more than 100 professional musicians. The National Schools Singing Programme, run by the Roman Catholic Church, has already expanded into 27 of the 32 Catholic dioceses, reaching more than 17,000 children in 175 schools. The Royal School of Church Music engages huge numbers of people through the “Voice for Life” scheme, designed to help people discover what their voice can do. The RSCM medal scheme takes choristers step by step through the various singing exams. A new initiative, Hymnpact, is a scheme designed to connect churches and schools, which is being piloted in my own diocese.
The St Albans Cathedral chorister outreach programme was developed in partnership with the Hertfordshire Music Service. Funded by Sing Up, the national singing programme, it was designed to encourage church choristers to work with primary school-aged children to enjoy singing. It has so far worked with more than 80 primary schools in west Hertfordshire, involving more than 6,000 children. The results have been so impressive that my own cathedral, in partnership with the Hertfordshire Music Service, continues to fund it even though the funding stream has officially ended. It has now been running for over 15 years. Two or three primary schools join the project every term for 10 weeks of singing teaching in schools, with up to about 90 children, followed by a concert in the cathedral to sing with the choristers at the end of the project.
None of this is funded by the state. In some limited cases, it has been helped with some seed-corn funding to get it going. It is absolutely right that in this debate there will be calls for proper long-term funding for professional musicians, actors and dancers. I support that. We need a long-term settlement which will enable this vital area not just to survive but to flourish and grow in our nation. However, at the same time, I ask the Minister: will he and his colleagues take a fresh look at the whole breadth of the creative and performing arts? There are many areas where, with some modest but consistent grants, we can see quite extraordinary results in our performing arts, such as what is happening through grass-roots singing in our churches and schools right across this land.
My Lords, I cannot demur from anything I have heard thus far. I thank the noble Baroness for instigating this debate. I declare my interests as a composer, a broadcaster and—the right reverend Prelate will be pleased to hear—an ex-chorister at Westminster Cathedral.
Drawing on my broadcasting experience, at least 50% of the people who come through my door, as it were, to be interviewed were turned on to music by an inspired teacher at school. A lot of young people go on to be choral scholars, for example, or to play in pop groups, which brings in incredible revenue.
When we have mentioned our concerns about the lack of music in schools, the Minister has always in the past quite rightly talked about the hubs. I accept that they have done a great job but, if they are going to be cut, our concerns will increase still further. Musicians at the moment are beginning to feel as though they are at the wrong end of a coconut shy: so many things have hit us. I understand that, in order to level up, as the noble Baroness and I would like, it is terribly important that we take the arts to underprovided areas. People will have to suffer; there will have to be cuts. It is true with the BBC as well, but the problem is that the arts are somehow always the first port of call for people wanting to make cuts.
With great respect to the right reverend Prelate, I will say one thing about money. It is important that we get into context that we are not asking for charity. Of that £11.5 billion that has been mentioned often, the Government’s stake, as an investment, was 4%—my very kind accountant worked this out for me this morning—and, even with the National Lottery money, it becomes 6%. So investment in the arts is very profitable for this country, which is why I worry about the future of music, if young people will not be there to people our choirs and orchestras and to become teachers.
The noble Baroness mentioned an important point: in schools, you now tend to get peripatetic teaching for an instrument, or music classes, if you are well off. If you are not, you will probably not get anything. I subscribe to various charities, such as the London Music Fund and Future Talent—I have even provided instruments—and one realises what a difference it makes. I remember going into Wormwood Scrubs prison and places like that, as a member of the Koestler Trust—I mentioned this in my maiden speech in 2013. I managed to get a guitar for a prisoner, who wrote to me afterwards and said, “You’ve no idea how this transformed my life. To be honest, if I’d had this means of expression when I was 19, I don’t think I would now be serving life for murder”. I realise that that is a rather dramatic point, but it is important if you broaden it, because there is a social dividend. It is not just about money, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned, although obviously that is important; it is about having a more cohesive society. The arts bring us together and make us listen to each other. If we are singing in a choir or playing an instrument, we have to listen, which is one of the first ways of getting young people to behave well and understand the nature of listening and giving.
I will say a little about why we are all so worried about certain groups such as the BBC Singers and the ENO—Sir James MacMillan has written about this. Nowadays, we do not think that the visual arts—Francis Bacon, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, for example—are terribly difficult to process; we all love them. Millions of people go to Tate Modern. New music is more difficult: as it moved away from tonality—although it has moved back in many ways—a lot of people felt totally out of touch, which is why you need expert groups such as the BBC Singers, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta and the Britten Sinfonia, because they are the adventurers that are pushing the way forward.
I will make two points, which are more about asking the Minister to pass this on to his colleagues. First, in order to take the arts wider, somewhere like Reading Gaol is a wonderful example of a place that could be used as an arts centre. People have marched locally. This was Oscar Wilde’s great triumph in adversity, which he overcame by writing the wonderful “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. The area around there cannot be developed, for lots of architectural reasons. So that is a question for the Ministry of Justice.
Secondly, cabotage means that, if people have the visas, which are beginning to come through, they can arrive at a third location and have no instruments to play. I wrote to the office of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, about this and I was promised a written reply that I have not received yet. If the Minister could chase that up, I would be very grateful.
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend for this important debate.
We applaud the concept of levelling up but the delivery is most important—I think this is what the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, was saying—and an essential part of that is the performing arts sector. The year 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of local authority spending on the arts. I echo my noble friend’s big ask: how can levelling-up funding make up for the decline in the revenue which used to come through local authorities—which understand the needs and asks of their local communities?
I am a trustee of the Lowry in Salford, a prime example of the important contribution local culture can make to levelling up. Not so long ago, the Salford Quays were derelict, disused docks; now they are a thriving, creative hub. What was behind this regeneration? It was an artist, who inspired a gallery and a performing arts centre within a great building, with a mission to involve, include and inspire the local community—since the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, likes musical theatre, I ask her to come to the Lowry. Most importantly, there was a city council which had the foresight and the commitment to achieve this, its vision. What a result. I argue that without the Lowry there would have been no move to Salford by the BBC, no expansion into Salford by ITV, and no MediaCity. The local mayor and local council continue to be intrinsically and intimately involved. So will the Government take note of the excellent LGA report Cornerstones of Culture, already mentioned, which recommends a return to local decision-making when shaping cultural provision?
As my noble friend Lady Featherstone, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, engagement with the arts starts at school. But STEM, not STEAM, has been the Conservative mantra, totally ignoring the fact that there should not be a choice between arts and science—they are symbiotic. The Government say that arts subjects are not “strategic priorities”, the same Government whose industrial strategy prizes the creative industries—of which the performing arts are integral—as a priority sector. Yet they persist with the STEM-obsessed EBacc. As Grayson Perry correctly predicted some years ago:
“If arts subjects aren’t included in the Ebacc, schools won’t stop doing them overnight. But there will be a corrosive process, they will be gradually eroded … By default, resources won’t go into them”.
That is what is happening.
There is another problem: the very different approach to cultural education in the state and private sector; the private sector recognises the benefits and offers art courses in abundance. The noble Baroness, Lady Evans, touched on the inevitable consequence: research by the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre has found that people from more privileged backgrounds are twice as likely to be employed in the cultural sector, which means less diversity in every sense. The UK’s creative workforce does not adequately reflect the diversity of the UK population.
I join my noble friend Lady Featherstone in welcoming the appointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, as chair of a new cultural education plan, and I hope that when she and her team deliver a solution to righting these wrongs—which I am sure they will—the Government will listen. I join others in asking the Minister when the Government will finally make good on his party’s manifesto pledge of the arts premium. Here I say to the right reverend Prelate that if we do not make the point that the arts bring money in, the Treasury does not listen. I also ask the Minister, to echo the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, again, when the creative industries sector vision—another Scarlet Pimpernel, to steal my noble friend’s analogy—will see light of day? It was first announced in February 2022 to be published that summer, but that is quite a long time ago.
As mentioned by my noble friend Lady Featherstone, there is a threat to touring. The ability to tour is essential to the performing arts, both economically but also in building careers and expanding audiences. We face a particularly serious problem in Europe due to Brexit—again, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—with cost issues and complicated paperwork over visas, carnets and cabotage. Since reopening agreements with the EU appears no longer to be out of bounds, does the Minister agree that it is time to negotiate a cultural touring agreement with the EU, and that this is urgent? Then there is the loss of Creative Europe funding, and support via the EU structural funds. The UK shared prosperity fund has been set up to cover that gap. Can the Minister update us on what proportion of successful bids and local investment plans will help our cultural organisations?
Finally, the Prime Minister, when Chancellor, said:
“For any country, there are probably a few things that you are world-class at … For us, in the UK, the creative industries, arts, culture is something we are genuinely world-class at”.
This may not remain the case unless the problems mentioned today are addressed, and swiftly.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter. She always puts her finger on the point and makes it well. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, on her robust and trenchant opening speech, because she has opened up a debate that we will need to continue having extensively.
This week, Paul O’Grady died, and there have been lots of tributes to him—I pay my personal tribute. He was a performing artist, who excited people about the world of art and culture in a different way that many of us found very enjoyable. I particularly liked the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Evans. I have now found something that she has in common with my wife: a love of a good musical—I was struggling before, I must confess.
It has not been long since our last debate on the arts, but plenty has happened in the intervening weeks. English National Opera has been given a one-year funding reprieve, and we expect news of a longer-term package shortly. A survey of the ENO Chorus by Equity, however, suggests that an overwhelming majority of performers would leave should the organisation be relocated out of London, as most have children in schools in or near the capital and spouses whose jobs are London-based. It is a serious problem for the ENO, and I hope that there is a solution to some of those issues. Perhaps the Minister can shed some light on it.
We have also had the BBC’s announcement of plans to wind down BBC Singers, prompting a significant public backlash and a U-turn. Wigmore Hall has announced its latest schedule, including a trio of “low stimulus” classical concerts to ensure neurodivergent audiences can access live music. However, another downside is that the closure of the Oldham Coliseum has been confirmed.
There have been missed opportunities too. The Chancellor’s Budget extended existing tax reliefs for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries for a further two years—a move which of course we welcome—but there was nothing for grass-roots venues. I recently asked Ministers why they did not give some form of tax relief and got a very interesting reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, who told me:
“A tax relief for grassroots music venues is not currently under consideration.”
In a reply given to me the same day, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, said that that the Government were
“committed to supporting our grassroots music venues, which are the backbone of our world-leading music sector”.
Those two comments and observations do not seem altogether to be in the same place.
Many venues are reporting gradual improvements in visitor numbers, which is important, but many are still unable to operate at capacity, either because some people remain reluctant to attend live performances following the pandemic or because the cost of living crisis means that they simply cannot afford to spend that part of their income. At the same time, many venues are facing high energy and other costs, exacerbating issues around attendance figures. Can the Minister outline what work the department does with cultural organisations and venues to keep track of ticket prices and sales and trends in audience numbers and behaviour? How are the datasets used to assist with policy-making? Is that something that his department gives fair consideration to?
One area where more discussion and support may be needed is live music. We have heard today about problems with visas, cabotage and so on for those wishing to travel abroad, and we know that the number of music venues is beginning to shrink—the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, referred to that: one venue a week. That is a serious issue. I know that in my own city a number of venues have disappeared.
We are lucky in the UK to have a vibrant music scene and to export artists’ work across the globe, but while venues such as the Manchester Arena have a full programme and strong ticket sales, smaller venues are not necessarily doing so well. We have seen an explosion in the number of new large music venues in recent years, which is a good thing, with a number planned for London and several other major UK cities, but many are asking what those venues are doing to ensure that they have new headlining acts—ideally, acts from a diverse range of backgrounds, rather than those who start their career on an elevated platform—in the coming years and decades. If we do not do more to stimulate smaller venues, the acts that develop and improve the quality of their performance in them, becoming niche and then broader-based and mainstream, we will not have performers in the bigger venues in years to come.
Whether it is theatre, dance or music, we need to ensure that there are opportunities for people to get involved, be spotted and work their way up. Some of that work is down to production companies, but a lot of it is down to education. I was delighted that education was brought to the fore of the debate today. I do not know about others, but when I was at school, my interest in the arts was greatly enhanced when, aged 15, I saw Judi Dench perform at the Aldwych Theatre. It was part of my curriculum.
To conclude, we want to see the performing arts continue to flourish. This requires a long-term, strategic approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Evans, put her finger on it: we need to see the Government’s plan. I hope that the Minister can help us with that today so that we can begin to see the development of meaningful help for grass-roots organisations and venues.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for securing the debate today and to all noble Lords who have spoken for their thoughtful contributions.
The past two or three years have been a turbulent time for the performing arts. I was appointed Arts Minister, the first time round, towards the tail end of the pandemic, as we were starting to emerge from those very difficult months. It has been a privilege to see the resilient and adaptive way in which the sector has responded, welcoming people back across its thresholds, and I have been very proud of the part the Government have played in supporting these sectors that are incredibly important to not just our economy but our lives.
The Government’s commitment to the performing arts is demonstrated to the tune of billions of pounds through the range of support that we have made available over the past three years; the £1.5 billion culture recovery fund and the recent tax reliefs in the Budget, which have been mentioned, being key elements of it. I am also delighted that the Arts Council’s next national portfolio investment programme, which kicks in next week at the start of the new tax year, will see a record number of arts organisations—almost 1,000—receive funding from the taxpayer.
This programme will invest over £400 million a year over the next three years in creative and cultural organisations right across England and will see more organisations funded in more parts of the country than ever before. It is a larger funding pot, and annual funding for organisations in parts of the country which have previously been neglected will increase substantially. We will see a particularly increased investment in 78 places—areas designated as Levelling Up for Culture Places—which were previously overlooked for arts funding, which will collectively get £43.5 million each year. That is an important thing and I look forward to seeing the arts transforming the lives of people and communities across England in the coming years, particularly in those areas which are benefiting anew.
As a number of noble Lords mentioned, at the Budget earlier this month the Chancellor extended the higher rates of theatre tax relief, orchestra tax relief and museums and galleries exhibition tax relief. These higher rates were brought in to help those vital sectors bounce back from the pandemic, but we know that the tail effects of the pandemic still endure and that there are new challenges, not least the rising cost of energy, so extending them for a further two years will help offset those ongoing economic pressures and boost investment in our cultural sectors. I am sure I am not the only person on the Association of British Orchestras’ email list. It sent its spring update this morning. I think it is worth quoting what it says:
“The higher rate of relief will help unlock new growth, protect and generate employment in the sector, increase access to culture and opportunity across the country and boost music export potential”.
I completely agree.
The changes the Chancellor made at the Budget are estimated to be worth £350 million over five years—a strong sign of the Government’s faith in and support for our cultural sector. In addition to that support, last week we announced that more than 70 cultural projects across the country will receive a share of £60 million of taxpayer subsidy through the Government’s cultural investment fund. That funding will help to level up access to arts and culture for everyone, no matter where they live. It will support organisations to upgrade venues and incorporate new technology so that they can best serve their local community and the wider country. It will help museums, cultural venues and public libraries to carry out essential maintenance, improve access and drive economic growth.
I was pleased to visit King’s Lynn with my noble friend Lady Evans and her husband to see one of the recipients of a previous round of funding: True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, which has strong links to her successor as Leader of your Lordships’ House. Successful recipients in the latest round include Basildon Borough Council, which is receiving £4.5 million to turn empty properties in the town centre into a creative hub, aiming to support over 200 start-ups over the next 25 years in the film, TV, gaming and animation sectors. Colchester Library is receiving more than £300,000 to transform part of the library into an interactive learning and play space for children and families. There are examples right across the country: Cannon Hall in Barnsley; the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent; Sunderland Museum; Morecambe Winter Gardens; and the Guildhall building in Walsall, to name just a few.
Noble Lords are right to stress the importance of venues big and small. I am glad that the Music Venue Trust’s work has been mentioned. The noble Baroness is right that my honourable friend Julia Lopez is meeting that organisation very soon. I attended the briefing that it held in Parliament—or rather above the Red Lion pub—in the autumn, to hear about its proposals to give local communities a share in the venues that are so important. I certainly agree with what the noble Baroness and it said about the importance of those venues to emerging artists as well as to communities and the people who go to enjoy them.
I also agree with what the right reverend Prelate said about the importance of church music. Last week I was celebrating with friends at St Bartholomew the Great, which celebrated its 900th anniversary last Saturday, along with a beautiful new composition by John Rutter. If the right reverend Prelate has not heard it, he can listen to it on “Sunday Worship” on the BBC Sounds app, along with some wise words from his right reverend friend the Bishop of London.
My noble friend Lady Evans is right to point to some of the other funds, such as the towns fund—which the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, was kind enough to mention too. The Government’s flagship £4.8 billion levelling up fund is also supporting access to culture and the performing arts across the UK. The second round of the fund, announced in January, made 31 awards to projects with culture and heritage at their heart, totalling £546 million. Thanks to that, dancers, bands, classically trained orchestras and many more will be able to perform in state-of-the-art spaces across the country, such as the currently empty Assembly Rooms in Derby, which are becoming a working theatre; the new theatres in Colne town centre; and the much-loved Hexagon theatre in Reading, which has received £19.1 million for its rejuvenation.
I will certainly take the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about Reading Gaol to colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I was aware of the project and agree with what he said about both the culturally important history of that institution and its potential. As requested, I will chase up a response to his letter from my noble friend Lord Ahmad.
I want to touch on what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and others said about the BBC orchestras and singers. Noble Lords will understand that I must stress that the BBC is operationally and editorially independent, so it is for it to devise its strategy and to take decisions on this matter. However, I recognise what they and many people around the country have said about the importance of the BBC orchestras and the BBC Singers to so many listeners, viewers, performers and communities across the country. I welcome the BBC’s announcement that it will undertake further work to decide on the future for the BBC Singers, and to do so in discussion with the Musicians’ Union. I also welcome the update that it is engaging with the Musicians’ Union and other BBC unions about its proposals regarding the English orchestras.
The BBC is, of course, required to deliver its remit as set out in the royal charter and agreement, which includes the BBC’s mission to serve all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output. It should prioritise using the £3.8 billion that it gets from licence fee income as necessary to deliver that remit.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, rightly took the opportunity to raise international touring. It is only hours since we voted on the Windsor Framework, but he is right to point to that landscape. As he knows, the Government are committed to supporting our creative sector to adapt to the new circumstances. He knows that the vast majority of member states offer visa and work permit-free routes for musicians and creative performers, and we encourage member states to align their requirements more closely with the UK’s own generous rules—but those discussions continue.
On the United States of America, Julia Lopez met representatives of the American Embassy here in London on 16 March to raise that issue, and we continue to engage with them on that. We know how important it is to the UK music industry and its concerns.
In my closing moments I will address skills and education, which featured heavily in noble Lords’ speeches. My noble friend Lady Evans and others asked about the creative industry sector vision, which is due to be published in the coming weeks and will set out how to remove barriers to growth and address skills gaps and shortages—one of the shared priorities for the Government and the sector over the next decade. A key part of that work is ensuring that young people, no matter where they are and no matter what their background, have opportunities for high-quality cultural education, which is why we are working with the Department for Education on the cultural education plan, chaired by the excellent noble Baroness, Lady Bull. We will make an announcement shortly on the other members of the panel and the terms of reference. However, we are looking at education in the round—not just in schools and colleges but the work that cultural professionals can do to make sure that we give people across the country, whatever their background, the opportunities to share in the best practice that we see. More details will follow shortly.
I also point to the next phase of the discover creative careers programme, which we launched in February, targeting schools in 77 areas across England to engage and inspire children and young people to pursue a creative career. As the noble Baroness mentioned apprenticeships, we point to the work that we are doing in partnership with the Arts Council and Greater Manchester Chambers of Commerce to co-fund a flexi-job apprenticeship scheme across the north of England, focused on the business administration and creative skills needed for the sector, which will create 50 new apprenticeships in the first year, and the new Power Up Agency, which is being launched in three pilot areas across the north-east, north-west and Yorkshire to secure placements with employers.
On music hubs, the DfE has published a rationale for its proposal to move to fewer hubs covering wider areas, which aligns with the approach taken by similar initiatives and infrastructure, such as teaching school hubs, multi-academy trusts, local enterprise partnerships, Sport England’s active partnerships and more. Both the Arts Council and the DfE are inviting feedback on their proposals and inviting people to look at what is proposed for their local area and how that will best serve children and young people. The survey is open until five o’clock tomorrow, so I strongly encourage people to make their views known about it. I certainly make my views known about a desire to meet our manifesto commitment on the arts premium as soon as possible. Of course, the effects of the pandemic and the need for schools to help children catch up on missed teaching time are noted.
Briefly on data, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is right. One happy effect of the pandemic is that organisations have been communicating more with their loyal audiences. They capture data, because places that were ticketless have for a period asked people to book in, and they know more about their audience. They are sharing it with each other and talking to the Arts Council. I certainly have very interesting conversations with them about the additional insights that it is giving them into audiences as they return.
With grateful thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, I may have to consult her speech and see which other areas I will need to follow up on afterwards.