Arts and Culture — Question for Short Debate
Lord Smith of Finsbury (Labour)
My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as chairman of trustees at the Donmar Warehouse theatre and at the Wordsworth Trust.
A starting point should also be an acknowledgement that the Government have taken some welcome steps in arts policy. They have, I am delighted to say, maintained the policy of free admission to our national museums and galleries. They have sustained the film tax relief, which has been such an important element in sustaining an independent film industry here in the UK. They have revived the Renaissance in the Regions programme for regional museums, and they have given in recent weeks some very welcome boosts to private philanthropy in relation to the arts.
We should also acknowledge that in hard financial times Arts Council England has shown some very considerable skill, under the leadership of Liz Forgan and Alan Davey, in helping the arts sector to weather the economic storms that are now around it. However, those storms are real and there are now severe financial difficulties ahead for the entire arts sector-not just difficulties in government funding but in the catastrophic falls in local authority funding in many parts of the country, coupled with a private and corporate giving sector that is under some considerable strain.
In addition to those financial difficulties, I do not believe there is yet enough clarity from the Government in the long-term strategy for the arts. What ought the key elements of such a strategy to be? It should be based, I believe, on four fundamental pillars: first, excellence-supporting the best possible work, which means including risk and innovation; secondly, access-ensuring that the widest number of people have access to the best possible work; thirdly, education-building on the real success of the Creative Partnerships programme to give pupils in schools up and down the country a real start in being creative and understanding creativity; and, fourthly, supporting the creative economy, which is linked fundamentally with the more traditional arts sector.
We have, over the past 10 or 14 years or so, been living through something of a golden age in the arts in this country. I like to think that the Government, in whom I had a part, played a small part in supporting that golden age. I plead with the Government to dedicate themselves to sustaining it.