Arts Council England Funding: Coalfield Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:52 pm on 20th February 2018.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee 9:52 pm, 20th February 2018

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.)