Arts Council England Funding: Coalfield Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 20th February 2018.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee 10:00 pm, 20th February 2018

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.