Arts Council England Funding: Coalfield Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:06 pm on 20th February 2018.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 10:06 pm, 20th February 2018

I congratulate 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.