– in the House of Lords at 3:42 pm on 15th December 2022.
Moved by Lord Storey
That this House takes note of the regional distribution of Arts Council England funding and its impact on regions outside of London.
My Lords, I express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord McNally for securing this debate. I am sure that the House hopes that he will recover from Covid quickly. I also thank the Government Whips’ Office for being so understanding.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Liverpool city’s logo was “City of Change and Challenge”. It was very much the era of tearing down and starting again, not always for the better. During this period, the Everyman Theatre was born, embodied by the enormous talents of Martin Jenkins, subsequently to become a leading BBC drama producer, Terry Hands, later to become an associate of the RSC, and Peter James, who, after opening the new Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, went on to the Lyric Hammersmith. Those early days for the theatre were confined to Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The entire theatre personnel were always involved in final preparations for a production: sawing, laying wires, painting and everything needed for the opening night of a show.
Despite its burgeoning reputation, the theatre continued to lead a hand-to-mouth existence for several years before Arts Council funding made it secure. Its presence on Hope Street, along with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, led to a cultural renaissance of the area, which, thanks to Arts Council funding, has seen this once deprived community grow from strength to strength. It is now called the Georgian Quarter of the city and overflows with venues and restaurants. Importantly, it is a centre for the arts, because as well as the Everyman and the Philharmonic there is the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and the Unity Theatre—all thanks to the initial Arts Council funding. Art can and does regenerate communities.
In the 1970s, Prescot, a small town on Merseyside, saw huge job losses at the Pilkington glass manufacturer and British Insulated Callender’s Cables. Both major industries closed down and moved overseas. Over the years, Prescot has slowly declined. Now, it is the theatre that is coming to the rescue of the community, with the Shakespeare North Playhouse, the Prescot Shakespeare theatre of the north, having opened. Arts Council funding will be crucial as the theatre becomes part of the regeneration story of that community.
So the issue of regional distribution of Arts Council England funding touches on two different but equally significant matters. First, there is the economic factor of granting places other than London their fair share of opportunities for growth and development. From this perspective, cultural institutions constitute powerful engines of economic growth, which they are more than capable of being. Secondly, there is the cultural factor. Historically, as Darren Henley, the chief executive officer of Arts Council England, admitted, cities other than London have been underserved in this regard. The concentration of cultural investment in London results in the creation of a kind of black hole, siphoning creative industries, talent and institutions from around the United Kingdom into the capital.
Both those perspectives reveal the decades-old practice of neglect that results in many cities suffering from a cultural deficit, denying them the prestige and economic rewards of successful artistic institutions. Worse still, this means that hundreds of thousands of people, particularly those who are underprivileged or living on tighter budgets, have virtually no opportunity to access arts and benefit from them. That is a serious problem. Study after study shows that interaction with the arts positively influences people’s mental health, helps with depression and anxiety, and builds bridges between cultures and worldviews. In other words, it is a vital part of the existence of a civilised society, and no one should be denied it.
The current disparities between the capital and other cities and between the wealthy and the underprivileged can be resolved only locally through education; by teaching young people how to enjoy the arts, helping them to develop the tenderness needed to do so, and assisting them in the recovery of the wealth of experience waiting behind the doors of theatres, operas, philharmonics, museums and galleries. However, in order to do so, such places must first exist within reach of those people, which in many cities and towns is simply not the case. For that reason, I very much welcome Arts Council England’s decision to increase funding granted to artistic organisations outside London, as well as its encouragement for London-based organisations to relocate to less culturally overserved cities. That is a much-needed policy change and will help to address some of the most pressing inequalities in our country.
At the same time, it is incredibly important that this historic change is carried out carefully and prudently. It is a fact that decades of preferential treatment made London one of the most culturally and artistically fascinating places in Europe, and indeed in the world. It is a source of immense soft power, an economic and creative powerhouse, and the pride of our country. We must ensure that levelling up does not come at the cost of defunding high-quality arts in our capital city, which would result in London lagging behind other European capitals. Rather, its wealth of expertise and talent should be leveraged to support other cities in developing their own cultural industries, not sacrificed on the altar of misunderstood equality.
It has been said many times in this Chamber, but perhaps it needs to be repeated once again, that, in levelling up, we want to help other regions to develop and grow, not to drag London down just because it is simpler to do so. Unfortunately, it appears that Arts Council England’s latest funding allocations have partially fallen victim to the easier version of levelling up. Such cuts come at the worst time, as the creative sector’s recovery continues to be hampered by soaring costs due to the cost-of-living crisis. Take, for example, the funding of £17 million that has been allocated to move English National Opera. That amount is far from what is needed to undertake a relocation on this scale, let alone to invest in and improve on the existing infrastructure. In effect, it is removing funding from the ENO and forcing it to move out of London at a few weeks’ notice, with no consultation or concrete plan for the transition. Arts Council England seems to pursue an oversimplified vision that lets it use a narrative of “levelling up” without doing any real long-term work to make it succeed in practice.
It is true that most British cities need and deserve better access to opera, especially so since Arts Council England cut the funding of the Welsh National Opera and Glyndebourne touring, effectively cancelling two very successful undertakings that bring opera to people throughout England. At the same time, however, simply transplanting a 100 year-old institution with hundreds of employees from London to another city as a solution is not the best way to proceed.
If Manchester suffered from a deficit of green areas, would the Government propose to dig out a decades-old tree from Hyde Park and move it 160 miles north? Of course, it would be theoretically possible to do so, but it would also be ridiculously expensive and inefficient, and the tree in all likelihood would not survive the operation. The same can be said of English National Opera. It is firmly rooted in London, thriving in the ecosystem that was carefully cultivated for years and at the same time sustaining a symbiotic relationship with its audience. The very proposition to move it is controversial; to attempt to do so with virtually no preparation would be simply an act of lunacy.
What is more, without English National Opera, London will have just one major opera company, the Royal Opera House, which offers a different opera experience, perhaps at the luxury end of the market. Berlin and Paris each have three opera companies; Vienna has four. Not only does this mean fewer opportunities to engage with opera and art, but it threatens the jobs of over 600 skilled art workers, including musicians and technical and support staff, who are embedded in the wider London cultural scene. This reduces opportunities for new rising stars who, in turn, will be more likely to work abroad, and puts an already challenged industry at even greater risk.
I ask Arts Council England to reconsider its approach to operas, especially since it casts a shadow on an otherwise well-designed and much-needed set of proposals. The overall direction of the policy is most welcome, and I am very much looking forward to the long-term benefits that it will bring to our towns and cities. I only hope it will not come at the expense of some of the most accessible and progressive operas this country has known. Instead, I am hopeful that the steadfast support that they have received—with 77,000 people so far signing a petition—will be enough to convince Arts Council England, and indeed the Government, to reinstate the funding and continue their mission. I also hope that the expertise and experience of these institutions will be used to replicate their success, not lost in a misguided attempt to make funding distribution look more appealing on paper.
We are so fortunate in the UK to have such a wealth of world-leading arts institutions They are good for the soul of the nation, they sustain a burgeoning creative arts sector and they can lead to the regeneration of whole communities. I remember how, when Liverpool won European Capital of Culture in 2008, it was the rocket fuel to drive the city economically and culturally forward. Arts Council England needs always to ensure that the rocket fuel is distributed equitably and fairly.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register but, to give a little more detail, I have been an adviser at DCMS for the last six years. I started as a non-executive director and am now the commissioner for culture. I sit on a whole variety of different boards, panels and committees, and meet regularly with arm’s-length bodies, including the Arts Council. I should also add that I am on the board of the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford, which is an Arts Council NPO.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for securing this debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for setting out the argument so clearly. We had an excellent debate on this subject last week, which I read in Hansard. An enormous amount was covered, and it was very clear that everybody felt equally about the importance of culture, the enormous amount of talent and skills that we have in this country and how vital it is for the Government to intervene and have policies that take care of it.
In fact, it was only a few years ago, in 2016, that my noble friend Lord Vaizey launched the culture White Paper, which covered this really clearly. It covered all the different areas that government can get involved with, including looking after culture for its intrinsic value, beauty and joy and the excellence that it can bring to people around the country. It also looked at the power that culture has, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, to improve the economy of places and society’s health and well-being, as well as its importance in soft power and so on. I am very pleased that we are having a similar debate today; in fact, I hope that we will continue to have this debate.
One important example of cultural policy—cultural intervention, if you like—is Arts Council England’s national portfolio organisation round, which is the first one we have had for five years because the scheme was interrupted by Covid. I too welcome this policy. Of course, noble Lords will not like every single one of Arts Council England’s 1,700 decisions—there was a record number of applicants this time round—but, in my view, it has succeeded in coming up with an excellent portfolio.
I visit a lot of cultural organisations around the country. Wherever I go, I am normally joined by someone from one of our arm’s-length bodies. In every case, whether they are from Arts Council England, Historic England or the National Lottery Heritage Fund, they have such deep expertise and knowledge of towns, places, politics and cultural structure that I am often amazed. This portfolio was constructed by region and area councils, using a lot of information from applicants with deep local knowledge, and was ultimately approved by Arts Council England’s national council, on which my noble friend Lady Fleet sits. So it is very much a collective decision.
I am pleased with the portfolio, which includes quite a lot of vitality in the sense that it includes 276 new organisations for the very first time. London remains the biggest region funded by Arts Council England, but its funding outside London has increased by 22%, which is the general direction of travel that it has been moving in for some time. People often think that Arts Council England funds only the performing arts, but the range of organisations that it funds is much wider. It includes museums, literature, some heritage and so on; there is a lot of other material in there.
Some of my favourite organisations in this round include Mind the Gap, a wonderful organisation in Bradford—it is probably the leading one in the UK—that helps learning-disabled children in performance and the arts. It is an incredible organisation; its grant was increased by 25%. I am also a big fan of museums. A number of museums were in the portfolio for the first time, including Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Bradford Museums and Galleries and Rotherham Museum. Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums is a stalwart and is now the biggest museum NPO in the country. Another one of my favourites, to give noble Lords an idea of the variety here, is the North Yorkshire Moors Railway—also a new entrant in this round. It is an organisation responsible for 1,000 jobs, 1,000 volunteers and 300,000 visitors.
So, in my view, we have a very good portfolio. However, Arts Council NPO status is not a necessary condition for success. Last week, the Minister referred to the Culture Recovery Fund, through which we were able to award grants to more than 5,000 organisations—clearly many more than even applied to Arts Council England. There is a massive arts and culture economy out there and not all of it requires Arts Council NPO backing. Also, the portfolio will change again next time. In many ways, it is good that the portfolio changes and that organisations both come in and leave. It is an indicator of vitality and life, and an indicator that Arts Council England is alive to investing in new places, new areas and new people.
I want to explain to noble Lords that Arts Council England NPO funding is not the only cultural intervention that arm’s-length bodies—or government, for that matter—make. Over the past few years, since I have been at DCMS, there have been many extraordinary initiatives and projects that continue to help the Government invest in the cultural sector, which they see as extremely important, from some smaller interventions to larger ones.
For example, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, referred to the European Capital of Culture. Our City of Culture programme is really successful. We have had Hull in recent years, Coventry has just finished and we are looking forward to Bradford in 2025. It looks as if there has been almost £700 million in investment into Hull over the last few years, partly as a result of that, and £173 million has gone into Coventry directly as a result of City of Culture. We know that, as the noble Lord said, in Liverpool it was the booster, the rocket that went under it. It is no accident that the Liverpool cultural sector represents 50% of the revenues into that city. I regularly meet the cultural director there, Claire McColgan, and organisations such as the Everyman, the Liverpool Phil, National Museums Liverpool and Liverpool Cathedral. It all comes together to make the place an incredibly lively whole.
We have also had the cultural investment fund, a £250 million manifesto commitment. We are halfway through giving out a number of grants, and in a recent round we gave out funds from DCMS for culture-related projects in Barnsley, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Stockport, Torbay, Middlesbrough and the Isle of Wight. I am trying to give noble Lords an impression of the other things going on in this area, levelling up the country and introducing regional fairness to cultural intervention. Historic England has a wonderful programme called high streets heritage action zones, through which it invests in places street by street, with 67 towns and cities receiving almost £100 million of government money.
Partly as a result of the pandemic, over the last few years there have been some very large interventions, such as the Culture Recovery Fund and the film and television restart fund, both approved by the then Chancellor and now Prime Minister. As a result of the film and television restart fund alone, during the pandemic film and television had a record year: £5.6 billion of spend around the country. We are looking forward to the announcement soon of the second round of the levelling-up fund, which I hope will include a large number of culture projects. Please look out for that over the next period.
I hope the Minister will agree with me that these sorts of cultural interventions are more important than ever, and it is more important than ever that distribution is fair to maximise the opportunity for people all over the country to experience culture and to work in these fast-growing sectors.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza—although, listening to him, I imagine many organisations feel, “Why are we worrying? Why are we upset by what has happened?” I hope to point out exactly why that might be.
I want to start by looking at this problem from the Government’s point of view. I am a fan of levelling up. I agree that we need to get more funds around the country, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, pointed out exactly the kind of things. In fact, from my experience as a composer—having worked with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Opera North and festivals such as Aldeburgh, Bath and Presteigne—I realise what this brings to local communities. They always especially say, “I can’t get to London”, so it means even more to them. I can also see, from the Government’s point of view, how difficult it is to recut the cake and redistribute the money at this sort of level. I think the Arts Council made some serious errors; I will come to that in a moment, but I hope in a constructive way.
The background of Covid and Brexit, as mentioned in the debate last week that both noble Lords referenced, is a telling factor. A lot of these companies were on very tricky ground before the cuts were announced, so you have to add to that what this will mean. On the shop floor, I am hearing from organisations, orchestras, theatre companies and dance companies that—despite the reassurance given last week by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, that work is being done to assist touring—they are very nervous about the prospect of affording touring because of the incredible complications and expense of sorting out visas.
I again ask the Minister a question that he must be bored with hearing me ask, so I apologise. Given that the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who represented the Government in these negotiations, has admitted that the Government got this wrong, why will they not put it right? Nobody is saying we are going to cancel Brexit—I realise that is not a possibility—but fine-tuning must be possible. I get the sense that there are people in Downing Street who would like that, but I dare say they are up against those who will not give an inch as far as Brexit is concerned. That is something the entire creative industry would love to see, and I do not think it too big an ask.
In some senses, in order to rob Peter to pay Paul, we have robbed them both. On many occasions in this House, I have commended the help that Rishi Sunak gave the creative industries, and I reiterate how grateful we were for that. But it seems crazy that the future of some of those big organisations, which received large amounts of money, is now in doubt because we are going to take such large amounts back. That surely has to be looked at.
On touring, I was on the Arts Council committee that identified areas of the country that were underprovided for in terms of opera. We came up with a list. The problem is that these cuts undo some of the very work that the Arts Council did. Glyndebourne Touring and the Welsh National Opera go to the places we identified. There has to be a continued line of thinking here.
I come to one or two of the other groups that have suffered. Here is an example of what we might do: why did the Arts Council not talk to the ENO, without uprooting it to Manchester? Anybody who has worked in an opera house—I was on the board of the Royal Opera House and have written three operas—will tell you that you cannot uproot an opera company and put it somewhere else, especially when something like Opera North is already there.
I was on the board of the Royal Opera House when it shut down for refurbishment and it was seriously suggested that we should shut the Royal Ballet for two years. Luckily, I was able to get in touch with one or two funders, such as Lord Sainsbury and Vivien Duffield. When I told them that this was being planned, they rang up and said, “You can say goodbye to all our funding”, because anybody who knows anything about art knows you cannot just stop training. Like an Olympic athlete or the England football team, you have to train all year round. What about all those young dancers coming through? That idea was scotched very soon.
May I draw a medical analogy? While I completely agree that we need funds around the country, there are specialist groups which earn their money. Take the London Sinfonietta, which has lost 41% of its grant. You could say that the work it commissions is niche or the high end of contemporary music, but this is the one company doing it. In my mind, this is not unlike how, in London, we need one or two centres of excellence, because you cannot have that excellence around the country. Think of neurosurgery, for example; many cases will be referred to the hospital in Queen Square, which is so good at it. A child with a terrible paediatric problem will be referred to Great Ormond Street. There is nothing against having one or two centres of excellence that specialise, such as the London Sinfonietta.
Many companies, such as the Britten Sinfonia, cannot understand why they have been cut, given that they have made huge efforts to do what the Arts Council said it wanted. Britten Sinfonia has involved 8,000 children in the east of England and commissioned more than 250 works. It travels to Addenbrooke’s to play music to patients, and it travels to His Majesty’s Prison Whitemoor. What more do you want? That is going out of London, making a base in Cambridge and involving the local community.
We really have to be careful—rather as with our debate tomorrow about the BBC licence fee—that we do not throw the baby out with the bath-water. This is what I fear about one or two aspects of this. I would like to quote my fellow Cross-Bench Peer, my noble friend Lady Bull, because she made a very telling point about the Arts Council redistribution in the debate last week. She said:
“My view is that this rethinking should not have been demanded within the short timeframe of a single funding round. In doing so, the February directive from the then Culture Secretary gnawed at the fingers of the arm’s-length principle. Planning for such a fundamental shift requires a much longer horizon if it is to avoid destabilisation, particularly within a sector still recovering from the pandemic, and if it is to lead to sustainable and positive change that delivers for all communities across all parts of the UK.”—[Official Report, 8/12/22; cols.286-87.]
So, yes, let us level up, but with rather more caution than has been shown so far, and more planning and more dialogue with the people concerned.
My Lords, let me declare my interests as a trustee of Tate and chairman of the Parthenon Project, the campaign to return the Parthenon sculptures back to Athens, where they so richly deserve to belong. May I also take this opportunity to be the first noble Lord to wish my noble friend Lord Valerian Freyberg a happy birthday. It is a depressing moment when your friend’s younger brother turns 52 and you realised just how old you are.
I want to begin with a positive note, which is to say that I am an enormous fan of the Arts Council and its leadership. I think Darren Henley has been, until recently, a chief executive without fault. He has handled an incredibly difficult brief extremely well, constantly having to manage a budget that is quite tight and narrow, managing cuts—cuts which I also imposed when I was an Arts Minister—and he has very rarely dropped the ball when dealing with hundreds of different arts organisations, as the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, pointed out. We have now an incredibly distinguished chairman of the Arts Council in Nick Serota, who led the Tate for so many years. We are blessed with many other arts quangos, if I can call them that, like English Heritage, which do an outstanding job.
I think we forget in this country that we have a fantastic system of arts funding. It sits neatly in between the US system of almost entirely private funding and the European system of almost entirely state funding. I think that tripartite system of government support, philanthropy and commercial income works extremely well. Government support acts as a catalyst for many of our arts organisations, but they still have room to be very entrepreneurial and innovative. I should mention in passing that I wrote to the Times a couple of weeks ago, to remind them of the existence of what was the Prince of Wales philanthropy medal. When King Charles was Prince of Wales, for about five or six years he awarded a medal every year to five philanthropists to recognise their contributions specifically to the arts. I hope at some stage the Minister, who is so brilliant at his job—he is really outstanding—will find a way to have a quiet word with the Palace about perhaps making this a proper honour to mark the start of the King’s reign.
I always complain that the Government do not fund the arts generously enough, but it is also important that we acknowledge that arts funding in its wider sense is extremely broad and deep. For example, we have the BBC and tax credits for theatres and museums and for television, video games and film—all of which I regard as arts subjects. We also have our regimental museums funded by the Ministry of Defence and the City of London putting approximately £100 million a year into the arts. We have our local councils and our universities—my noble friend Lord Mendoza mentioned that he is on the board of the Ashmolean, a university museum. We have charities: the National Trust runs more museums than any other organisation in the country. We have an incredibly rich ecosystem and very wide and deep arts funding—which, if you added it all up, would probably come to a couple of billion, if not £3 billion, a year—so we are incredibly lucky. Of course, we also have the private sector, including Sky Arts, the Bridge Theatre, a range of private organisations, a thriving music industry, and a publishing industry which never gets enough attention because it does not get an enormous amount of government money, if any. Again, we forget about the rich ecosystem we have in the private sector.
I will pick up on what the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said when he opened the debate. I was pleased to listen to his speech, because, while he knows a lot more about Liverpool than me, I have spent a lot of time in the city and in Tate Liverpool. We can go to almost any city or big town in the country and see how arts funding can be transformative—and not just in Liverpool; I was thinking about NewcastleGateshead, which effectively created a tourism economy on the back of places such as the Baltic and Sage Gateshead. Another example is Yorkshire Sculpture Park. If you go to Margate, you will see the incredibly galvanising effect that Turner Contemporary has had on it. To complete the picture: there is the amazing work that Roger De Haan of Saga has done just down the road in Folkestone based purely on philanthropy. There you can see—in miniature, if you like—the incredibly galvanising effect that culture can have.
So, when we have complaints to make, we should all realise just how lucky we are in this country. My first complaint is that we never have enough leadership from the Government to make that point about the arts again and again. It remains, on both sides of the House, an embarrassment for politicians to be seen engaging in and supporting the arts; they are still regarded—ridiculously, in my view—as too elitist, but we should sing from the rooftops the contributions that the arts make all over the country. I pause here to praise my noble friend Lord Mendoza on the incredible work he has done as cultural commissioner, particularly during Covid. He was kind enough to mention my White Paper, but, in the privacy of the Chamber, I reveal that he actually wrote it—please do not tell anyone else.
Before she speaks, I also praise my noble friend Lady Fleet, who has done some fantastic work on music education. I was not able to be present in her debate on music education, but her 10-year review has been widely welcomed and is much needed. Again, that is a good example of how government departments can join up—in that case, the Department for Education and DCMS—to push an important agenda.
Talking about music education, I must segue into the one misstep that the Arts Council has made: its absurd decision on the English National Opera, which was taken at short notice and with no consultation at all. People are involved in that decision, not just the singers and orchestra but all the backroom staff. I must also mention the chairman, Harry Brünjes, who has led the ENO for nine years. Not only is he unpaid, but he has put his own money into ENO. It has been a pretty thankless task for him to turn around an organisation that was at a very low ebb nine years ago and widely derided, to get it to the position it is in now: a popular organisation welcoming many young people through its doors who have never seen opera before, engaging in health—for example, through its ENO Breathe campaign to help people with long Covid—and getting out to the regions. He has done everything and more that any Government could ask. His reward, effectively, was a kick in the teeth from the Arts Council. It is unforgiveable—and I say that as someone who has the utmost respect for Darren Henley and the Arts Council.
That was a terrible decision, and it should have been given with much more notice. If there will ever be another decision like that, it should be made as part of a wider strategy stating what the provision for opera is, how we deliver opera as a product—I know this sounds very managerial—most effectively around the country and what role the ENO can play in that. It may sound sentimental to cite individuals, including Stuart Murphy, the chief executive officer, but that is no way to treat people; it sends a terrible signal, and the Arts Council must look again at that decision.
I want to mention two or three other things, very quickly. It is the 70th anniversary of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest. If any noble Lord gets the chance to serve on it, do—it is wonderful. It is like “The Generation Game”: various arts and treasures come in front of you and you decide whether they are part of our cultural fabric. I was lucky enough to stop Jane Austen’s ring being exported to the American popstar Kelly Clarkson; she was very decent about it. It is a reminder that we care very much about cultural objects being linked to our island’s story, just as our friends the Greeks care very much about the Parthenon sculptures, which should be reunited with the frieze in Athens. As the Minister knows full well, although he cannot say so as he is feeling sort of butch and robust about the whole thing, the frieze is like a movie that has been cut in half, with half of it having been taken, against the will of its owners, to another country. That is another thing that must be remedied.
Finally—as the yellow lights flash—one of the key things about levelling up that we should never forget is digital: we can and should get organisations based in London to audiences outside London. It is difficult to measure what a “London organisation” is: Tate has an SW1 address but a presence in Liverpool and St Ives; the National Theatre has an SE1 address but National Theatre Digital is in all our schools, for free.
In conclusion, I fully endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said about touring. It really is ridiculous, when we have this incredible cultural scene in this country, that we cannot sort out any help for our musicians for touring in Europe.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to discuss the regional distribution of Arts Council England funding. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord McNally, for the chance to raise some concerns.
First, no arts organisation should feel entitled to perpetual state funding as a right. It is totally appropriate to review and shake up which projects and whose artistic output merits public funds. But what is so striking in this funding round is that the criteria do not even pretend to be based on artistic merit at all, but seem to be purely political and, even more crassly, geographic.
The DCMS instruction to redistribute funding away from London has some winners, and I am delighted for both Blackburn and Bradford’s museums and art galleries, and for the Barnsley-based Brass Bands England, which has received funding for the first time, among many others—good luck to them. I am from the north, and it is great to say that we will support the arts in the north; I have no problem with that. But I am slightly anxious about the overall trajectory that reveals a patronising attitude to northern audiences and potentially a philistine attitude to the arts, nowhere better exemplified than in the plight of English National Opera.
Like others—in this, I uncharacteristically fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey—I was shocked by the Arts Council’s treatment of English National Opera. Effectively, its chorus and orchestras are being closed down; they have been sacked. When the Arts Council announced the move, it did so with an ungracious and high-handed ultimatum, which I want to quote:
“ENO’s future is in their hands … We require English National Opera to move to another part of England if they wish to continue to receive support from us.”
But the financial offer it has been given is actually only half its usual budget, so I want to ask whether the Arts Council thinks that those in the north do not deserve full funding of the arts, and should make do with a cut-price, pound shop version of English National Opera.
Such cultural vandalism feels like virtue signalling, devoid of serious strategic thinking and forced through at speed. When Birmingham Royal Ballet relocated from London in the 1980s, it was undertaken with five years’ consultation with audiences, staff and its new venue home, but there has been no consultation in this instance. The move has to be completed in five months, and the Arts Council has not even bothered to consider where ENO might take up residence; it just has to go “up north”.
One venue that might work given its size is Factory International, Manchester’s soon-to-be multimillion-pound arts venue, itself a recipient of Arts Council funding. But no one asked it, and it has made it clear that it will not change its contemporary focus to accommodate the new tenant. Artistic director John McGrath stated that its goals are
“new works, not the traditional opera repertoire.”
What about the Grand, in Leeds, which has the largest stage in England outside of London? But no—it already hosts the wonderful Opera North. Indeed, the whole venture of moving ENO north seems to be a slap in the face for Opera North, the director of which, Richard Mantle, points out:
“It’s not a new idea to have a large professional opera company performing opera in the North; we’ve been doing it for 40 years”.
Somehow, in the debates about opera prompted by this ENO issue, we perhaps get a hint of what the Arts Council’s views are on both opera and its relationship to northern audiences, or to audiences in general. Darren Henley, the chief executive of the Arts Council, claims that opera needs to change to satisfy a new generation of audiences, who he claims want
“opera … presented in new ways: opera in car parks, opera in pubs, opera on your tablet.”
He suggests that such
“New ideas may seem heretic to traditionalists”.
They seem so to me. They are not novel or radical ideas, but they are cheap and second-rate gimmicks, as far as I am concerned, and they show a disparaging view of audiences and the art form. The premise seems to be the cliché that traditional opera, including some of the greatest music ever composed, appeals only to the fusty, rich upper classes and the privileged.
I am reminded of the incident last July, when the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, accused Angela Rayner of being a champagne socialist for going to Glyndebourne, as though she were betraying somehow the working classes. I assume he was forgetting that, historically, opera has been a popular art form, enjoyed by millions of people of all social classes, all over the world. Being priced out by expensive tickets or not being able to afford to get the train to London is a problem, but it is very different from the snobbish chippiness that seems to imbue the political and artistic establishments’ implicit prejudice that the plebs will not be interested in, or get, high art. This attitude was on display recently, when the BBC announced that, in order to attract viewers from lower socioeconomic D and E groups, it will make “lighter” dramas, comedies and sports documentaries and use “factual entertainment competition formats”—yuck. It seems that, if you are poor, you will be given poor-quality programmes.
Perhaps that is too cynical, but the Arts Council director of music, Claire Mera-Nelson, has justified attacks on ENO, which, ironically, was set up nearly 100 years ago with the mission to bring opera to the masses—a noble cause. She said that there is insufficient growth in audience demand for traditionally staged large-scale opera. This seems to be a real bean-counter’s approach to the value of the arts. As acclaimed soprano Danielle de Niese asks:
“Do we need to sell as many tickets as the O2 to be recognised? … Should we declare war on everything that isn’t mainstream enough?”
She asks whether all we will be left with is “reality TV”. She then pleads with those who run the arts and politics to “recognise opera’s value” as art per se. But that seems a forlorn hope because valuing artistic excellence is often treated as an elitist endeavour by too many in arts funding and policy circles.
Since the Blair years and the setting up of the DCMS in the 1990s, arts organisations have been told that they must justify their funding using wordy social and economic criteria. “Art for art’s sake” arguments have too often been traduced as arcane, old-fashioned and self-indulgent, and a focus on aesthetics is assumed to alienate popular appeal. Arts organisations have been forced by funding carrots and sticks to show their worth as useful instruments in social and political change. It is true that many in the arts world have embraced this mission over recent years, with orchestras stressing that they are good for health and well-being and theatres opining on their role as community hubs. Often, these are defensive expressions, expressing an existential crisis in arts organisations about their role. In recent years, museums, galleries and classical music have all indulged in angst-ridden introspection about their alleged colonial roots and whiteness, and diversity and inclusion targets mean that outward engagement projects obsess over the age, skin colour and gender of audiences, rather than the artistic quality of their output.
The effect of all this has been the cumbersome politicisation of the arts world. There is too much “artivism” and propagandising and an existential crisis about the role of the arts. It is no surprise that Just Stop Oil activists feel free to desecrate artistic masterpieces to save the planet. Art is considered secondary to politics. All this emanates from the way that artistic excellence has been squeezed out of arts funding. If you look at the bureaucratic Arts Council development programmes, drenched in acronym-laden managerial speak, the intrinsic worth of art is barely visible. Utilitarianism rules the day. The creative local growth fund, the cultural development fund and the Great Place scheme all focus on local economic growth, unlocking productivity and everything. We need that urgently to happen, but it should have been in the Autumn Statement and not be forced on the arts.
As I have gone on about dumbing down, I want to finish by giving the Minister a bit of homework. I suggest that he and the Arts Council learn about the artistic tastes of ordinary people by reading The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class by Jonathan Rose, to understand the rich history of autodidacts thriving on intellectually challenging art and literature, and the new pamphlet by the artist and art critic Alexander Adams, Abolish the Arts Council, which critiques some of these instrumentalising themes. It is selling out as we speak as a stocking filler, but it is a good read.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for his excellent introduction to this debate and to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for originally tabling it. I wanted particularly to speak in this debate rather than last week’s debate because it is helpful to have a debate which concentrates, at least in theory, just on the arts rather than them being grouped with the creative industries, although last week’s debate was clearly very helpful for this debate.
I strongly support the Arts Council model of funding for two reasons: first, because public funding of the arts is a benefit to us all for the whole of society; and, secondly, because to enable that there should be a properly independent body that can make decisions about to whom and where funding is to be awarded without government interference. I emphasise “where” because that will inevitably affect “whom”. Yet last Thursday, the day of the arts and creative industries debate in this House, Darren Henley made it very clear in oral evidence to the DCMS Select Committee that the Arts Council was not asked but instructed—he used the word “instruction”, as indeed has Nicholas Serota—by Nadine Dorries to shift a considerable amount of money from London to the regions, in my view breaking the arm’s-length principle and resulting in the controversial cuts we are seeing to certain organisations.
I will ask the Minister again the question that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, asked in last week’s debate but to which she did not receive a reply. Does he think it is appropriate that the Secretary of State should instruct an arm’s-length body? The unhealthy result of such interference and uncertainty about where responsibility lies is the open but extremely understandable lobbying, of not just the Arts Council but Parliament, the Government, the press and the public that we are now seeing from organisations which not only feel hard done by but that the decision-making process is being levered by government, and the two things may be connected.
It may be that the Minister, if he does answer this question, will say simply that the Arts Council is an arm’s-length body, but unfortunately that is not how it is currently being perceived, as I hope the Minister will acknowledge. This needs to be properly and constructively addressed by all the concerned parties. I make these points irrespective of the particular decisions that the Arts Council has made, although all of us, perhaps more than usual, will have our personal views on these decisions, and I will come to mine in a moment. Meanwhile, it is worth pointing out that we have a new Secretary of State and the instruction was made by a previous one. However, there should never have been such an instruction if the Arts Council is to remain an arm’s-length body.
We should not forget that these concerns are taking place against the backdrop of long-term cuts to the arts, the necessary help given in response to Covid notwithstanding. In the last 15 years, the Arts Council’s grant in aid has decreased in real terms by 47%. Through Brexit, we have lost the funding from Europe, and central government grants were cut by 37% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-20. Some councils do not now spend anything on the arts at all. It has been reported that some councils are on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. Now, of course, we have the added stress of energy costs and inflation.
Unfortunately, the arts are going to be a long way down the list of priorities for many councils, despite local authorities being vital to many of our arts organisations, including museums and regional theatres, which are particularly concerned about their day-to-day running costs. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, pointed out in a previous debate the necessary expenditure of specialist lighting for museums and galleries—one instance of something that cannot be got round. Irrespective of where you stand on austerity, these long-term cuts need to be reversed. In the debate last week, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, made this pertinent observation:
“Fiscal austerity for the arts is not needed to salvage our economy. The DCMS budget for the arts and culture is indiscernible in the national accounts.”—[Official Report, 8/12/22; col. 280.]
I have argued for a long time that we can do much more to support artists across the whole country, but that should be done through an equitable funding model based on increases in funding, not through redistribution of the kind that the former Secretary of State insisted upon, which is surely a coarsening of the envelope of funding available to the Arts Council. This has led inevitably to the “invidious choices”—the Arts Council’s own term—that it has felt it has had to make. If £43.5 million is being made available to the regions—which is very welcome—why are these cuts still being insisted upon?
There is another significant consideration: the growing concern that the Arts Council, in the absence of other funding, is trying to take on too wide a range of projects. In particular, there is concern that through the Let’s Create strategy, it is losing its focus on what should be its core project—the funding of artists and arts production by professional artists—and shifting that focus instead to amateur community projects, particularly in areas of the country where cultural engagement is low, as the Independent Society of Musicians has pointed out. There is absolutely a place for such projects, and they should be funded, but the funding of professional artists and arts organisations should not be sacrificed in their favour. It is notable that the cuts over which there is so much current concern are aimed at organisations involving or directly impacting on professional artists and their co-workers.
Much of the focus on these cuts has been, quite rightly, on classical music and opera, but theatre and the visual arts have also been impacted. Here, there are also potential knock-on effects in terms of the production of new art. The Hampstead and Gate Theatres in London and the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, which have all had their funding cut entirely, all support new writing. Hampstead Theatre has said that it will not now be able to support its new writers programme, so I ask the Minister whether new new writers programmes are intended to be set up elsewhere in the country. If so, how will they be supported in the longer term? The danger is that removing funding from these flagship theatres, as the Writers’ Guild and playwrights themselves point out, will simply lead to more risk-averse programming, less commissioning and less new writing everywhere.
There are cuts to significant London gallery spaces. The wonderful Camden Art Centre—I am looking forward to seeing the Forrest Bess exhibition there—and the Serpentine Galleries are nationally important spaces which put on international work by visual artists. If these spaces are diminished, the whole country will be diminished in terms of the visual arts.
There is an ecology of mutual support between London and the regions, the great danger then being that if you hurt the arts in London, you will also hurt artists and audiences for the arts in the regions. Cuts in London will have a nationwide impact, and this will be true in the business sense as well. As the Heart of London Business Alliance said in a letter to the Financial Times last month:
“Central London’s dynamic arts sector and rich culture and experiences make the West End such a unique and special place, bringing in millions of tourists every year. Many of these visitors go on to visit other parts of the UK contributing £641mn to local economies in 2019. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that short-changing London is going to make us all culturally and financially poorer while making the UK a less attractive destination for visitors.”
London is not just the place that has historically received the most money for the arts. It is also the country’s centre of business and the major centre of higher education for the arts; and the galleries, theatres and concert halls there belong to the country as much as to London. For things to change radically from the present asymmetry, which I do not dispute, we need the cuts to grants for local authorities to be dramatically reversed. But local government across the country should also have strong revenue-raising powers, as regional government has in Germany, where there is a much greater spread of arts geographically.
There are brilliant artists, arts organisations and events across the whole of this country, but even in the digital age, the natural tendency remains for artists to gravitate to the big, powerful cities; artists and arts-producing organisations should be funded wherever they are. The former Secretary of State’s artificial arts engineering is not in the long run going to change this tendency, even as it frustrates the arts. The way forward is rather to empower our English regions and regional cities politically and financially to allow artists to thrive within them, and to be able to do so in the longer term.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and also a challenge, I must say, to speak today. I declare my arts and education interests as listed in the register, including as a national council member of Arts Council England. It is an honour to follow the noble Earl, who speaks so passionately about the arts and with such knowledge.
I congratulate my noble friends Lord Mendoza and Lord Vaizey for setting out so clearly the case for levelling up. I shall not fully defend that case, because we all see that there are flaws: I know that several noble Lords have already expressed real regret at the way the Arts Council has diverted significant funds from London to regional areas. Instinctively, I have some sympathy. As editor of the Evening Standard, I championed the arts and the benefits that investment brought not just to London but to the whole country. When I was a senior adviser in City Hall to the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, London was undoubtedly the cultural capital of the world. As chair of Arts Council London for eight years from 2010, I championed excellence and fought hard to maintain London’s share, at over 40%, of the total funding. It will now be around 33%.
I rejoined the Arts Council board earlier this year, two years after the Let’s Create vision was envisioned. Of one thing I am sure: we must continue to fight to retain London’s supremacy. I know that it is hard in these difficult financial times, but there are ways to do it. Undoubtedly, its theatres, music, dance and visual arts are world-leading; no one in this Chamber could be more pro-London than me. However—the “however” had to come—it is surely important that access to arts and culture be more fairly spread, not just for reasons of social justice, but because culture and heritage, as many noble Lords have already set out, bring pride to local communities and economic growth too. Museums and arts organisations should be nurtured and supported in every part of the country.
Additional funding will consolidate world-class organisations outside of London, such as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Ex Cathedra choir in Birmingham and Opera North in Leeds, but also newly funded organisations such as the Buxton Opera House and Bradford Museums and Galleries—yet another mention in this debate. I have seen how access to high-quality music, for example, can change the lives of young people. Should not children from all areas of the country benefit from this kind of opportunity? Of course they should: we all agree about that. As long as the newly funded organisations are delivering excellent work and reaching new audiences, I think and really hope that the levelling-up agenda could be acknowledged a success in a few years’ time.
I am pleased that within the new Arts Council portfolio there are excellent music education newcomers, such as Orchestras for All, Awards for Young Musicians and the National Children’s Orchestra, all based outside London and each contributing to the new national plan for music education. Some critics of the Government and the Arts Council have argued that levelling up will lead to dumbing down. It will not, if the investment is made wisely in organisations with a strong track record of producing excellent work.
As a member of the National Council, I can assure noble Lords that we are not all of one mind. There is rigorous debate, many decisions are disputed and many decisions are not easy. I hope the Arts Council will, in particular, think harder about additional funding and opportunities for young playwrights, musicians and artists, as several noble Lords have said, because London is taking the brunt of the cuts and those young people will undoubtedly be affected. The pipeline of talent is critical for the future of our creative economy.
No one is arguing that decisions to withdraw funding from some of the very best organisations are taken lightly. It will be difficult and painful for them. However, I have confidence in the creativity and passion of organisations such as the Donmar and the Britten Sinfonia, and their capacity to survive and thrive. Companies do find new ways of working. They build new business plans. An example is the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, which lost funding in 2014 and is now flourishing. Already, the Hampstead Theatre, soon to leave the Arts Council portfolio, is working up a new business plan which will continue to have new writing at its heart.
The loss of funding can be very emotional, as we have seen in the debate about the ENO. Many words of regret and even anger have been heard in this Chamber and the other place about the new proposals, yet I am cautiously optimistic. The ENO will survive—of that I am certain. A model along the very successful lines of the Royal Shakespeare Company, with a regional and a London base, is now being considered. I have no doubt that this is a huge challenge, but I am sure that with substantial support, including very significant transitional funding and perhaps funds from other pots of money from the Arts Council, as well as the prospect of core funding in three years’ time, there can be a future for the ENO. It will exist in a different way, but there will be an ENO. This must of course include career opportunities for young singers and instrumental musicians.
The Arts Council executive has taken a bashing for many of its decisions. We in this House do want opera in opera houses, but that does not mean it cannot be in some car parks too. We must ensure that due regard is given to tradition, as well as innovation, and that includes playing the national anthem—noble Lords will know what I am referring to. We must ensure that the critics of levelling up are not proved right. In the court of public opinion, the Arts Council will be judged not on its commendable diversity or environmental targets, but on whether excellent art is being enjoyed by ever-increasing numbers of people, right across the country.
We must ensure that London remains the cultural capital of the world, and I will do my utmost as a member of Arts Council England to help make sure that happens. I assure noble Lords that I will fight in the trenches of the Arts Council to see what additional funding is available; other pots of money can be found to support these excellent organisations. When I hear the LSO’s Sir Simon Rattle conduct Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony, as I did the other evening, or the LPO’s Ed Gardner conduct Mahler’s Ninth, my heart, as one critic said, beats a little faster. Let every heart across the country beat a little faster.
My Lords, as the last speaker before the Front-Bench speakers, I will focus my remarks, as others have today, on opera, and in particular the ENO following the Arts Council’s recent decision to withdraw all national programme funding from this organisation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, I am concerned that Arts Council England, by its own admission, has made no strategic nationwide assessment of the need or audience for opera, yet, without consulting any opera companies, it has reduced funding across all opera by £32 million. The ENO is asked to relocate with a massive funding cut; the English touring budget of Welsh National Opera is cut by a third, and as a consequence it will no longer tour to Liverpool; and Glyndebourne’s touring budget is cut by half.
With regard to the ENO’s relocation, it is neither realistic nor compassionate for a large opera company to start moving to an as yet undetermined location with 20 weeks’ notice after the withdrawal of most of its funding. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, rightly mentioned, when the Birmingham Royal Ballet moved from Sadler’s Wells to Birmingham, it had 10 years from the first conversation to the full move, including five years of audience-building and local investment to grow the audience and brand. You cannot achieve that in a few months. To withdraw so much funding from the ENO at the same time as moving it would make it impossible for regional audiences to enjoy the kind of work that London audiences currently enjoy—which goes against the principle of promoting greater access and fairness across the nation.
It is worth stating that, before ACE’s latest decision, ENO was already far advanced in developing a plan for much greater regional representation, which would be interconnected with its London base. This was based on ENO’s experience that high-quality opera, of all kinds and in all places, is best achieved by maintaining the resources of a permanent company of top-level artists and technical staff. At Arts Council England’s new funding level, this plan is now totally unachievable, as the new funding level makes it impossible for ENO to maintain a high-quality permanent opera company as a base.
The Arts Council seems to see a future for ENO which lies mainly in small-scale projects with an undefined residue of grand opera, but none of this has been made explicit or, it would seem, thought through in any detail. For example, ACE states that it wants ENO to keep the London Coliseum and perform there for some of the year, letting it out commercially for the rest of the time. Yet it does not seem to envisage the ENO as a company that is, in fact, large enough to perform at the Coliseum at all.
The new funding level suggests that the Arts Council model is more one of engaging freelancers as and when required, rather than building quality and talent in a maintained opera company; again, though, none of this is explicit. If the ENO is to be a genuine national opera company, developing talent and creating opera to the highest standards, it is hard to see how it can do that without a permanent company within which to develop and maintain those skills—and that is the case whether or not the Arts Council feels that large-scale grand opera is worthy of support. This is a major structural issue, with ramifications for the ecology of opera nationwide. It requires far more careful consideration and needs to be addressed as part of a coherent national opera strategy.
One of the problems with the Arts Council’s process is the complete lack of transparency in decision-making. The ENO met or exceeded all the ACE targets. ACE considers it to be run in an excellent way, yet it is impossible to find out what criteria ACE used that resulted in it, and other well-run organisations, being removed from the national portfolio. The suspicion is that Arts Council England is no longer quite the arm’s-length body it is supposed to be. I share the concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. Dr Darren Henley, the CEO of ACE, said in evidence to the Commons DCMS Select Committee on
“We always receive instructions from the Secretary of State about our grant-in-aid investment” and that it
“needed to move money out of London”.
However, in a Written Answer published two weeks ago by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, the Government stated:
“All decisions on which organisations to fund … and by how much, have been taken by Arts Council England. In line with the long-standing principle that the Arts Council makes such decisions at arm’s length from Government, there are no plans to ask it to reconsider these decisions.”
This is, of course, a contradiction. More clarity from both sides is therefore required.
In conclusion, in the interests of all opera companies, audiences and stakeholders, Arts Council England must remedy the confusion it has caused by urgently conducting a nationwide review of the provision of opera, taking into account audiences and need. It should, if necessary, be prepared to amend its decisions accordingly and it should be fully transparent about the criteria it uses in its decision-making process.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord McNally on obtaining this debate—I am just sorry that he is not here to participate—and my noble friend Lord Storey on his brilliant introduction to it. Debates on culture and levelling up are obviously like buses: you wait for ages and then two come along in quick succession. Perhaps I could tempt the Minister to treat this like the Report stage of a Bill, when he attempts to give a better answer to questions than he gave during the previous debate.
As my noble friend Lord Storey said, today’s debate is an opportunity to celebrate and highlight the role of culture and the arts in levelling up in the regions. We have heard some great examples of the positive role of cultural levelling up in the regions. He talked about the role of the arts in regeneration in Liverpool and about the Prescot theatre of the north. He talked about culture and the arts as a powerful engine of economic growth, with benefits beyond the economy in health and education. He also talked about the experience of being the European Capital of Culture.
It was a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza. He illustrated some great examples in Bradford, Blackburn, Rotherham, and Tyne and Wear, and the success of the City of Culture programme in Hull and Coventry. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, who no doubt we all should listen to on Friday evenings, talked about Gateshead, Margate and Folkestone. The noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, talked about Buxton Opera House.
So there were some wonderful examples there, but it is not all roses, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made clear, even in the regions—I will come to London shortly—and not just because we are in a post-Covid situation. There are problems with touring post Brexit, and inflation was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. A number of factors are contributing, but Arts Council decisions have impacted on the regions as well. Liverpool has lost its main access to opera because the Welsh National Opera has had its funding for work across the border cut. It also performs in Bristol, Birmingham, Southampton and Oxford, but it has suffered a 35% cut. How is that levelling up? Glyndebourne, which has had a fantastic touring programme in our towns and cities for 50 years, has had a 50% cut in its funding too.
Manchester should have its own opera company, of course. I was very interested in the phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about a “slap in the face for Opera North”. Abolishing the grant to the Britten Sinfonia removes support for the only serious orchestra serving eastern England, and Plymouth Music Zone has lost its entire funding. I do not believe that is a good catalogue that will encourage levelling up.
In particular, as a number of noble Lords have made clear, levelling up should not be at the expense of a vibrant London creative community and our brilliant London theatres and opera houses. My noble friend started by making that absolutely clear. The phrase used, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. That is the wrong way to go. There is nothing to be gained by cutting the funding for creativity in London.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also described the role of our London institutions as centres of excellence. Many of the big London-based arts organisations take their productions and exhibitions on tour throughout the UK, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and my noble friend Lord Storey acknowledged. The noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, seemed extraordinarily conflicted in what she had to say, but I think she would agree with Caroline Norbury, CEO of Creative UK, that
“levelling up cannot mean levelling down, and a rapid reduction in support for world-class cultural organisations in London is short-sighted.”
That diminishes us all, including our international reputation for creativity.
We come on to what has actually happened with the funding. Two London theatres mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the Hampstead Theatre and the Donmar—both such extraordinary centres of new writing for decades—have lost their entire grant. The Gate, just recently moved to Camden, has had its entire grant removed too. I noted the optimism of the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, but as a result of these developments, Roxana Silbert has quit as the Hampstead Theatre’s artistic director.
If anything, the ENO has been treated worse, with the total loss of its £12.6 million core annual funding. The noble Lords, Lord Berkeley, Lord Vaizey—by the way, I absolutely endorse his praise for Harry Brunjes, who has done an incredible job for the ENO—and Lord Freyberg, my noble friend Lord Storey and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, focused a great deal on the entire situation as far as the ENO is concerned.
Last week, the Minister acknowledged that London plays a special role and gave a number of inspiring examples. As he said:
“Those institutions perform a levelling-up function in providing a national stage on which people can perform.”—[Official Report, 8/12/22; col. 306.]
He then paid fulsome tribute to the ENO during the debate. That is very little consolation, given the gun that has now been put to the ENO’s head by the Arts Council. It is as if opera itself was being singled out for ill treatment, and this is where I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. Surely the massive efforts the ENO has made over the years to bring opera and performance to diverse audiences—11% of ENO’s audience is ethnically diverse—should have been recognised. It has the most diverse full-time chorus in the country and provides free tickets for under-21s. I could go on about its extraordinary education programme, which was praised by Darren Henley himself. At the same time, ENO’s productions are world beating, as anyone who has seen its version of Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten” will attest to.
As it happens, the Major Government bought the Coliseum for ENO. It now makes no sense at all to undermine that investment. As the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, indicated, is this an opera thing? Berlin, Paris and Vienna have three opera houses. Is it beyond our wit to fund two? Three of the five largest reductions in funding were imposed on opera companies. Cutting public support makes opera more elitist, not less.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, also paid tribute—he is very good at paying tribute to people, by the way—to Darren Henley, and I—
I use this opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and ask him specifically why he has not replied to my text message inviting him to appear as my guest this Friday on my Times Radio show.
That is because I have not received it, but I look forward to reading my text.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, paid tribute to Darren Henley, as do I, but he did not say that he now pays tribute; he paid tribute to Darren Henley in the past. This has been a bungled funding round with what I fear will be very adverse consequences for the UK’s creative community. I liked the phrase from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox: forced through at speed.
Last week, the Minister talked about cherishing the arm’s-length relationship, but there is very little evidence of that. Arts Council England is clearly having to work to the Government’s strategy and timing, as Darren Henley said in his evidence to the Communications and Digital Committee, and as was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg:
“We were asked by the Government to move some money out of London”— it sounds almost illicit, does it not?—
“£16 million in year 1 and £24 million by the end of year 3.”
I am so sorry to interrupt the noble Lord as he is in full swing, but I think the phrase was that they were “instructed”. That is very important when we are talking about the arm’s-length principle.
We may have to correct the record because I looked at the transcript and it did not say “instructed”. I am willing to look again at that, and I am sure the Minister will have a quick google and see whether or not that is the case.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, the former chair, makes the same point in his November letter to the FT:
“Ace had been gradually moving resources outside London for some time. In my time as chair we shifted both grant-in-aid and lottery funding by 10 per cent, without suddenly cutting off major institutions.”
He goes on to make exactly the same point about the fact that this really was an instruction from Nadine Dorries to make a larger and sudden distribution. What kind of independence is that? Many noble Lords have made that point.
I am afraid the only conclusion is that the Minister has to accept that he and his colleagues are presiding over the settlement and should take full responsibility for this very crude and destructive form of levelling up, rather than hiding behind the Arts Council.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and congratulate him on securing the debate. I wish him a speedy recovery from the ghastly Covid. I express our eternal gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for opening the discussion in his place so effectively, focusing as he did on Liverpool and its regeneration in the late 1970s, based on a culture-led platform, and for focusing so effectively on the plight of the ENO and the impact of the cuts on London’s cultural landscape.
This has been a brilliantly illustrated debate. Noble Lords from all sides have made fascinating contributions. I particularly enjoyed the return of the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, to this subject; he always enlightens, illuminates and amuses our House. He always congratulates people. That is almost a given; it comes as part of the story and is always part of the rhetoric. I enjoyed his contribution for many reasons, largely because I agreed with most of what he said. It was also a delight to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, with her experience and her understanding of the process, and to the input of the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza. The noble Lords, Lord Freyberg and Lord Berkeley, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, all made arguments that were hard to disagree with.
Last week we had an extremely similar debate on the case for a strategy to support the arts and our creative industries, which probably gave the Minister a useful preview of many of the similar points and arguments made today. Let us just hope that the Government have lines that are more convincing than those he deployed on that occasion.
The recent decisions by Arts Council England have attracted significant interest. They have dominated our debate today, and rightly so because that is the topic. A lot of it has focused on the ENO, which has been mentioned many times by all speakers. In a Commons adjournment debate secured by the Conservative MP Bob Neill, several Conservative MPs voiced their displeasure at not only the ENO decision but the underlying processes used by the Arts Council. That is what we need to focus on.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, described the ENO decision as absurd, and I find it hard to disagree with that. He said he thought it was unforgivable, which is absolutely true. Sir Robert Buckland, the former Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, labelled this a sorry saga, criticising, as a number of noble Lords have today, the suddenness of the decision, the abruptness of the withdrawal of funding and the failure even to consider a phased approach. That gets to the core of the problem. We all recognise that, at least in theory, the Arts Council operates at arm’s length from Whitehall. However, Ministers can exert influence in a number of ways, and there have been plenty of suggestions that that is exactly what has happened.
I would like to probe the Minister a bit more on this point, because I have detected some inconsistency in the Government’s response to recent events. On
“were made entirely independently of Government, so I cannot comment on the individual outcomes.”
He then took an intervention on whether the DCMS would overturn the ENO decision. Mr Andrews said, in his next sentence, that Ministers would intervene only if the organisation looked to be
“breaching the terms set by the Government”, but that, in that case,
“it was following the instructions that were set”.—[
So which is it? Is Arts Council England an arm’s-length body that makes its own funding decisions or is it an additional tool for implementing the Government’s levelling-up policy agenda?
We have been told, not least by the Minister in last week’s arts debate, that funding decisions were taken against
“well-established criteria and expectations”.—[
Why then are so many people surprised by the outcomes of the process, or even the conducting of the process itself?
Similar concerns have been voiced in the recent past, including suggestions that the DCMS asked Channel 4 to change how it framed certain parts of its annual report in order to make it more attractive to potential buyers in the likelihood of privatisation.
Our arts institutions and fantastic creative industries are far too precious to become the victims of what my Commons colleague, Barbara Keeley, diplomatically referred to as “too much political direction”. The Government may argue that the ends justify the means, with funding in this latest round reaching new parts of the country. We all celebrate that, because we all believe in levelling up, and we welcome support for organisations in towns and cities that have not received financial support—or enough of it—to date, but we should bear in mind that criticism of the Arts Council’s approach is coming not only from London and the south-east.
I asked last week why the Government seem to view levelling up in such black and white terms, or as a zero-sum game. Many of the institutions and productions funded in London and the south-east deliver benefits elsewhere in the country—as noble Lords have given ample voice to this afternoon—with outreach programmes providing access to schools, and many shows being sent around the UK on tour and so on. Glyndebourne touring, which comes from my part of the world, is a prime example: it is an organisation that will have its touring fund cut by 50%, which means that it cannot do the job that it is partly designed to do. What is the value in that? How does that aid and assist levelling up on a national scale?
There is a finite pot of money, but should we not be looking at how to improve the impact that these grants have, rather than arbitrarily shifting funding and organisations elsewhere? Publishing an overarching strategy for the arts would undoubtedly help, as would proper consultation with interested parties prior to decisions being made—which is what has angered so many people in the course of this afternoon’s debate. That is how we should be proceeding, rather than directing bodies such as the Arts Council to act in a particular way, irrespective of opinion on the ground.
I have to accept that funding decisions are always problematic, even more so when they are driven by conflicting pressures at a time when a Government have decided to restrict public spending. Directed as Arts Council England has clearly been by the Government to level up regions long neglected in funding, it has inevitably been caught in the cross-hairs of conflicting policies.
Ultimately, I ask these questions: should we be trying to level up long-standing inequalities in one big leap? Should we be trying to level up the regions at the expense of centres of excellence that do so much to enable our cultural industries to grow and flourish to everyone’s benefit? I hope the Minister today can turn his mind to these conundrums more convincingly than at his last attempt.
My Lords, people are sometimes sniffy about revivals of old productions or reruns of old programming. I am conscious that we had a three-hour debate on a similar theme last week but, with today’s stellar cast, our debate this afternoon has been a triumphant encore. In paying generous tribute to all and sundry, my noble friend Lord Vaizey is so much more than a tribute act. If I repeat some of my lines today, it is in that spirit and with respect to the original text.
In all seriousness, I am very glad to have this opportunity for further debate, including with a number of noble Lords who were not able to speak in last week’s debate. Again, they have made thoughtful contributions to this important topic. There have been a number of debates in both Houses on it, which is to be welcomed and demonstrates the breadth of support across both Houses of Parliament for arts and culture in our national life.
His Majesty’s Government are firmly committed to supporting arts and culture across the whole country. Our investment in culture remains a key part of our work to level up access and opportunity, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said in his opening speech. Like others, I wish a speedy recovery to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on whose behalf he opened today’s debate—and indeed a happy birthday to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg.
As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, access to high-quality arts and culture needs to be more fairly spread; the economic growth and life-changing benefits that come from arts and creativity should be felt by everyone, and the sense of pride that culture and heritage can bring to communities should be felt in every part of our country. I was struck by how fitting the name “Hope Street” is: the noble Lord mentioned the Everyman Theatre, and it is also home to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Merseyside Academy of Drama and many other institutions. Arts and culture bring hope and pride to communities across the country.
As the noble Lord said, for too long, not everywhere has been getting its fair share of funding and opportunity. In the last national portfolio round of funding from the Arts Council, London was funded to the tune of about £21 per capita; the rest of the country, to the tune of £6 per capita. That is a striking discrepancy, even allowing for the important role played by our national capital. It is why we asked Arts Council England to ensure that it was investing more in other parts of the country and why, working with it, we identified more than 100 Levelling Up for Culture Places. We did so transparently; the methodology and metrics used have been published on Arts Council England’s website, which identifies which places have benefited. That was in keeping with Arts Council England’s long-standing work to ensure that arts, culture and creativity are better supported across the whole of England.
As a result of that work, a record number of organisations applied for funding in the next investment programme and a record number were included—990. That is an increase from 814 in the last portfolio and 663 in the one before. As I mentioned in my closing speech last week, this is as a result of a larger pie of funding. My right honourable friends Oliver Dowden and Nadine Dorries secured, at the last spending review, an increase of more than £43 million to the Arts Council’s grant in aid budget for the spending review period. So more organisations are being funded in more parts of the country, with a larger pot of funding. Every part of England beyond London is seeing an increase in its funding and every part, including London, is seeing an increase in the number of organisations funded. Many places will now be home to funded organisations which have never been home to them before—places such as Bolsover, Mansfield and Blackburn.
In Liverpool, the home city of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, Arts Council funding has increased very significantly, by nearly 40%, with over £11 million each year to support 29 organisations across the city region. That picture is replicated in other combined authorities: Tees Valley is set to see a 49% increase in funding and West Yorkshire a 47% increase. That change is transformative and unprecedented.
The new portfolio will improve access to arts and culture across the whole country and for people from all backgrounds. Some 120 organisations in the new portfolio are led by people from lower socioeconomic groups; 148 are led by people from ethnic minority backgrounds—an increase from just 53 organisations in the last portfolio; and 32 organisations are led by people with disabilities. In the debate last week, I mentioned DASH in Shropshire, which I saw four weeks ago. The Levelling Up for Culture Places will see investment almost double, receiving £130 million over the next three years—a 95% increase in investment in these areas.
A number of noble Lords took the opportunity again today to highlight English National Opera in particular. We are joined again by its excellent chairman and chief executive, Harry Brünjes and Stuart Murphy. It is testament to the quality of its work and the support that it has that the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, has devoted part of its birthday to singing its praises—rightly. I am happy to repeat the praise that I gave from this Dispatch Box last week. Like the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, I enjoyed its productions of Philip Glass—I saw “Akhnaten” and “Satyagraha”, as well as “My Fair Lady”. I also saw the important work it did through the ENO Breathe programme, which was recognised in the Lancet as well as the mainstream press.
I will highlight, as I did last week, the fact that this is one decision out of 1,700 that the Arts Council considered. As I said, there are a record number of organisations in the next portfolio—990—but unfortunately there were over 700 who applied and were unsuccessful on this occasion. I would love to be the Arts Minister who could ensure that all applicants receive the support they request, but no Minister ever could be. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, there is a finite pot, albeit a larger pot than in the previous round, and the difficult job that the Arts Council has is to ensure that that finite pot of taxpayers’ money is invested fairly.
Arts Council England has offered the English National Opera a package of support, and at DCMS we have been keen to ensure that the two organisations are speaking directly about it. We are very keen that they both continue to work together on the possibilities for the future of the organisation. I am afraid that I cannot say much about that, out of fairness to both, but I am glad that they are speaking and encourage them to keep doing so.
A number of noble Lords raised questions on opera more generally. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, suggested that this art form had perhaps been targeted. I would like to reassure noble Lords that for the next investment programme, Arts Council England’s investment in opera, orchestras and other classical organisations will represent around 80% of all investment in music; opera, specifically, will remain at around 40% of the Arts Council’s overall investment in music. Organisations such as the English Touring Opera and the Birmingham Opera Company will receive increased funding, and there are many new opera companies joining, including Opera Up Close and Pegasus Opera Company based in Brixton, which I visited last week. Indeed, there are more opera companies in the new portfolio than there were in the last one. The single largest recipient of funding in the portfolio remains the Royal Opera House, which is also home to the Royal Ballet, which will continue to be funded and will receive around £22 million, the same as all of the east Midlands put together.
A number of noble Lords talked about touring, and I know some may be concerned that considering where an organisation is headquartered is rather a blunt instrument when it comes to levelling up. Touring is important, and the Government and the Arts Council have been encouraging our biggest cultural organisations to keep striving to reach out beyond their home areas. We do not, in any respect, disparage or undervalue that vital work, but we cannot level up culture by touring alone. There is a difference in having an organisation based in your community from just being able to visit it as it passes through your town or city. When we were debating this last week, the chief executive of the Arts Council, Dr Darren Henley, was giving evidence to the Select Committee in another place. There he made the important observation that, as well as touring,
“centres of production excellence and creativity around the country are important too”.
That comment echoes the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, in his speech today.
For those organisations in areas which will now be in receipt of support in the new portfolio, I hope it will mean supporting creative individuals working in a community; making material which is uniquely relevant or reflective of that community; forming local clusters of creative jobs and firms; extending opportunity for people who wish to work in these thriving sectors; and boosting the pride of communities. This is nothing new. Perhaps I may quote the late Lord Keynes, who was the first chairman of the Arts Council and told a BBC magazine in 1945:
“Nothing can be more damaging than the excessive prestige of metropolitan standards and fashions. Let every part of Merry England be merry in its own way.”
I am not a natural Keynesian, but on that I certainly agree. As a number of noble Lords said, it is absolutely right that art and culture that is produced and consumed in these merry parts of England is, and should be, just as good as that which is enjoyed in the metropolis.
I will add the book recommended by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, to my Christmas reading list; I completely agree with her about the brilliant work of autodidacts in culture. Coming from the north-east, I think in particular of the Ashington Group and the Pitmen painters—self-taught, working-class painters whose art I very much admire and have seen in the Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland. Their story was powerfully told in a play, “The Pitmen Painters”, which began at the Live Theatre in Newcastle and transferred to the National Theatre in London before going on tour around the United Kingdom and thence to Broadway, Vancouver and Buenos Aires, where an interesting array of Geordie accents was on display to global audiences. They told powerfully that working-class story about the north-east of England, which is what we want to see.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, about the importance of new writing. New Writing North, which is based in the north-east, will receive an additional £90,000 in the new portfolio. I visited Pentabus, a company supporting writers talking about rural England and sharing the stories of people from rural backgrounds. There is also increased investment in the new portfolio for the Bush Theatre, as well as continued support for the Talawa Theatre Company and the Kiln Theatre, all of which are based in London, to support new writing in theatre. Theatre remains the art form most generously supported through the Arts Council’s new portfolio.
A number of noble Lords talked about the impact on London. Once again, let me be clear that we remain committed to supporting the nation’s capital. We recognise and appreciate that London is a world-leading cultural centre, with organisations that do not just benefit the whole country but greatly enhance the UK’s international reputation as a home of world-class arts and culture. Here, again, the late Lord Keynes points the way. He said that
“it is also our business to make London a great artistic metropolis, a place to visit and to wonder at.”
Once again, I agree wholeheartedly. This principle is clearly reflected in the Arts Council’s next investment programme. Around a third of its investment will be spent in London, equivalent to approximately £143 million per year for the capital; London will receive around a third of the funding despite having just 16% of the population of England.
Further, this funding will be spread across London in a fairer way. We are not just levelling up between London and the rest of the country; we are levelling up within London too. In the previous funding round, the top four organisations in London represented 43% of London’s budget. The funding is more equitably shared across London in the new portfolio, with 61 London-based organisations receiving funding for the first time, while the Arts Council’s priority places in London—the boroughs of Croydon, Brent, Enfield, Barking and Dagenham, and Newham—will receive £18.8 million over the next three years. In Croydon alone, investment will double to just under £5 million, and the borough will see three new organisations join the portfolio. The new Arts Council portfolio will give people right across the country more opportunities to access culture on their doorsteps.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, repeated the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, in our debate last week about the instruction from the previous Secretary of State to Arts Council England. I think that I responded to it, but I am happy to do so again. I gladly set out the Government’s commitment to the arm’s-length principle in my speech last week. It is not contradictory in any respect for the Government to request that the Arts Council disburse its taxpayer funding according to a set of broad parameters while ensuring that central government and Ministers are in no way involved in the individual decisions that the Arts Council makes. The letter from my right honourable friend Nadine Dorries is published for all to see on the Arts Council’s website, so this has not been a hidden process; it has been done explicitly. She made a Written Statement to Parliament at the time and was proud to do so.
Funding for arts and culture comes from taxpayers right across the country, so it is right that it should benefit people in every part of the country. As I said last week, that taxpayer subsidy through the Arts Council is only one part of the way in which cultural life in the country is supported. My noble friend Lord Mendoza set out the manifold ways we work to support the arts and culture across the country, and I pay tribute to him for his years of hard work delivering those important programmes which make such a difference.
My noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot is right to point to the mixed model we have in this country of taxpayer subsidy alongside the importance of private and commercial philanthropy. When my noble friend was a Minister, he brought in programmes such as the cultural gift scheme, which has been such an important addition to encourage gifting and philanthropy in the arts. I completely agree with him on the importance of recognising people who are generous in that way through the honours system, and I take the point he made about our new sovereign’s particular interest. I am glad that he mentioned the 70th anniversary of the Waverley criteria, which we marked this week. Saving works of art and cultural objects for the nation has enriched collections in museums and galleries right across the country and not just in our capital.
As noble Lords will know, last month, in the Autumn Statement, my right honourable friend the Chancellor set out his plans to restore stability to the economy, to protect high-quality public services and to build long-term prosperity for the United Kingdom. He also announced a £13.6 billion package of support for business rates payers in England, which will support businesses across the arts and cultural sector, just as it will across the wider economy. He confirmed plans for the second round of the levelling-up fund, with at least £1.7 billion to be allocated to infrastructure projects around the UK before the end of the year. The levelling-up fund has three themes: local transport projects; town centre and high street regeneration—both of which have an important connection to the arts and culture—and supporting cultural and heritage assets. That is another boost for the arts and culture and, again, a recognition of their role in the economy and our wider lives. Officials in DCMS and our arm’s-length bodies have been supporting the assessment and prioritisation process of the levelling-up fund, and I am very pleased that the second round will include the potential for up to two £50 million flagship culture and heritage projects.
I am grateful for the further opportunity to set out how the Government’s extensive programme of support through the Arts Council’s NPO programme is benefitting areas right across England. I hope noble Lords will agree that, by increasing investment beyond the capital, the Arts Council will help to generate cultural and creative opportunities for more people and in places that have been overlooked for too long, and in doing so redress the historic imbalance in funding. I strongly believe that such investment will ensure that our world-class arts and culture will continue to thrive right across every part of England.
My Lords, I thank all noble Peers for their contributions; we seemed to speak almost with one voice. I got an early Christmas present from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, in that it was the first time I agreed with everything she said, so I thank her for that.
I am grateful for the Minister’s thorough reply. However, I suspect that, because of the position in which he finds himself, he is not able to deal directly with many of the questions that were asked of him—particularly on touring. I was quite interested in his comment on English National Opera; he said that they were speaking but that he could not say more. I understand that, but I hope that that speaking becomes a serious conversation, in which the points that have been made today are answered. I thank all noble Lords.