The musical instruments for bands scheme is a highly successful programme, and I am pleased that it has provided over £800,000 to bands across the North over the past five years. Marching bands are an important element of our culture and musical heritage, and I am keen to support the development of organisations that encourage young people to learn to play an instrument. However, due to budgetary constraints, I have no plans to increase the £200,000 that my Department provides annually to the Arts Council for the scheme.
I thank the Minister for her answer. Does she agree that the current £5,000 limit placed on funding applications is excessively restrictive on pipe bands, accordion bands, brass bands and silver bands, given that the average price of bagpipes and accordions is £1,000 and £600 respectively?
I hear what the Member has to say. I met the Confederation of Bands, which raised the issue as well, and we passed that on to the Arts Council. It is one of the practical arrangements that we need to look at in the future. Given the cost of some of the musical instruments, they need to be factored into the award. You cannot apply for two sets of funding for the same thing, and the money is not available in the communities to make up the difference. It will, therefore, have an impact. We need to work out if we can and how we can make a difference in this. I hear what the Member has to say.
The areas for development of some bands are financially based, and they need additional resources that I do not have, but the areas for development of others are around governance and getting the band constituted. At this stage, that is what is happening through NICVA. There is a toolkit available on the website to help bands reach the criteria they need in order to put them in a better place, if they ever decide to apply for funding in future years.
I am taking the research forward, and I am going back to have a look at it again to make sure that it is still relevant. I am supportive of the initiative. I have met the marching bands, and I intend to meet them again throughout this year. Our officials are working very closely to look at possible recommendations and any review or revision of those recommendations to try to put this on a better footing for the next period. We are looking at this in a very positive way.