I fully support all those who have spoken. In particular, I congratulate my right hon. Friend David Hanson on securing this debate on a wonderful idea.
The past few years have seen immense success for the UK city of culture, which has created renewed interest in those cities that have had successful bids. The bidding process has been beneficial even for cities that have not been successful. Crucially, it has showcased culture and arts outside London and the big metropolitan hubs. Government figures show that 53% of the population of England live in an urban settlement that is not part of a conurbation, but towns get less than half the Arts Council funding that cities receive.
Towns are the fabric of our nation, and their cultural offer needs to be acknowledged, respected and celebrated. Unfortunately, too often they are the areas that are made to suffer as a result of private and public sector decisions, such as closures, underinvestment and consolidation in cities. When Hull’s year of culture was launched in 2017, there were unprecedented crowds; hundreds of thousands of people came from all over the country to celebrate. It was 12 months of visitors, events and inward investment in the city from tourism.
Many Members have mentioned their towns. I represent six. Like all small towns, there is an element of pride to them. Composers, bands, authors, scriptwriters, “Coronation Street” actors, artists, Dave Pearson, politicians come from the towns I represent. My home town of Accrington has the beautiful Haworth art gallery, with its Tiffany glass collection—the only one outside the United States. We also have the club that would not die, Accrington Stanley.
We have to go beyond arts and look at engineering and textiles in some of these proud towns. Accrington produces the hardest bricks ever produced; they prop up the Empire State building and others. I am trying to save a tower that dates from 1148, which is hard to do in a town where the local authority does not have the funding for that. Some of these towns suffered as a result of globalisation, and they need the resource and the support that cities get. A fraction of the £220 million that Hull received would go a long way.
I will conclude by saying that this is a fantastic initiative. I support this debate and personally congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, who secured it. I hope the Minister listens and takes this initiative forward.