Town of Culture Award

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:54 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5:54 pm, 23rd January 2019

It is a real pleasure to close this debate, Mr McCabe. I thank David Hanson for securing it and all hon. Members present for their valuable contributions and advertisements for their towns or localities. I also thank those hon. Members who co-signed the letter to the Secretary of State asking that our Department establish a town of culture award.

I am thrilled with this debate, because it really is recognition of the value of culture generally, which we all know about; as Culture Minister, people would expect me to say that. I have been to 35 locations around the country in the past 12 months and seen the value of culture in towns, villages and cities alike, and how important it is for society as a whole.

I join colleagues in celebrating the rich heritage and culture of towns across the UK. I must confess to being possibly a little biased in favour of this motion, as my own constituency is in a town. Of course that town is the very best of towns—I was born and brought up there and it has its own very generous share of cultural heritage—so I recognise, first and foremost, the value of towns. Creativity, arts and heritage make our towns and all our places—cities included—unique, and our communities better places to live in. A Conservative colleague suggested recently that we should also have a county of culture. Culture goes across the board.

As the right hon. Member for Delyn has highlighted it, I will say something about the UK city of culture award, because it has a powerful social and economic impact on the winning bidders. Hull 2017, which has been alluded to, leveraged truly enormous private investment and generated £300 million through increased tourism alone.

I understand the potential for arts and culture to transform communities, which is why a range of places, including towns, can already enter the UK city of culture competition. Of course I recognise that towns will have a lot to compete against when they come up against cities in the same competition. The bidding process for the title of the 2021 UK city of culture, which was awarded to Coventry, invited bids from cities and towns, and it allowed partnership bids from two or more neighbouring cities or towns, or from a closely linked set of urban areas. That is one way of dealing with this issue.

It is for individual places to weigh the benefits of bidding, in terms of galvanising local partners and raising the profile of the place, compared with the costs of putting together a bid. I am currently reviewing the criteria for any future competitions and will continue to keep under careful consideration the offer to towns, as well as the burden of bidding. This debate has been very influential in that regard, so I again congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing it.