HC Deb 20 March 1989 vol 149 c726
27. Mr. Andrew Smith

To ask the Minister for the Arts when he next intends to meet the chairman of the Southern Arts Association to discuss the funding and structure of the arts in his region.

Mr. Luce

I have no plans to do so.

Mr. Smith

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Southern Arts Association and the other regional associations on their role in fostering community arts? In the light of that, will he assure the House that the Wilding inquiry will not be permitted to undermine the autonomy of the associations or to weaken their links with local authorities in a further act of centralisation for which, sadly the Government have become known?

Mr. Luce

I welcome the role played by the regional arts associations. There has been a substantial shift of resources to them in the past few years, to such an extent that today they handle about £30 million of taxpayers' money. It is for them to decide precisely how they disburse that money. The important point about the Wilding inquiry is to examine the relationship between the regional arts associations, the Arts Council and central Government, to seek greater accountability, to examine the coherence of funding policy and to see whether the structure and procedures can be improved. The inquiry will also study administration and that is needed in view of all the changes that have taken place. There is a principle of arm's-length policy in the allocation of funds. Decisions about artistic freedom and merit are for the Arts Council and the regional arts associations.

Sir David Price

Does my right hon. Friend accept that local authorities of all political persuasions in the Southern Arts Association area are strongly behind that association's work, but that there is a strong feeling that the Arts Council is not giving the Southern Arts Association a fair share of the money allocated to regional arts associations? It is important to resolve the issue reasonably soon, otherwise the initiative about which he has spoken may go a bit sour in the south of England.

Mr. Luce

I take my hon. Friend's point. The Arts Council has devised a new formula for disbursing money between the regional arts associations. The Southern Arts Association has received an 11.4 per cent. increase in resources to recognise the fact that it has been relatively underfunded over the years.