§ 31. Mr. Tony Banks
To ask the Minister for the Arts if he will meet local authority leaders to discuss arts funding in London.
§ The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Tim Renton)
In consultation with ministerial colleagues, I am currently considering how arrangements for the funding of the arts in London can be improved. As part of that process, we are seeking the views of the funding agencies and other interested bodies.
§ Mr. Banks
Is the Minister aware that about 200,000 jobs in London are dependent on the arts, entertainment and culture, and that there is an arts crisis in the capital city, brought about by the recession, the pressure on local authorities, and the derisory 2 per cent. that Greater London Arts has been given by the Arts Council? Will the Minister make it clear to the House—he has not done so in the past—that he is prepared to meet the Association of London Authorities and the London Boroughs Association? The resolution of the arts crisis in London will determine whether he will be considered a good Minister for the Arts or someone from the Herman Goering school of culture.
§ Mr. Renton
I wholly disagree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there is a crisis in the arts in London. Does crisis mean a time when the new Sackler gallery at the Royal Academy is about to open, as are the Sainsbury wing at the National Gallery and the Tsui gallery at the Victoria and Albert museum? The Royal Shakespeare Company is successfully back at the Barbican, and the National theatre is having an immensely successful season. If that is crisis, give me crisis. The hon. 595 Gentleman should know, too, that there are some exciting new projects being founded in Newham—the Atherton arts centre, for example, and a short-term post at the Gill gallery.
Certainly I am willing to meet the bodies that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but it does no good for him or for others to talk about a crisis that simply does not exist.
§ Mr. Jessel
Is my right hon. Friend aware that London is the arts capital of the world, with a fine range of theatres, concerts, operas, ballets, museums and art galleries which taken together, comprise a priceless national asset? Does he agree that it is utterly disgraceful that it should be constantly run down by Opposition Members?
§ Mr. Renton
I very much agree with my hon. Friend's remarks. At the moment, we are witnessing a number of very great successes in the arts world in London. Difficulties have, indeed, arisen in connection with the London boroughs grants scheme, and I regret that it took so long for a budget to be decided upon. I urged those involved to speed the process up, and I have talked about the matter with the Secretary of State for the Environment. It is, none the less, worth remembering that, despite difficulties with eight companies—the LBGS clients which may face closure—Greater London Arts is supporting 161 revenue clients and 1,000 project-funded clients, and the LBGS still supports some 114 artistic companies. Those are all signs not of crisis but of a very active arts scene in London.
§ Mr. Fisher
I welcome the fact that, after six months of developing crisis, the Minister is at long last prepared to say that he will meet his colleagues, and meet the bodies that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) suggested. That is a constructive move, but it has taken a long time. When the Minister meets those concerned, will he at last take it from them that there is a crisis in the arts in London, and that it is a crisis caused by his Government's poll tax, which is taking more than £3 million away from community arts in London? The Minister may not reckon that community arts are very important, but I hope that he will listen to those concerned and understand that they are indeed important. Unless the Minister addresses that problem and keeps an open mind about it, the fact that he has sat there doing nothing for six months will be to his discredit.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman exaggerates to such an extent as to make his own argument absurd. He knows that there is not a £3 million shortage or deficit in arts funding in London. In fact, there is a £400,000 shortage—a 15 per cent. reduction—this year. What arts body in London have I refused to meet in the past six months when it wished to see me about an arts problem? The answer is none. The hon. Gentleman speaks of crisis so often that he himself is suffering from crisis fatigue. His solution is to reinvent the greater London authority. He does not seem to realise that a Ken Livingstone mark 2 would have the same effect on the arts bodies as a rebirth of Dracula would have on those suffering from pernicious anaemia.
§ 32. Mr. Chris Smith
To ask the Minister for the Arts if he intends to meet the chair of Greater London Arts to discuss arts funding in London.
§ Mr. Renton
I have no further plans to meet the chair of Greater London Arts. I intend to meet Mr. Clive Priestley, the chair-designate of the London Arts Board, from time to time to discuss matters of mutual interest.
§ Mr. Smith
The Minister speaks as though there are no problems with the arts in London. He must know, in his heart of hearts, that that is far from the truth. He must know that the sheer deficiencies of the London boroughs grants scheme, as a scheme, have led to substantial cuts in the arts in London in recent months. He must know that the Arts Council has given only 2.5 per cent. —way below inflation—in increased funding to Greater London Arts this year. He must know that a number of arts institutions—including, for example, the Almeida and King's Head theatres in my constituency—are in serious peril as a result of the problems that we face. It is time that the Minister put his money where his mouth is and devoted extra funds to supporting the arts in London, rather than continuing—however many talks he may have—to wash his hands of the problem.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman is being less than honest and less than frank. The Almeida theatre has had its funding increased by 8 per cent. by Greater London Arts, which is indirectly funded by my office. He should know that and he should recognise it. The body that is riot increasing the theatre's funding is Islington borough council. As I have told the hon. Gentleman before, he should bring his influence to bear to ensure that Labour councillors do not simply push their arts clients over the table into the waste paper basket when there are financial difficulties—often created by the councillors themselves—in their area.
§ Mr. Cohen
Will the Minister welcome Labour's innovative idea of a London leisure card, which will give reduced admission for Londoners to all sorts of events? The Minister has not had such an idea in all his term in office—unless he can cite one to the House now. As far as the capital of culture is concerned, he is rapidly becoming known as the Minister of farce, not arts.
§ Mr. Renton
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could amuse himself greatly in a London leisure park. He would fit in very well indeed and his presence there would cause great mirth to Members on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Bowis
Will my right hon. Friend thank the London arts, past and present, and the Arts Council of Great Britain for coming to the rescue of those London arts bodies that have been abandoned by the London boroughs grants scheme, and will he seek an early conclusion to the abolition of that body, which is Labour run? It bodes ill for any proposed Londonwide scheme set up by the Labour party that the London boroughs grants scheme under that party and with Liberal collusion has let down the arts in London.
§ Mr. Renton
I very much agree with my hon. Friend's sensible and balanced comments. The Arts Council—and Greater London Arts, shortly to be replaced by the London Arts Board—are doing their stuff as regards funding arts organisations in London. I agree with him that where it has gone wrong in recent months has been 597 with the London boroughs grants scheme and it is for precisely that reason that, in an answer to an earlier question, I said that I am discussing with ministerial colleagues whether the LBGS should continue in its present form or whether there is some better means of directing that funding to arts clients in London without creating a greater London authority mark 2—as the Labour party would, with about 20,000 civil servants, if past experience is anything to go by.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be no more haemorrhaging of funds for the arts from London to the regions? [HON. MEMBERS' "No!"] I am not saying that there should not be more funds for London and the regions, but it would be quite wrong to advantage the regions to the disadvantage of Londoners as regards the arts, important though both the regions and London are.
§ Mr. Renton
Much as I respect my hon. Friend's determination to fight the Ealing corner, I do not agree with his general comments. London is still the best funded of all the regions on the basis of arts money per head of population, even when funding of the nationals is taken out of consideration. It is important for the Arts Council to spread the money available around to the most distant parts of the United Kingdom to encourage al sorts of art festivals in every part of the land.