HC Deb 13 May 1991 vol 191 cc13-4
28. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Minister for the Arts what is his policy towards the arts in the London area; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Tim Renton)

The overall aim of our policy for London, as elsewhere, is to continue to develop a climate in which the arts can flourish. To that end, London will have a new regional arts board from 1 October 1991. Good progress has been made with the appointment of Mr. Clive Priestley as chair, 10 of the 14 other board members and a chief executive, Mr. Tim Mason.

Mr. Greenway

I welcome the appointment of Mr. Priestley. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that London is the cultural centre of the world in every aspect of the arts? Will he therefore resist the pressure that has come from the House in recent years to divert money from London to the regions? It is right to build up money for the regions—but not at the expense of London.

Mr. Renton

I agree with my hon. Friend's first point. I regard London as the cultural centre of the world and will do all in my powers to ensure that it remains so. However, it is only right that the regions should have a fair crack of the whip, too. It is true that in recent years more money, on a percentage basis, has gone from the Arts Council to the regions than to London, but I stress that there is no crisis in central Government funding of the arts through the Arts Council. If there is a problem it is down to the London boroughs—individually or through the London boroughs grants scheme—some of which are, alas, withdrawing funding from the arts.

Mr. Fisher

I join the Minister in welcoming Mr. Priestley's appointment, but he faces a difficult task.

The Minister, in his complacency, does not seem to understand the urgency or the scale of the crisis facing London's arts, from which £800,000 has been withdrawn under the London boroughs grants scheme budget. Probably more than £3 million in cuts has been forced on local authorities by the Government's poll tax; and the Government's funding, through the Arts Council, of Greater London Arts is well below the rate of inflation. All that will hit arts bodies in London and it is all a direct result of Government policies.

Does not the Minister see what is going on? Is not he aware of it? Why has he said not a single word while the crisis has been developing over the past few weeks? What will he do about the problem now?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman should not quote from a script passed into his hand by some stagehand whom he has just met. The fact is that I have instructed the Arts Council, through Greater London Arts, to make available short-term funding for those of its clients who may be suffering because of a lack of decisions under the London boroughs grants scheme. The problem lies not in the fact that there is no money in the system. Quite the opposite: there is money in the system, but unfortunately some boroughs have decided that funding the arts is a luxury. The shadow Minister should be using his persuasive powers to persuade the London boroughs to continue to fund the arts through the money that they will have under the LBGS.

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