HC Deb 13 May 1991 vol 191 cc15-6
31. Mr. Bowis

To ask the Minister for the Arts if he will bring forward a plan to remove the arts in London from funding by the London boroughs grants scheme.

Mr. Renton

The problems surrounding the settlement of the LBGS budget this year have demonstrated that the joint local authority arrangements for funding arts organisations in London are not working effectively.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has included those arrangements in the review of the structure of local government. I am discussing with him possible alternative future arrangements to ensure a stable environment for the funding of the capital's arts organisations.

Mr. Bowis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that today Tom Stoppard, Tom Conti and others launched a campaign to save the King's Head theatre, which is one of the best in the capital and in the country, from the disastrous cut in grant by the London boroughs grants scheme? Is not it a fact that that scheme not only knows precious little about the arts, but puts them in the bottom category of its priorities? Is not it time that London's arts were rescued from its clutches?

Mr. Renton

As I said in answer to an earlier question, the difficulty is not that there is no money in the system—there is, from the Arts Council through Greater London Arts and also from the LBGS which, I understand, intends to devote approximately £3 million of its budget, or about 11 per cent., to arts organisations. The problem is——

Mr. Fisher

The Minister is ill-informed.

Mr. Renton

The shadow Minister for the Arts says that I am ill-informed, but he has not read his script. He has been too busy reading The Stage and I advise him against that in future. The money is there, in the system. The difficulty is that the LBGS took so long to reach decisions. That is why I had to ask the Arts Council to give interim, temporary help to its clients who were in difficulties.

Mr. Chris Smith

The Minister must be aware that there is a real crisis of funding in the London arts—in large measure due to the overall financial squeeze that has been placed both by the Government and by the Tory boroughs on the London boroughs grants committee on the funding of voluntary bodies and arts organisations in the capital. It is seriously affecting two theatres in my constituency—the Almeida and the King's Head. Is it not time that the Minister stopped wringing his hands and pretending that he was not responsible for any of that and instead devoted some Government money to supporting the arts in London?

Mr. Renton

I understand why the hon. Gentleman says that because I know of his great interest in the subject. However, he is being less than just. Greater London Arts is giving an award this year to the Almeida theatre of £238,000. That is Government-provided money. Like the hon. Gentleman, I should be sorry if the Almeida, which is one of the most important new writing theatres in the country, went under. It is his council, Islington, and the London boroughs grants scheme which are keeping back £56,000, a mere one fifth of the Arts Council money. The hon. Gentleman should bring his influence to bear on Islington to see that the Almeida does not get into difficulties. Islington is not a Tory borough; I do not think that the Tories are yet in control of Islington.

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