HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 cc582-3
5. Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

If he will make a statement on the funding of regional theatres. [66762]

The Minister for Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)

The Arts Council of England and regional arts boards will between them spend more than £50 million of Government grant in aid in support of drama, including regional theatre, during 1999-2000, representing 27 per cent. of the Arts Council's total grant.

Mrs. Spelman

Does the Minister accept that relatively poor funding for regional arts companies, such as the Birmingham Royal Ballet, merely serves to aggravate the chronic financial position in which theatres find themselves?

Mr. Howarth

We recognise the significant problems affecting regional theatre, which have been documented by the National Campaign for the Arts in its publication "Theatre in Crisis: the plight of regional theatre". They are the consequence of several years of standstill funding earlier this decade, and we are starting to reverse the position. Regional arts boards will have grant in aid and lottery funding together increased by 44 per cent. next year.

Mr. Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Is the Minister aware that in the previous Parliament, the Select Committee on National Heritage, investigated the costing and funding of regional theatres and found that 40 per cent. of their income came from local authorities and Arts Council subsidies? We found that football got 50 per cent. of its income from sponsorship, selling shirts, television and commercial activities, compared with only 5 per cent. for regional theatre. There is a major gap. Should the Minister not tell the Arts Council that it must do more along those lines?

Mr. Howarth

I am not clear whether my hon. Friend is asking for more money from the Arts Council or from sponsorship or both. It is certainly a complex funding picture. Contributions from grant in aid and the lottery are needed as well as those from local authorities, business sponsorship and the box office. The exact mix will vary from theatre to theatre, but of course we want more business sponsorship, not only for the arts in general but for theatre in particular.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

The Minister knows that many regional theatres face severe financial deficits and even possible closure. With the Arts Council in the process of dissolving itself on Government orders, who or what will be responsible for taking a national view of the important role of regional theatres?

Mr. Howarth

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take a national view, as will the Arts Council and its drama panel. Our strategy is to delegate much more to the regions. We believe that that will lead to more appropriate responsiveness and accountability, and to a higher proportion of publicly derived money being available for distribution according to decisions taken in the regions.

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