HC Deb 15 September 2003 vol 410 cc573-4
3. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

If she will make a statement on the most recent funding settlement from the Arts Council for the performing arts in the regions. [129553]

The Minister for the Arts(Estelle Morris)

While the allocation of funding is a matter for Arts Council England, I am pleased that so many arts organisations in all regions of England are benefiting from the increased funding that we secured for the arts in the last spending review. This will see arts expenditure increase to £410 million by 2005–06, a 117 per cent. increase since 1997.

Mr. Illsley

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. She will be aware that theatre provision in my constituency has been inadequate since the closure of the Barnsley Civic theatre several years ago due to the necessity for structural repairs. Unfortunately, successive bids for lottery funding have failed, and the Arts Council obviously now has less money available to distribute to such causes. Will my right hon. Friend examine this situation to see whether any further assistance can be given to my local authority, so that it can provide a theatre in my constituency?

Estelle Morris

I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, in view of the fact that the theatre in his constituency has now been dark for some years and was unsuccessful in the last bidding round. It is not for me to say whether any help can be given, because it is important that the allocation of funds by Arts Council England is independent of the Government. I note, however, that Barnsley is one of the priority areas in Yorkshire for development by the Arts Council, which recently funded a development officer in the town to help with cultural regeneration. I am delighted that culture is forming such an important part of the economic regeneration there. I would also point out to my hon. Friend that it is possible to bid again, and I hope that careful contact with the Arts Council prior to the bid being put in will secure a better result next time. If that were the case, I would join him in being absolutely delighted.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Is it not the case that the Arts Council and other organisations expected additional money when the Millennium Commission was wound up? Notwithstanding that, is the right hon. Lady aware that the Arts Council has given a generous grant to the Garrick theatre in my constituency, which the Secretary of State opened when she visited Lichfield recently? Does this not just go to show that when bodies have decent organisation and make decent applications, money can sometimes be found?

Estelle Morris

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that many good quality bids have been funded. I was delighted, on my only other appearance at DCMS questions, to celebrate with him what has happened at the theatre in Lichfield, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened the following day. I would, however, question something that he said. I do not think that he meant to give the impression that the bid from Barnsley was no good. I am sure that in Yorkshire, as in the west midlands, Humberside and other regions, there are good quality bids. I am pleased to say that the bids coming in from cultural organisations for investment in regeneration are now of such quality that it is becoming difficult to make final decisions. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that we should always ensure that we have as much money as possible to fund good bids, as such projects form an essential part of the economic infrastructure of the country and provide for people to enjoy their leisure time.