thu 18/07/2024

Ed Vaizey: 'We must invest more in the arts' | reviews, news & interviews

Ed Vaizey: 'We must invest more in the arts'

Ed Vaizey: 'We must invest more in the arts'

The long-serving former culture minister calls on the UK Government to increase arts funding

Ed Vaizey: '£50 million is a tiny, tiny sum in the vast coffers of government spending'

A couple of weeks ago, I held a debate in Parliament in which I called for the government to increase funding for the arts, museums and heritage. The Chancellor’s autumn statement, less than two months away, will be when I will know if my campaign has succeeded.

For my whole six years as culture minister, from 2010 until the summer of 2016, funding was the biggest issue for debate. In 2010, big headline cuts drew the wrath of the sector. By 2015, I had persuaded the then Chancellor George Osborne to a standstill settlement. Almost better were the warm words he used about the importance of funding the arts and heritage.

Of course, as the arts minister that presided during this period, I am keen to emphasise that the headlines were much worse than the reality. The cuts to arts organisations were significantly lower than people thought, and were accompanied by really big increases in Lottery funding. The arts and heritage sectors also responded magnificently, raising more in philanthropy and from commercial income, and diversifying. We have always benefited in this country from the mixed economy – neither being wholly dependent on commercial income, nor completely in hock to the state.

Because we are so good at culture, we tend to take it for granted

But there is no getting away from the fact that in terms of government support we have, in my view, reached rock bottom. If we are to give genuine support to the arts and heritage, we must start to invest more. Quite apart from their intrinsic value, we ask from them a great deal. They are at the centre of our tourism industry; they project our soft power; and they feed our successful creative industries, the most successful part of our economy.

Funding culture comes cheap. A modest increase of, say, five percent across arts, museums and heritage works out around £50 million – a tiny, tiny sum in the vast coffers of government spending. And such spending goes a very long way. I’m pleased, for example, that the new government is taking forward my White Paper, which I published in March. It means they recognise the role culture has to play in health, education, criminal justice and numerous other areas in our society. But that means recognising that these initiatives need some modest support to take root and flourish.

There are other areas as well where the arts need support. Local councils do need to be accountable – they cannot simply hide behind cuts when stepping away from the arts. But there are many local authority museums that play on the national stage, and I hope the forthcoming museums review recognises that.

Music education is invaluable, and the arts need some support in schools – no school should be able to call itself outstanding unless it can demonstrate a real commitment to supporting art and music education in its curriculum.

Over the last six years, I feel I played a modest role in moving the arts more centre-stage in the political debate. I used to comment, and there is some truth in it, that our artists are more appreciated abroad than at home. Other countries – notably China – recognise how important creativity is in their development. Because we are so good at it, we tend to take it for granted.

A modest boost to arts funding would bring real benefits.  But above all, perhaps, it would be important as a signal from the new Government that these extraordinary organisations are really appreciated for the benefits they bring to this country.

No school should be able to call itself outstanding unless it can demonstrate a real commitment to supporting art and music education

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