Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Opposition Day speech on the importance of the arts and creative

Opposition Day speech on the importance of the arts and creative industries

House of Commons, 19 June 2013


The arts are of great importance

This debate is an opportunity for the whole House to

  • express support for our arts and creative industries, and
  • assert their great importance to this country.

In this House we often debate health, education, the economy. We should recognise that the arts contribute to all of these.

And it’s right too that we talk about the intrinsic value of the arts - how they move us and challenge us and the great joy that arts and culture bring to our lives.

Yes, the arts make money for this country – but they are never just a commodity.

From the parents watching a school play, to the nation watching the Olympic ceremony, the arts enrich our lives and all of our communities.

We should have no hesitation to stand up for them and declare their importance to individuals, to communities, and to our country.

We're a country which produces some of the greatest creativity on the planet – whether it’s music, fashion, film, theatre, broadcasting, design, art, our libraries, our museums - our cultural creativity is admired and envied around the world.  

And that belief was what led us, when we were in government, to step up support for the arts, including:

  • massively strengthening the DCMS,
  • bringing in free entry to museums and galleries, and
  • trebling the budget for the Arts Council.

But let us be clear, public support for the arts is repaid over and over. 

For example, there was a £5,000 subsidy to support the stage production of The Woman in Black.  Since then the production company has paid back more than £12m in tax to the Treasury.

And public subsidy allows for the willingness of the arts to take risks, like the hugely successful Matilda, which the Royal Shakespeare Company say would just not have been possible without public "seedcorn" funding.

For some, subsidy has become a dirty word.  But there is a false dichotomy between the public and the commercial – they are inextricably linked. Public investment gives the space for commercial success.  The Arts Council calculate that for every pound of government spending invested in the arts, the British economy gets £4 back.

Public money provides the basis of the mixed economy which supports the arts – it provides the foundation on which philanthropy and other funding schemes can then build.

And we should recognise the role that the arts play in regeneration, like it has done in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham.

Joe Anderson, the leader of Liverpool, says that the arts have been the rocket fuel for his City's economy.  

As the Leader of Birmingham City council, Sir Albert Bore said – without the arts and culture our cities would be deserts.

And it’s the same throughout the country.

The arts must be for everyone

Our belief is that the arts are a public policy imperative because they must be for everyone.  Without the active support of public policy there’s a real danger that the arts would become the privilege of the few.

That is wrong in principle - because the arts and culture must be a right for all.  

But it’s also wrong in practice.  Because creativity needs to draw on the widest pool of talent. Talent is everywhere in this country – in people from all walks of life. Look at Lee Hall’s Billy Elliot, look at Opera North, look at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

This is a difficult time for the arts

We can all see the massive success stories.  You just have to look at any awards ceremony in the world – Britain's creativity is always right up there in lights.

And whilst we celebrate that success we must not let it mask the reality that the arts are facing a difficult time, especially for smaller organisations and outside London.

While the headlines trumpet our success,  behind the scenes, especially in the regions,  there is an arts emergency:

  • The Arts Council - which provides funds for the arts all around the country – already cut by 35% - is expecting even more cuts
  • And local government are having their budgets slashed by a third.  

And this is really important. Because for most arts organisations - especially outside London,  most of their public funding comes not from central government but from local government.  Local authorities are struggling to deal with their responsibilities in very difficult circumstances, having to grapple with how they care for the elderly and protect vulnerable children.  

But even in such difficult times it is really important that local government is doing all it can to support the arts, like in Manchester where they are protecting the arts to protect their future success as the city.

To support councillors across the country who are facing such difficult choices we have set up a network of local councillors who can come together to discuss the challenges facing them, to discuss the importance of the arts in local communities and share best practice. 
There are many things that local authorities can and are doing to support the arts over and above public money.  For example, sharing back office functions, granting licenses, offering up their public spaces for arts events.

And I’m delighted that tomorrow I'll be in Coventry's Transport Museum meeting with our Creative Councillors Network from across the country.  We are thinking in imaginative and innovative ways how to help the arts even in these difficult times.

We must protect the arts

If we want the arts to thrive in the future - they need to survive now.

It takes years to build them up - but they can be destroyed at the stroke of a pen.

The situation is so difficult that we have to forge a survival strategy for the arts.

This is work for a broad-ranging coalition including the Arts Council, local government, the arts community and central government.

Not just the DCMS but crucially, the Department for Education, BIS, Treasury and CLG. 

The Culture Secretary must take the lead and stand up for culture - the clue is in the title:

  • that means not letting the Communities Secretary squash arts in the regions
  • that means not letting the BIS Secretary slope off to Europe to water down copyright and
  • that means not letting the Education Secretary sweep creativity out of the curriculum.

What the Culture Secretary should be doing is working with the arts and creative industries to develop a clear, confident strategy and make sure it's delivered:

  • we must be sure the opportunities are there for young people to experience and participate in the arts - at school, at college, through apprenticeships - to earn their living in the arts
  • we must be sure that artists and arts organisations have the right infrastructure for funding  - that includes a mix of public subsidy, philanthropy and other innovative sources like crowd-funding
  • Britain's creative talent is a precious natural resource and must be protected – so the Government must get off the fence and rigorously enforce intellectual property rights
  • because the situation in relation to arts is different outside London from what it is here in the Capital, there needs to be a specific, separate focus on the English regions, on Scotland and Wales
  • because British creativity is recognised all around the world we must have co-ordinated work - including  BIS, UKTI, the Foreign Office and the British Council -  to showcase the best of British, and
  • finally, running through any culture strategy must be a fundamental principle -  the arts must be a right for everyone, not the preserve of a privileged elite. Not only is this important in principle, but to carry on as world leaders we need to continue to draw on the widest possible pool of talent.

We cannot accept the government amendment. 

Whilst it details some of the important work that the department is doing, it is complacent and totally out of touch with what's happening on the ground.

It asks us to welcome the continued strong lead given by the DCMS.  The truth is no-one in the arts thinks that's the case:

  • It’s what the arts need
  • But it’s not what they've got.

A heavy responsibility falls on the Secretary of State. 

This is a difficult time for the arts.

And that's why, at this point it would be disastrous to dismantle the department.
Britain's arts and creative industries are important for our future.  They must have unequivocal backing from the Government, and a strong Secretary of State with a seat at the Cabinet table.

I’m looking forward to hearing speeches from all sides of the House to stand up for the arts and vote for this motion.

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