Harriet Harman

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

Speech on the future of arts and culture policy - 12/02/13

Speech on the future of arts and culture policy


Labour Policy Event, Soho Theatre


12 February 2013


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Thank you all for coming today and for the Soho Theatre for hosting us.

I think we all feel that we meet at an important moment for the arts and our creative industries

A moment of huge opportunities - matched only by the scale of the threats.

Arts are successful

Stepping back, there is no doubt that the arts are


  • hugely successful,
  • internationally admired, and
  • rightly self confident,
  • creating jobs,
  • generating revenue,
  • earning foreign currency,
  • reaching into all parts of the country,
  • extending opportunities, and
  • generally doing what art and culture does – enriching the life of the nation and developing the human potential of each and every individual. 

Art is something we are very good at in this country. We’ve got great cultural and artistic traditions and are at the cutting edge for the future - the Olympics opening ceremony reminded everyone of that.

There is no shortage of success to marvel at and enthusiasm to go yet further.

But no-one here is lulled by that into a false sense of security. We know that the success that we see now has been built over many years. Above all, by the talent and determination of our artistic and creative community but also, critically, nurtured with the support of public policy, backing from government and local government.

And it is that essential support which is now threatened.

Why did Jeremy Hunt think it was alright to cut the Arts Council by 30 per cent?

Why did Gove think it was OK to kick the arts out of the curriculum?

Why did Osborne think it was alright to stigmatise arts patrons as tax dodgers?

Why is Eric Pickles getting away with crushing local government’s ability to support arts in their communities?


And why doesn’t Maria Miller realise that it’s her job to fight back against this - instead just telling the arts they’ve never had it so good?

My worry is that what we have here is a brazen and wholesale government retreat from public policy backing for the arts and our creative industries.

Role of government

No-one thinks that the role of the state is to control or direct art, but the state must play its part:


  • ensuring the curriculum has arts and creativity running through it so that for every child and in all schools, education includes the arts
  • ensuring that all children have out of school opportunities - after school, in school holidays. 
  • ensuring that the Arts Council is well supported and funded
  • ensuring that local government is able to support the arts locally and regionally, and
  • that all of this has to be championed and protected by a strong central government department.

It's government's role to underpin the platform on which the arts build other support and to ensure that it is available for all people in all areas.

Importance of speaking up for the arts

But even if the culture department is failing to speak up for the arts - you are - and all credit to you for doing so.

Your voice is strong and important and you have our backing.

If we don't fight to protect the arts, the price will be paid in the future. Arts and culture takes years to build up, but can easily be so quickly destroyed.  


The price will be paid in inequality - arts increasingly the preserve of a privileged elite - concentrated in London.

What needs to be done

So, what are we going to do about this?

Or should I say, what next?

I think it's of the utmost important that you are not only doing your day jobs but also working together for the arts.

You have the authority, the legitimacy, the commitment, to do that and with the respect you command, you are a powerful movement. Gove's backdown on the EBacc was in no small part due to the leadership you gave from the arts against it.

But because I don't think he's genuinely changed his mind we'll have to keep a close eye to make sure he doesn't just pause and try and sneak it in again.

Remaking the argument for the arts

I think it’s right that you are remaking the arguments for the arts. The case has always been there - we made it, together, in the run up to 1997. It was the reason we trebled the budget of the Arts Council, strengthened the DCMS, empowered artistic renaissance in the great cities of our regions.

But there is a new generation who've emerged during a time of flowering of the arts who now need to hear and be confident in making the case. And there's a generation of the public who have no idea about the scale and importance of public funding in the arts.

Perhaps it was because no-one felt they needed to draw attention to it, because the funding could be relied upon. Or was it, perhaps, partly out of a hesitation about drawing attention to public subsidy in case that might jeopardise it.

But whatever the reason, go to any institution or read any programme and the names of the donors are up in lights but the contribution - the collective contribution of the taxpayer - is all but invisible. So the irony is that the cuts have been made easier because most people remain unaware of the important role of subsidy in the arts.

Fighting back against the cuts

I think it’s right that we fight back against the cuts. Even though it’s a very difficult time because the Government's austerity programme is choking off economic growth and threatening public services. It is a difficult time. When the police are being cut, when home care support for dementia sufferers is being cut back, there is a fear that speaking up for the arts sounds like special pleading, or people not realising how tough it is out there, or that you'll be making it worse by biting the hand that feeds you.

But it's not special pleading. You are not doing it for yourselves - you are doing it for all those children who still don't have access to the arts; for the regions which will get left behind; for the opportunities it affords for economic growth; for the part it plays in our national identity.

And even when it’s tough we still have to think about investment for the future in jobs, growth, opportunities, regeneration - which is what we know arts investment is.

And, as for "biting the hand", make no mistake, if there is no fight back against the cuts the Government will take that as a clear signal that they can come back for yet more.

There is a great deal of support for that - including many on the Tory back benches concerned about the arts in their own area. So we will be highlighting that in the House of Commons, not just in oral questions to the Culture Secretary, but also make sure that every time Gove and Pickles answer oral questions they are challenged about what they are doing to the arts.

And because there is concern in parts of the Tory backbenches as well as massive concern on our side, we will have, in opposition time in the near future, a full scale debate and vote in the House of Commons and bringing the Culture Secretary to the House to answer all the arguments you are making.

Survival strategy for the arts

As well as making the case for the arts and fighting back against the cuts we need to forge a survival strategy for the arts. And I know you are doing that through innovative thinking and partnerships between you, with the Arts Council, through philanthropy and with local government.

And to help and support our local councillors in playing that role with you, Dan and I have set up the Creative Councillors Network with the LGA Labour group, to bring together, brainstorm and lend support to the Labour councils and councillors to ensure that whilst facing the biggest cuts to local government in a generation they are able to continue to sustain the foundations for the arts in their area.

As their ability to give grants diminishes, they will all be doing more of the non-revenue things that can make such a difference, such as:

  • Using the grant of planning permission to leverage investment into the arts
  • Using public spaces, buildings, parks, empty shops for the arts
  • Allowing their capital assets to be used as security for loans
  • Sharing their back office facilities with arts organisations
  • Bending over backwards to grant licenses for the performing arts
  • Offering market stalls at peppercorn rents.

And they have just set up Core Cities which brings together Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield and which will discuss how councils - even in the most challenging of times - can and will continue to support the arts.

Planning for a future arts policy

And we need to plan for the future.

We've been working on our 5 point plan for jobs and growth in arts and the creative industries:

  • young people and skills
  • access to finance - including scope for crowd funding of equity and loans as well as gifts
  • a strong championing of intellectual property
  • a specific focus on our regions
  • exporting and inward investment.

In all our discussions on this we work together with Chuka Umunna on Business, Ed Balls on Treasury issues, Stephen Twigg on Education and of course Hillary Benn on Local Government.

We hope to get back in to government - so now is the time firmly to re-establish the case for the arts in public policy and work up a clear plan for a 21st Century arts policy.

2015 is when we want to start doing it - so the thinking and the planning must be now.

So I hope that we can work together to forge a programme for our manifesto for the vision for arts policy for 2015 and beyond.


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