Theodora Dickinson is a modern history student at Oxford University, and Chairman of South East Region Conservative Future.
It is imperative that funding for culture is given serious thought during this government. It has been proved over and over again that free enterprise creates the best environment for economic success, and this is just as true in the arts and tourism industries as it is in many others. Indeed, these are two sectors where the consumer is at the very heart of the business. When you are marketing a nation, however, on the international stage, it is right to see a small measure of government involvement. Therefore there must be collaboration between the public and the private sectors, as well as increased co-operation between government departments in supporting these important industries.
This was one of the key points of the government’s new five-point plan to boost tourism across the UK. This plan will see the establishment of an inter-Ministerial group which will work together with national and local partners to ensure that decisions taken across Government and the wider public sector are co-ordinated.
By having departments acting in concert, we will make it as easy as possible for visitors to discover the best of what this country has to offer. For example, collaboration has already begun with the Department of Transport, with an exciting ‘Rail for Tourism innovation’ competition announced, calling for ideas to make exploring the UK by rail more attractive to tourists. Transport is a key part of the tourism industry, and we must ensure tourists are able to access as many venues and attractions as possible, thus encouraging them to venture beyond London, where 54 per cent of money is currently spent.
Tourism directly contributed nearly £60 billion to the UK economy in 2014 – nearly four per cent of the entire economy. This is unquestionably a key industry, bringing jobs, growth, and security for working people. Almost one in ten jobs in the UK rely on this sector, and these jobs are growing at almost double the rate of other industries.
There have been plenty of examples of successful collaborations between the public and private sectors. Sir Nicholas Hytner, for example, recently finished twelve years as Director of the National Theatre, forging a powerfully creative and lucrative public-private partnership. This is precisely the model which must be taken for the subsidised arts over the years to come, especially at a time when public funding for the arts is increasingly squeezed. It is imperative that we be more careful with how our money is being spent (and, remember, it is our money), particularly making sure we are getting the best possible value for money possible.
During his 12 years as Director of the National Theatre, Sir Nicholas introduced a number of important innovations. From sponsored low-price tickets (for £12), to plays screened live in cinemas across the country, this revolution in theatre-going has allowed it to be enjoyed by the many, not just the few. The numbers speak for themselves, with the National Theatre now being responsible for over a third of all visits to theatres.
This is an approach endorsed by Sir Peter Bazalgette, the Chairman of Arts Council England, who has previously argued for a “grand partnership” between the public and private sectors. It is encouraging to see arts organisations becoming increasingly business-minded and entrepreneurial, especially at a time when state funding is at a low ebb.
Under the Blair years, as the country saw in a new millennium, interest in history and heritage fell drastically, and New Labour made a big mistake by treating public funding as a proxy for public engagement. The Millennium Dome, for example, was to be highlighted as ‘a glittering New Labour achievement’ in their next election manifesto. Its legacy was far from glittering, however, and it was without doubt emblematic of those years: a bizarre, expensive, pointless political project which ended up costing £789 million — less than a quarter of which was recouped by ticket sales.
The Blair years were also infamous for the rise of the quango. By the 2010 election, these organisations numbered well over a thousand, with a staggering 700,000 employees between them. These conditions were terrible for the management of important organisations such as English Heritage, which went through four chief executives in seven years, haemorrhaged money, and ran an astonishing deficit. This left the organisation lacking any sort of vision for its future in the long term, until Dr Simon Thurley took over the reins.
Under Dr Thurley’s stewardship, the amount of self-generated funding from commercial activity more than doubled, making the National Heritage Collection more self-sufficient, and sustainable. Dr Thurley consistently emphasised the need for heritage to pay its own way, insisting that the ‘best way of securing a future for many buildings is to find a commercial use for them’, for example as a hotel. This period also saw the membership of English Heritage double, and it now stands at over one million. These reforms helped insulate English Heritage from the worst of the cuts. Even more importantly, however, by proving it was a well-run organisation which performed important, and independent, functions for the Government, it survived the 2010 ‘bonfire of the quangos’, and was confirmed as the government’s statutory advisor on the historic environment.
From 2013, however, Dr Thurley put forward an even more radical plan for the future of English Heritage, arguing that it should adopt a new governance model. The Conservative-led government was in favour of this proposal, which became a reality in April of this year. This allowed the commercial operations of English Heritage to flourish on their own, entirely free from the restrictions of government.
The responsibility for the future funding of the arts and tourism must be combined between both the public and private sectors. This way of thinking will see cultural organisations being made directly accountable to those who ultimately pay the bill: the taxpayer. And that is exactly the way it should be.