Ed Vaizey is a Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Last month, I published the first White Paper on culture for more than 50 years. The last time a government did this was in 1965, under Jennie Lee, Harold Wilson’s first arts minister.
Jennie Lee’s White Paper is short and to the point – no more than 20 pages and a hundred paragraphs. It is both challenging and aspirational. Indeed, many of the themes she identified in the middle of the 1960s are as relevant today as they were then. None is more so than the challenge to ensure that the arts should not be the preserve of a privileged few. While of course we have seen hugely significant changes in our arts and culture sectors since the 1960s, the same concerns animate our own White Paper.
Its beating heart is the mission that everyone should have the chance to experience culture, participate in it, create it and see their lives transformed by it. Our White Paper sets out a new expectation that all publicly-funded arts organisations should increase access to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Many of our institutions are already doing great work in this area, but it’s a stubborn fact that children from the most deprived households are significantly less likely to have participated in the arts, to have visited a museum or gallery, or to have visited a heritage site than those from most affluent households. Disadvantage locks people out of the arts and the UK’s creative industries, which is one of the nation’s greatest economic success stories. In a single year, UK film, music, video games, fashion, design and other creative industries generated £84.1 billion and accounted for 1.8 million jobs. These sectors are dynamic, booming, and hugely influential. And they belong to all of us.
That’s why we will be introducing a new Cultural Citizens scheme (announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year earlier this year) that will see thousands of children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from behind-the-scenes access to the arts. We will pilot the programme in three areas – the North West, North East and West Midlands. We plan that by the end of the third year it will have been rolled out to 70 places, reaching 14,000 young people. We want to discover untapped talent that could become Britain’s future stars across the music, film, theatre, museums, heritage industries. But we also want to offer sustained engagement for many more people who otherwise wouldn’t experience culture.
The debate over the funding balance between London and the rest of the country is just as passionately contested today as it was at the time of the first white paper in 1965, which argued ‘the best [in arts] must be made more widely’. While Arts Council England continues to increase the proportion of funding it allocates to organisations outside London and support schemes that are transforming local arts provision countrywide, we are not complacent. So we are introducing a new Great Place Scheme, to bring national arts and Heritage Lottery funders together with councils, cultural organisations and universities to make culture a core part of local authority’s plans and policies. It will initially be piloted in 12 areas – at least four being rural.
Our White Paper also launches a museums review, with a particular focus on digitising our collections – and getting them out of storage – so people right across the country (and the world) can enjoy them. And we’ll continue to explore how we can support the arts through tax reliefs. We will also introduce a new, virtual Commercial Academy for Culture to help arts organisations improve their resilience. In addition, our Cultural Protection Fund will support the protection of cultural heritage in conflict zones overseas.
The agenda of this White Paper fits with the agenda of a modern, compassionate, One Nation Conservative Party, focused on helping those with the least – on extending opportunity to all, improving social mobility and creating a fairer society. We have a Prime Minister who is wants to drive the One Nation ideal and help everyone achieve their full potential; and we have a Chancellor who says the creative industries are ‘one of the best investments we can make as a nation’. Culture should never be considered simply as an add-on or a fringe activity, when everyone benefits from a closer relationship with the arts and our creative industries.
The White Paper also builds on considerable success over the last five years; increasing the share of national lottery income for the arts and heritage; the introduction of tax reliefs; the creation of the new English Heritage charity; and maintaining free access to the national collections. The proof of our success is record number of tourists and visitors to museums, heritage and the arts. The White Paper is also published at an opportune time – a year when the world commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare – an author who has touched the lives and imaginations of all, who broke through cultural, social and linguistic barriers, and who has given generation after generation a love of the arts.