Jeremy Hunt MP, Shadow Culture Secretary, gave his first big speech on the arts yesterday evening.  He was speaking to Peter Whittle’s increasingly influential New Culture Forum.  Within the audience were Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate Modern; Nicholas Hytner, Director of the National Theatre; Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum; and Colin Tweedie of Arts and Business.

Here are some of the main points made by Mr Hunt within an impressive speech delivered without notes:

The creative industries are vital to the British economy and regeneration. They account for 3.7% of the national income and 1.9 million jobs.  No social regeneration project is complete without a strong creative sector dimension.

Labour has done many good things for the arts but the renaissance began under the Conservatives in 1994 with the establishment of the National Lottery.  He noted that the Lottery had provided £3.8bn for the arts and £4.1bn for heritage.  Labour had, he said, reduced funding for the arts by raiding the Lottery pot and taking from what was originally intended for the ‘four pillars’ – arts, heritage, sport, local community causes.  A Conservative Government’s National Lottery Independence Bill would restore the exclusivity of Lottery funding for the four pillars and this would mean nearly £100m more each year for the arts and heritage.

More private charity. Further to ensuring that the arts received more public funding he also said that Conservatives would do more to encourage private giving to good causes.  Saluting the work of Greg Clark MP, Shadow Charities Minister and his co-author of papers on ‘progressive conservatism’, he said that £3bn to £4bn extra could be made available to the arts and other good causes if giving rose to 1% as a percentage of UK national income, from its current level of 0.7%.  This shouldn’t be impossible given the huge wealth in the City, for example.  In the US philanthropy is at 1.7%.  He discussed streamlining gift aid, using the honours system for recognising major philanthropists and encouraging endowments but most important were new social norms.  Giving to charity must become as normal as leaving a tip of 10% at a restaurant, he said.  Both Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt have been strongly influenced by Daniel Finkelstein’s thinking on the importance of social behaviours.

Less bureaucracy.  Jeremy Hunt promised to look at the bureaucracy that had meant the Arts Council spent 12p of every pound it donates on administration.  It was just 5p.  Action against this sort of bureaucracy and the red tape that government imposes on the arts sector in more direct ways could free significant resources.

No ifs, no buts, free museums were here to stay.  Following last year’s controversy which saw the sacking of his predecessor Hugo Swire, Jeremy Hunt affirmed that free museum access would be protected by a Conservative government.  Noting that admissions had increased by 80% he applauded then Culture Secretary Chris Smith’s victory over then Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Mr Hunt said that the arts shouldn’t be seen in purely ‘instrumental’ terms by politicians but also in ‘inspirational’ terms.  Quoting Alain de Botton he said that the arts helped us thrive, not just survive.

PS There’s a really silly story in The Sun this morning that suggests Jeremy Hunt endorsed graffiti.  He did nothing of the sort.  He merely noted how one piece of graffiti on the M40 – Why do I do this every day? – was an example of how the arts can often challenge us.