10 Aug 2010

Do politicians understand arts?

The SNJ a while back carried a series of letters from a Ruscombe resident condemning Neil Carmichael's answers around the arts (copied below but not sure they will be readable). Well I now have copies of all three parties' responses to questions before the election. I'll enclose those answers below.

Update 2nd Sept 2010: see Guardian article here.

I have very real concerns about arts and funding in this current climate - especially in local government - indeed in a Green party meeting a couple of weeks ago I stressed the need to ensure that the District recognises the strengths locally of this area in our new planning laws and strategies. This has gone in to our initial submission with other issues like the need to support and encourage green industries locally.

Anyway I read a good article by Andrew Motion (see in Guardian here) about why we need the arts. I want to repeat it here as it is crucial we understand their importance. This is not just some fluffy add on, it is very much apart of our society and how we feel about ourselves. Sadly with the axing of the Film Council it seems this advice is already being ignored.

Andrew Motion, the former poet laureate, says: "If the Big Society means we aspire to create more civilised places where humanity prevails, and the individual spirit thrives, then artistic and cultural activity is not just indispensable, it must sit at the core, and national and local government must work together in one cause...A while back the Government is asking - which public services are essential and how we can aspire to a bigger society? Cultural engagement is essential to humanity and civilisation and we all have a responsibility to ensure it thrives...Most of our country's population up and down the country rely on libraries, museums, exhibitions, record offices and performances, funded or part-funded by local government. Towns and cities stripped of books, arts, theatres and celebrations of our past and future would be a grave threat to a bigger, better society.

"In this climate, it has never been more important to safeguard one nation whose heritage, culture and international excellence is more than the sum of its parts. But we must recognise the pressure local councils are under to protect much more expensive services, ranging from road maintenance to care of children and the elderly. We are obliged to ensure that the benefits of the relatively small sums of funds that go on arts and culture are accurately targeted, spread wide, and act as a catalyst for creativity. In this climate, it has never been more important to safeguard one nation whose heritage, culture and international excellence is more than the sum of its parts."

Here is what Chris Garner, Ruscombe resident forwarded to me regarding answers he got to questions to all the local parties (no response from Labour). I still think we have a lot more to do to help all of us understand the important place arts plays. See many of my previous blogs re local arts stuff by clicking on the label below - in particular the recent threat to the Textiles festival here, the threats and cuts last year to funding here and here (and U-turn here) and role in business here.

My Question to all the parties in Stroud.

In your leaflet there is no mention of the 'arts' and of the importance this has both locally and nationally. Why is this?

-what is your party's view on the 'arts'/ How will you support them nationally?

-How will you support the 'arts' locally? and in particular what would you do to ensure that the existing professional, small scale theatre company's in Stroud can continue to be an active part of the community, producing excellent value for money, rather than being squeezed and made to reduce their output and involvement in the Stroud district and beyond?

1. Lib Dems response

Thanks for the question because although involved locally in providing access to 'the Arts', I am a director of Kingshill House, I was not familiar with our National policies. Nationally Liberal Democrats recognise that often the first organisations to suffer in a recession can be those that add much to our culture, pleasure and leisure i.e. 'the Arts'. In order to prevent this happening we have identified a cost effective method of redressing that situation - Reform lottery Taxation. Below is an outline of the policy with some discussion to explain its financial consequences.
Locally our District Manifesto states that we shall "actively support the retention and development of recreational and sports facilities and play areas for young people, with meaningful partnerships between the District Council, town and parish councils and voluntary organisations".

All three of my children have been members of our local drama group (Dursley Opera and Drama Society) DODS and I am very aware of the great value for money we get from these organisations. In addition their contribution to the characters, education and confidence of the youngsters involved is of great value to our communities.
I hope I gone some way in alleviating your concerns.
Dennis Andrewartha Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Stroud

We will move the lottery to a system of Gross Profits Tax, like most of the rest of the gambling industry. This change is expected to increase sales and thereby provide up to £270m extra for good causes, helping to repair some of the damage done by the government’s decision to take money from the National Lottery good causes to pay for the Olympics. Why it is necessary? The National Lottery has provided billions for good causes since it started in 1995 but with so much money being diverted towards the Olympics, there is huge pressure on the budgets of lottery distributors for the original good causes (arts, heritage, sport and charities). The Lottery is being asked to provide £2.2 bn of the Olympics budget. Half of this is being taken directly from the budgets of existing lottery distributors. Policy detail; At the moment the National Lottery pays duty at a rate of 12% of total sales. We would change it to a gross profits tax regime – this means that tax will only be taken after prizes have been awarded but at a higher rate of 24%. A predicted increase in sales would yield more money for good causes, prizes and the Exchequer. Independent analysis of this switch has shown that increasing the prize money available in this way will stimulate sales and increase the returns for good causes and the Exchequer. PriceWaterhouseCoopers has estimated that this change could generate an extra £270 million for good causes as well as an additional £120 million for the Exchequer over 10 years. Costs/savings: Modelling suggests this change would generate an additional £40 million for the Treasury during the next parliament. However as this is based on behavioural change and cannot be guaranteed it has not been included in our deficit reduction and spending plans. This tax change would only be implemented following a detailed impact assessment to ensure tax revenues. £1085m is being taken from lottery good causes to pay for the 2012 Olympics. Of this £322m is being taken from arts and heritage funding; £125m from community sports and £638m from the voluntary & community sector. Under the original public sector funding package £410m was due to be diverted from the Lottery. In March 2007, it was announced that a further £675m would be needed. Joan Bakewell, then chair of the National Campaign for the Arts called this a “betrayal”. She said Lottery funding had been a "golden egg" for the arts, adding: "Today it's starting to look a bit tarnished.”

2. Conservatives.

Dear Chris
Thank you for your email.
I am committed to supporting the arts - both locally and nationally. I enjoyed art at school and retain an aspiration to paint again. You can be sure that I will do all I can to ensure that artists are properly supported. I am in regular contact with SDC on these matters and I am very much aware of the importance of the arts to our communities in and around Stroud.
Best wishes, Neil Carmichael

3. The Greens

Dear Chris
Sorry - I am totally overwhelmed by Emails and also trying to do a full time job. I am a strong supporter of arts in all their variety to take us out of our 'consumer' treadmill to a higher plain - arts have a clear place in our vision of a future greener society. We also recognise that that they play an important economic function - not least here in Stroud, bringing money into the local economy and helping it circulate more locally. We would provide public funding for the arts at national and local level. In Stroud I would strongly support funding and other encouragement to maintain and build local theatre output and attendance.
Best wishes, Martin

Additional point: Fair point. The GP does consider arts to be crucial to a healthy green society. We believe public funding should be provided because the benefits spread to all in society. We would provide both central and local funds. Theatre is an essential component of the arts which needs more support in Stroud. I would do my best to see it gets it. Best wishes, Martin Whiteside

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