Tony Blair’s government has been accused of reneging on promises made in 1997 that it would not raid the National Lottery initially set up as an independent funding source for the arts, heritage, charities and sport, to supplement Treasury spending in other areas.
In a statement issued to The Stage, shadow arts minister Tory Hugo Swire said that under Labour more than £1.5 million in lottery funds had been diverted from the arts and heritage to pay for public services such as health and education, which should be financed directly by the government.
Swire accused Labour of reaching “unprecedented levels of interference” in the arts, which he claimed was jeopardising creativity and artistic freedom in the UK. He added: “Can an artistic director make the best decision over what play to stage, if he is anxious that the play ticks all the right arts council/DCMS boxes? A Conservative government would place a far greater emphasis on the cultural value of the arts. We will trust the professional to get on with the job of enriching the nation through passion and excellence – not targets and paperwork.”
Liberal Democrat shadow culture minister Don Foster said he also opposed the government’s “meddling” in the National Lottery, which he claimed had occurred despite Tony Blair’s 1997 promise that “we don’t believe it would be right to use lottery money to pay for things which are the government’s responsibilities”.
In his party’s arts manifesto, which was first published by the National Campaign for the Arts in its members’ magazine nca news, Foster said: “The Liberal Democrats would restore National Lottery independence by ensuring that government cannot dictate the schemes on which lottery players’ money is spent. We would also require the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to make a clear separation between government and lottery spending in its annual report.”
However, culture secretary Tessa Jowell dismissed the Liberal Democrat’s arts policy warning that the DCMS would be stripped of its current powers and that arts investment would be left to the whim of local government or the agendas of other government departments. She claimed that under a Tory government the arts industry would become exclusive to the rich, with the industry losing up to £80 million under its leadership.
Defending Labour’s previous arts policies Jowell said that, in the six years up to 2004/5, funding has increased by more than 60%, claiming this is set to rise by a further 9% in 2005/6.
She added that, despite a tough spending environment, Arts Council England had managed to find real terms increases for 200 of its Regularly Funded Organisations in its recently announced funding plans for 2006/7 and 2007/8, and claimed that the three-year funding agreements introduced by Labour would continue under the party’s leadership.
“We know that the arts have beneficial effects, for individuals, for communities, for citizens as part of a nation,” she said. “But we know too that arts has to be good in order to have these effects, and we need to create the conditions in which the arts can thrive.
“As well as continuing to support excellent artists and institutions, we will ensure that our schools provide an early opportunity for children’s formative experience of culture, and help young people to develop their interests as far as their talents allow.”