Tories will not take arts flagships from ACE, pledges Vaizey

Conservative shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey has vowed that a Tory government will not transfer control of the national performing arts companies from Arts Council England to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport if his party is successful at the next general election.

The controversial idea of funding organisations such as the National Theatre and Royal Opera House directly from government had been proposed as part of the Tory’s Arts Taskforce report in 2007. Vaizey and shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt had until recently refused to rule out the proposal, despite critics complaining it could undermine the arm’s-length principle of arts funding.

But speaking at the National Campaign for the Arts’ Future Britain Conference this week, Vaizey said: “I want to put on the record that the Tories are not going to abolish the arts council. There is a huge opportunity for the arts council. We feel its independence has been eroded over the last few years. We want to see a thriving relationship. We’re not going to take the big five away from the arts council, but we do think the arts council should recognise those national institutions do have a particular place in the arts ecology and the idea that they have to keep coming back every three years to check whether they’re still going to fund the National Theatre seems slightly absurd.”

Vaizey explained that he and Hunt had come to the conclusion not to transfer funding for the national companies to the DCMS because the Tories did not want to “waste 18 months reorganising the arts council”, if they win the election.

He told The Stage: “Also, we’ve been in discussion with the arts council and there is an understanding from their side that the big five, and indeed a number of other funded organisations, merit a different approach from the arts council both in terms of long-term funding and in terms of a more equal relationship [with ACE]. Far from wanting to undermine the arm’s-length principle, we think there’s a massive opportunity for the arts council to forge a much clearer role, with the DCMS setting the framework, but with more initiatives coming from the arts council itself.”

Despite reports the Tories are planning to cut public spending by 10%, Vaizey said that, if the Conservatives come to power, he will be telling the Treasury that “it’s more trouble than it’s worth” to cut funding for the arts.

He added: “Sustainable arts funding is the essential aim, [but] I’m not going to say arts funding will double under the next Conservative government.”

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster