Labour claims coalition is ‘misleading’ arts world

Natalie Woolman
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Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis has hit out at the coalition government, claiming it has “misled” the arts world into believing it received a better settlement in the Comprehensive Spending Review than it actually did.

Speaking to The Stage, the Labour MP said the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had spun its cuts to Arts Council England to make it seem as though most organisations that ACE gives money to would only see a 15% reduction in funding. However, he pointed out that ACE was unlikely to make across the board cuts and some institutions could lose all their financial support. Furthermore, he said that ACE funds for touring and one-off projects had been “practically eliminated”.

He commented: “The government has misled the arts world into believing that most organisations are likely to see a maximum of only 15% cuts and therefore, ‘Isn’t it a great settlement?’.”

“Ministers spun, quite deliberately, that it would only be 15% because they gave the impression that this is somehow a better settlement than it might have been. The reality is that it is nearly a 30% cut to the arts council budget.”

Lewis also said he believed that front-loading the cuts would have a “devastating” impact on arts organisations. ACE’s settlement will be reduced by 14% in cash terms in 2011/12, and by almost 30% in real terms over the four-year spending round.

With regard to investment in the arts, Lewis said he believed that “Labour got it” and that he would be “bullish” about defending his party’s record on culture in his new position.

He said: “We widened access [to the arts] to a wide range of people who in the past maybe felt excluded from those opportunities. It is very, very important that we don’t see a retreat from that widening of opportunities and access. I am particularly concerned, for example, about the abandonment of financial support for Creative Partnerships in schools.”

He added that it would be “a tragedy” if such cultural education initiatives were cut from schools.

Lewis, who has been the MP for Bury South since 1997, was appointed to Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet last month. In the past, his ministerial positions have included posts in the Treasury, the Department of Health and the Foreign Office. He admitted that culture had not been a central part of his professional life before now, but said he was passionate about his job, adding that his policy when he took on a new post was to “listen, learn, and then lead”.

He said: “I am very much in listening mode and the main thing is I want to meet as many people as possible, I want to meet people speaking on behalf of the big national organisations and I want to meet people working so hard to keep very locally-based, grass roots projects going against the odds.”

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