Melvyn Bragg is to initiate a parliamentary debate about the affect arts cuts are having around on cities and towns around the UK, claiming places such as Glasgow and Newcastle are now “suffering” because they had built themselves around culture.
Bragg – who has a seat in the House of Lords – said he was “baffled” that MPs do not recognise the value of the arts, and added that his ultimate goal would be to prevent local authorities cutting their subsidies to cultural organisations.
“I am going to write something about this and try and get a debate going in parliament. Cities are suffering because of cuts to the arts, because they were building themselves around the arts – like Glasgow did and Liverpool did. It’s massive and I am worried about it,” he said.
He added that local authorities could stop cutting arts budgets, stating: “They say ‘We will not build any more roads’, so why not ‘We will not cut the arts’?. It’s never a big part of the budget anyway.”
Bragg said he believed there would be a lot of support for a debate around the issue in parliament, and criticised politicians for their apparent lack of engagement with culture.
“You can gather an economy around the arts. London is a bubble. Property is a driver, but culture is the second driver – it’s massive. And they [politicians] don’t get it. It’s really odd. You never see them at the theatre or in art galleries,” he said.
He also urged politicians to see the arts as a “business” and added: “You can change the world with all this stuff. And I seriously don’t understand it. We are sitting on one of the big success stories and we can’t ignore it.”
Bragg was speaking at an event held by Sky Arts to launch The South Bank Show II, a new series of 30 episodes that will run annually for the next five years. It will sit alongside the six brand new episodes of The South Bank Show that Sky Arts already screens, and the awards ceremony, The South Bank Sky Arts Awards.
The South Bank Show II series will revisit key episodes from the long-running show’s archive and bring them up to date with new interviews.
Bragg, who will present the series, said it would allow him to “contextualise” more than he ever did on The South Bank Show and added: “I’ve had views on all of these things all the way through, but my basic position since 1977 has been as a conduit and not a commentator. I will have a bit more comment [in this series] and it will be, to all intents and purposes, a new piece of work.”
The presenter and programme maker also criticised other broadcasters for their lack of arts content and claimed the BBC in particular “simply could do better”.
He said the Corporation suffered from its “extraordinary congestion of multi-layered management”.