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Labour’s Tom Watson: ‘Government’s arts team must address funding and equality’

Tom Watson. Photo: David Parry/PA Tom Watson. Photo: David Parry/PA
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Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson has set out a series of demands for the government’s new arts team, calling for ministers to prioritise Brexit, funding challenges and equal opportunities.

Deputy Labour leader Watson, who also covers the shadow arts brief, laid out a string of calls on new culture secretary Matt Hancock, who was promoted from digital minister in Theresa May’s reshuffle earlier this week.

Matt Hancock made culture secretary in cabinet reshuffle

As part of the reshuffle, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also announced the appointment of two new ministers as former arts minister John Glen moved to the Treasury. Margot James has become minister of state and Michael Ellis parliamentary under secretary, but their portfolios have not yet been confirmed.

Speaking at the third anniversary celebration of the Creative Industries Federation alongside Hancock, Watson said protecting the arts post-Brexit, addressing funding difficulties, and ensuring access and equality were three challenges the government must tackle in the coming year.

“Nobody knows yet on what terms we will leave the EU or whether we will get a deal at all but the government needs to reassure us and you [the sector] that they will make sure that Brexit does not leave us culturally isolated in Europe and the world,” he said.

“We’re going to continue to press them on Brexit and we want to know what it means for this sector, on the impact for European artists and performers who have made their career here, or British artists and performers working in the EU, on touring productions, exhibitions and much more,” he added.

Addressing concerns about funding, Watson went on to say that “too much” of the creative industries had had to deal with the impact of austerity in recent times.

“From libraries to museums, from arts in schools to regional theatre, financial pressures have led to closures and reductions in services and productions not going ahead,” Watson said.

He also called on the government to ensure that opportunities are “accessible to everyone no matter where they come from or what they look like”.

“It is so important that – both in visible roles on stage and screen, and behind the scenes as directors, producers, designers, creatives, technicians – the industries you all work in are not dominated by a narrow set of people from well-off backgrounds,” Watson said. “We need to make sure that early career workers in your sector can earn enough to support themselves if they don’t have wealthy parents to help them out.”

Hancock, making his first formal speech as culture secretary, said he was committed to working together with the creative industries “to create a better future”.

“The UK’s creative industries are getting their mojo back. I’m not just talking about London, across the length and breadth of the country the power of culture and creativity is bringing people together like never before,” he said.

Hancock cited Hull’s year as City of Culture as one of the leading successes of the past year, but also said he had “great optimism” for 2018, and was hopeful that a good deal could be struck with the European Union to protect the sector’s future.

“Britain’s future is bright when we are open and gregarious, optimistic as a nation and engaged in the whole world… I commit to working to a country and a society where opportunity is equal wherever anybody comes from,” he said.

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