THE BLOG

Testing Times: Fighting Culture's Corner in an Age of Austerity

24/04/2013 14:36 BST | Updated 24/06/2013 10:12 BST

This country has an incredible and vibrant arts sector - one that is intrinsic to our cultural identity, to our achievements as a nation and to our future ambitions. In many senses our arts and culture underpin what it means to be British - how we see ourselves, and how the world sees us. Our unique culture is our hallmark, and it serves to make the UK distinctive in a globalised age. You need look no further than the incredible events of last summer to appreciate the truth of that.

It almost goes without saying that the arts have an intrinsic value - the 'arts for arts sake' argument has been made countlessly and convincingly. But, clearly we are living in tough times - and we therefore need to make sure that the incredible instrumental potential of culture is both appreciated and maximised. In our global race, I believe that British culture is perhaps our greatest product. Simply put, our culture is the standard bearer for the UK; for our ability to have an impact on other nations; to compete for tourists; and to trade abroad.

Our cultural and creative excellence is recognised all around the world. This recognition allows us to project 'soft power' abroad, helping build relationships which will facilitate diplomacy and trade. The arts help us fly the flag for Britain, which is a key part of attracting investment and promoting exports which drive jobs and opportunities here at home.

Our culture is also a tremendous draw for visitors - 40 per cent of tourists to the UK cite culture and heritage as the main reason for their visit. Some say that argument only works in relation to London, but that's simply not true. Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, for instance, attracted almost 10million extra visitors to the city, and those visitors spent more than £700million extra in local businesses and communities.

With such obvious local benefits it should be no surprise that, as I write, we have 11 contenders in the running to become the UK's City of Culture in 2017. In each of those cities, local authorities, local businesses and local arts organisations understand the fundamental role that the arts and culture can play in their communities.

Regional theatres such as the Anvil, in my constituency, stimulate growth and investment locally and there are national organisations which do the same internationally. It is a combination of these that enables Britain's cultural identity to thrive, its entrepreneurs to succeed and its artists to develop.

And we mustn't forget that much of this country's creative talent is, at some stage, nurtured by public investment of taxpayers' money. Public funding for the cultural sector provides support and offers certainty, and we are committed to continuing that investment. We therefore reformed the way lottery funding is distributed, meaning more funding will go directly to the arts. In total, nearly three billion pounds will be distributed by Arts Council England over the lifetime of this Parliament, with £1billion in Lottery funding and almost £2billion in direct government funding.

However, I believe that it is a mix of public subsidy, philanthropic investment, and commercial income which should be the funding model we aim for as we seek to create long term sustainability. I know that is easier said than done - and it should be seen as a long term ambition rather than a short term sticking plaster. However, it can and should be done to protect the arts in the long term.

Across the country, and throughout our communities, creativity flourishes. There is no doubt that socially, economically and educationally the arts help us thrive. The question in my mind is how best we enable them to do that in this economic environment. As I have said, times are tough, but our commitment to the arts is unwavering. Through a mixture of targeted funding and encouraging innovation there is no question that the arts will continue to give Britain one of its greatest platforms from which to exhibit our unique identity in an ever more fiercely competitive world.