Last week, I appeared on Sunday Politics in the North East to discuss the importance of culture and heritage to our economy and well-being. I am a convinced advocate for arts and cultural spending, and have worked closely with regional actors from the cultural industries to make this case louder. Therefore I'm waiting with anticipation for the launch, this week, of the North East's Case for Culture.
'Case for Culture' is an ambitious initiative developed by the North East Cultural Partnership (NECP) to develop the region's cultural capital over the next 15 years. Due to be published this July, it has drawn upon the expertise of over 1,000 people from the North East, including freelance artists, cultural institutions, businesses, universities and local authorities, to create a 5-point aspirational framework to encourage investment into the North East.
The North East is steeped in its rich cultural history and strong sense of community. From ancient landmarks such as Hadrian's Wall to the world-renowned Angel of the North, all the way to Teesaurus Park - still my favourite haunt in my hometown - Middlesbrough - where steel dinosaurs graze among the trees before a stunning industrial backdrop. Our region is a beautiful tapestry of old and new; a winning combination of proud heritage, breath-taking natural surroundings and boundary-pushing innovation.
Though focused primarily on the North East, the NECP's Case for Culture has an eye to the stimulus that investing in the region will have to the whole of the north of England, in terms of its economy, employment and touristic opportunities and sense of identity. Already it is estimated that that the region's creative and cultural industries are generating 755 million GBP in gross value added (GVA) and the heritage sector 1499 million GVA.
By delineating five goals for the region - under the themes of participation and reach, children and young people, talent and progression, economic value and distinctiveness and innovation - the Case for Culture hopes to secure a total of £300 million over the next five years, matching the £100 million that has already been committed.
This is about injecting a new lease of life into the North East cultural sector, acknowledging where our strengths are and where we are lacking, and attracting the best creative talents from across the UK. It's about maximising the potential of new hubs of activity in the entrepreneurial, digital and innovation sectors, and joining up their expertise with that of our universities and community projects so that the whole of the North East can benefit. It's about making sure that residents in the most remote rural areas, that the vulnerable and elderly are not left behind.
It is also about supporting institutions already well established, on whom our cultural identity, tourism economy and local jobs depend. Institutions such as Beamish Museum, the largest open air museum of its kind in the UK and one of the most socio-economically diverse. A top employer, Beamish offers a wide range of traineeships and apprenticeships, as well as volunteering opportunities to local residents with learning disabilities. Every year 650,000 visitors come to Beamish for an unforgettable taste of the North East's social and industrial heritage: in a region suffering from some of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, Beamish is much more than simply a source of local pride.
The timing of this project is crucial. As one of his very first moves after being elected as prime minister in 2010, David Cameron led a complete upheaval of the mechanism by which EU funding is allocated in England. The catastrophic replacement of Regional Development Agencies with the ill-equipped and unaccountable Local Enterprise Partnerships for many months caused severe delays to EU investment worth almost 1 billion GBP to the UK.
Though Labour MEPs managed to unblock these funds in a crucial victory in the European Parliament, some of the poorest regions in England, including the North East, were for too long starved of hundreds of millions of pounds worth of key investment needed to address unemployment, grow business and provide training.
Unable to rely on the good faith of a Tory leadership, we need to build up the resilience of the North East's cultural sector. The Case for Culture represents the culmination of many months of hard work and cooperation between experts from all creative corners of the region: a celebration of all that the region has to offer and a mapping of its diverse creative potential. But it is much more than that, too: the Case for Culture is a plea for greater investment and devolvement of decision-making powers to the North East. Only this way can we maximise that potential and help the North East to to sing.