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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend but I must draw the House's attention to the fact that the limit for each speech is four minutes. The time is extremely limited in this debate and we really must stick to it.
Lord Alexander of Weedon: My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the Boyden report and the two fine supportive speeches we have already heard. My own interest is that in December I shall have the immense excitement of taking the chair at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I am fortunate that my deputy chair will be Lady Sainsbury of Turville who brings her ability and passionate commitment to our work.
The company is led with great flair by Adrian Noble and the current standing of our artistic work is splendidly high. While the Royal Shakespeare Company is a national company, its work, as Boyden recognised, is intertwined with that of the regional theatres. We tour widely, performing in some of the theatres mentioned in the report such as the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, and in Newcastle upon Tyne. Our small-scale tour takes both stage and auditorium to towns which, to adapt the old Heineken advertisement, other theatres do not reach. In the last years we have been from Penrith to Penzance, from Braintree to Brighton and from Sheffield to St Austell. We aim to perform, if possible, within 45 minutes of the homes of 80 per cent of the people of England and Wales. It is a touring programme without any parallel and a major contribution to the accessibility of theatre.
The contribution of the Royal Shakespeare Company to theatre is breathtaking. Between Stratford and London and our touring, we played last year to more than 1 million people. We give annually about 2,000 performances of about 30 plays in 50 venues. Some two-thirds of audiences see our plays outside London. Our national coverage is unrivalled. And thrillingly, 25 per cent of our audience are under 16.
Yet our Arts Council subsidy has, for too long, been considerably lower in absolute terms than that of the other fine national companies. So, by a long chalk, is our subsidy per customer, our subsidy per performance and, indeed, our cost per performance. We pay back to the Government in taxes 85 per cent of what we receive in subsidy. We contribute strongly to employment, particularly in the Midlands and in Stratford, a town of 25,000 people which has 3 million visitors per year.
We are currently engaged in a stabilisation exercise with the Arts Council. It is being conducted very constructively with full consultation. Out of it will come a formidable case for investment and it has been understood from the outset that that will mean appropriate increases in revenue funding.
This sprint through regional theatre seems a long way from the massed marathon forces that are currently deployed on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. But all is not as it seems. I speak of the right to roam in the imagination and of cultural health delivered with great skill and devotion in many theatres in the regions of this country night after night. I declare an interest. I am president of the National Campaign for the Arts.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Harrison about the deleterious state of the regional theatres at the moment but I am more stirred to optimism because of the work of Chris Smith and Gerry Robinson and impressed by what they have wrung out of the stony Treasury. But regional theatres are right to warn about surviving until that promised moneyed lifeboat arrives. Interim measures must be given priority or the lifeboat will arrive to find nothing but flotsam.
Nettles must be grasped. Subsidy is not a pension for life. Someone has to take the axe here so that the seedcorn can be planted there. Perhaps above all, for too long and unfairly, the regional theatre in particular has been kept in business only by the low wages paid to those who work in it. That must be changed.
Even now, there is not full recognition of the multiple benefits brought by the arts and perhaps by theatre in particular. Like sport, the arts have long ceased to be a hobby and now, as well as being art and as well as being a passion and a source of individual and communal regeneration, they are a skill-based economic locomotive of growing power. It is possible now to build a new environment, not around the arts but alongside the arts. Look at Leeds, Manchester, Colchester, Watford, Nottingham, Sheffield, Keswick, Ulverston. I could go on.
But here, to welcome this report, I want to conclude by describing one regional theatre and what it does, which I think stands for the best of what regional theatre can do. That company is the Northern Stage. It recently adapted William Trevor's novella The Ballroom of Romance. That is set in a village in Ireland in the late 1950s. It has been transplanted to northern Britain.
What needs to be emphasised is that Northern Stage has used its dramatic resources, its plant--the Playhouse Theatre--its professional talents, its equipment and its energies to fuse together gainfully elements in that north-eastern society which could cohere in no other way. The company went out to six village halls in Northumbria and, with its musicians and actors, made an event which galvanised those places across the class and generational spectrum, bringing them into the adaptation of the piece and, at the end, the performance of the piece.
A regional culture is refreshed, examined, celebrated and linked to what can be seen at first as a most unlikely project. The living past of that rich part of our nation is uncovered. The town centre is financially enriched by the villages outside its walls.
Theatres everywhere in the region can deliver all of that and more, more than is dreamt of in our philosophy. This is only the beginning. The 21st century will turn what we now see as leisure into big and growing businesses. I welcome the report and trust it manages the tightrope walk from the still embattled present to the sunrise of a future well foretold by Boyden.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, it has always been my view that the arts are one of the primary things that make us human. Through drama we can explore and express our humanity. The best drama makes us think and feel differently about things. Since ancient times drama has been used by society to air the most contentious social, moral and political issues of the day. As such, drama is a valuable tool of communication within society and it is a way of enriching our lives. It should never be looked on purely as an economic activity.
My belief in that means that I welcome this report, the attention that the Government are belatedly paying to our regional producing theatres and the additional funds that are being allocated. It is surely the eleventh hour for some of them. For too long we have taken for granted the devotion of people who work in the theatre. For too long we have underpaid and overworked them, made it difficult for their managers to plan properly and relied too much on the goodwill of local volunteers. For too long we have accepted that building-based theatre companies should struggle, often with a fabric that badly needs investment, to compete with exciting new arts venues and the burgeoning world of electronic entertainment.
However, there is much more to it than that. If we stopped the creative process by forcing these local community theatres to perform only that which is considered "safe programming", we would cut off the life-saving drip from the veins of the bigger professional theatres which are so important for the tourism industry. Therefore, it is vital that those companies do not have to rely totally on box-office takings to survive. It is appropriate that they should be realistically subsidised--although I would rather call it investment--for the services that they render to society.
Regional producing theatres were, and still could be, micro-universities of theatrical skills. Not only the obvious performing skills, but also directing, writing, design, technical and production skills, front-of-house and financial management can be learned and developed there.
As to work in the community, recent cash from single regeneration budget bids, in co-operation with the local authorities, and Arts for Everyone grants have allowed the New Vic and others to undertake valuable work in the community and to demonstrate clearly the opportunity cost of failing to support them.
Such partnerships with local authorities are vital for the survival of those theatres. However, if the local authority does not see the need to support the arts, or is struggling financially, the theatres lose out. The Arts Council should be seeking to provide a buffer of core funding against that situation while, of course, encouraging such partnerships. At the same time, it is important that money allocated in that way is properly accountable to the local community for delivering its objectives.
Extra cash should not be seen as a subsidy but an investment. The benefits are clear and include jobs, training, tax-take, high quality, dynamic, relevant cultural experiences for our citizens and opportunities for young people, older people and unemployed people to volunteer. In my view, the key words are accountability and regionalism. If the structures put in place to deliver the national policy are not firmly underpinned by those two considerations, they will fail.
As the report says in more than one place, theatre makes a contribution to the cultural wealth of the nation. I believe that young people should be engaged in that wealth from an early age, with schools, parents and the theatre itself encouraging that involvement.
There may be tension between live production and education programmes. Surely they must be complementary if young people are to be drawn into the theatre as writers, actors or on the technical side, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Indeed the Arts Council's response to the report suggests that the spend on education should be doubled.
Most theatres in the survey seemed to agree that being part of a wider community is important, not only in itself, but also in order to attract local funding. Thirty-four out of 47 respondents quoted in the report employed a full-time head of education, but resources are a problem. The report suggests that education programmes make up just under 4 per cent of expenditure, while production costs take up almost 43 per cent. We are back to the tension about where a theatre puts its emphasis and its money. I suggest that, without determination to attract young people as participants and as audiences, the theatre cannot flourish.
I quote the experience of an opera company as an example of that determination that is applicable to the arts in general. The programme brochure for Opera North, based in Leeds, has a section on education. It says:
In order to encourage the arts, the first thing to do is to attract interest. The sophistication and the finer points come later. Some young people will have access to the arts, some will discover an interest by accident but some will never, sadly, be touched. I am arguing for a deliberate policy which draws in young people and cultivates talent and accessibility.
Regional theatre is in a unique position to educate according to local needs. A good case must be made for strategic funding for education, particularly education to encourage the involvement of young people in the theatre.
In the 1980s and 1990s I was chairman of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester for 10 years. The Royal Exchange is one of the major regional producing theatres that puts on eight or nine productions a year. Despite being designated a centre of excellence by the Arts Council, its grant was cut, in real terms, almost every year by Conservative Governments that seemed to have little concern for the arts.
Therefore, I congratulate Chris Smith at the DCMS and Gerry Robinson at the Arts Council on allocating an increase of £25 million for regional theatre which is in a desperate state. The money is only just in the nick of time.
The Government are quite right to place great emphasis on education and access, but I make a plea to the DCMS and the Arts Council: in your understandable desire to further your policies, please avoid the temptation to lay down detailed plans and targets from the centre and do not make funding dependent on special schemes designed to achieve your aims. This has happened before and it is counterproductive. There have been many schemes-based funding initiatives coming from the centre and they have led to a mound of paperwork, additional administrative staff and a liberal use of consultants. Money has been spent on administration and not on what appears on the stage.
I say trust the artistic directors. By all means agree objectives with them; by all means evaluate their work each year; and by all means hold them accountable if they do not perform. But do not circumscribe them with detailed and aimless initiatives; people matter, not procedures. If we want excellence, we must give them adequate core funding and let them get on with the job. The Boyden report says of artistic directors,
I congratulate again the DCMS and the Arts Council on making available additional funds. I hope they will now permit the theatres to use them in the most constructive and creative way and without undue direction from the centre.
I do not believe the theatre thinks that any more. The problem is rather different, as we have heard. As the excellent Boyden report so accurately says, the decline in local authority funding in particular, according to his statistics, has been dramatic. It is as well to remember that local authorities provide a great deal more support to theatres than do central government--between £300 million and £70 million.
I hope to spend a moment talking about what used to be "little theatres" and small and medium-sized theatres--others have referred to them. A week or so ago we had a debate on sport. It was interesting to hear the analogies between the dependence of national excellence in sport upon local amateur sports clubs and their vital contribution, as with small theatres, to issues of social exclusion, community vitality and so forth. It is also interesting that nearly half the speakers in tonight's debate spoke then.
To give a story from the front, I come from a little town in Suffolk called Sudbury. We must be one of the smallest towns in England that has sustained its own theatre for many years. That went into near liquidation last week--an administrator has been put in. It is worth saying--neither the Boyden report nor the Government's response to it adequately recognises this--that though a theatre may not be a producing theatre, it is nonetheless a crucial focus of local artistic awareness, effort and performance. The Sudbury Quay Theatre is no exception. With a turnover of £250,000, the total support by the regional arts board is only 2.5 per cent of its budget. The total local authority and regional arts board support is a mere 16 per cent of its budget, which is only half the average for a producing theatre.
One of the problems is that local authorities and regional arts boards sometimes stand in opposition to each other. The regional arts board says it wants more high culture, more classical and innovative works, whereas the local authorities say that they do not want that high-falutin stuff. They want popular stuff. Somewhere in the middle the poor old theatres are trapped. Frankly, unless they can put enough "bums on seats" they will go out of existence altogether. It is no good expecting small theatres to produce Richard Condons or some of the other brilliant, innovative and highly talented theatre managers that fortunately we have got.
In Suffolk we saw the Wolsey Theatre, a purpose-built repertory theatre, close. In north Essex, the Colchester and Mercury Theatre nearly went under last year. Fortunately it has a bright young woman administrator, Dee Evans, who is now doing all the things that an effective administrator will do and it is on its way back. But I emphasise that local authority
This has been a frustrating evening. The issue is so large and important. I am afraid I must conclude by simply saying--in this I agree with my noble friend Lady Walmsley--that it is not sufficient to look at theatre funding in the role of subsidy. As others have said, it is a crucial component of a massive industry. Tourism in this country depends more, I suspect, on the brilliance of British theatre than any other single attribute. When we look at the entertainment industry all in the round--music, arts, television--it comes back again and again to providing more resource.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for giving us the opportunity to debate the Boyden report. Among the panoply of talent that has spoken tonight I very much see myself as the ordinary member of the audience but none the less someone who loves the theatre as much as anybody who may be present tonight. Our theatre is still amongst the best in the world and we should be grateful to all those who make it possible for us to enjoy it.
Is the Minister aware that a recurring theme at the Equity conference earlier this year was the growth of bureaucracy in arts funding, not the way that people in the arts spend the money that they are given where there is little or no slack. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said earlier, at that conference speaker after speaker complained that an ever-decreasing
Do the Government agree with Boyden's suggestion that the Arts Council of England should be limited to a strategic and focused policy development role delivered by a much smaller organisation than presently heretofore? Are the Government satisfied with the percentage of its budget that the Arts Council spends on its bureaucracy and with its performance? Do the Government agree with me that the Arts Council needs to acknowledge the importance of private investors such as Cameron Mackintosh, Natwest and Equity Partners--I hold no brief for any of those--and that the Arts Council needs to make more of an effort to establish a dialogue with business?
We are pressed for time tonight. We went a little over with two speakers so I am trying to cut down my contribution. When the Minister answered my Written Questions in July, he did so in his customary courteous fashion. The Answers were as full and fair as he could make them at that time. I look forward tonight to hearing his response as to how far Government policy has moved on since then to take account of the reactions to the report. And I very much look forward to hearing his response to the questions put by my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon. I am delighted that when he becomes chair the RSC will maintain its passion about touring. I am sure everybody delights in its work. I assure my noble friend that it does get to Woking too where I live. I hope the Minister can give my noble friend the commitment that he seeks.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Harrison for introducing the debate. I congratulate him on attracting a body of speakers who are extraordinarily expert, well informed and passionate about the subject. They are also skilled at staccato delivery. Making a four-minute speech is a fine art form; a parliamentary version of a haiku. But when it works it works well--and it has worked well tonight.
Perhaps I may remind the House of the arm's length principle and the way in which we deal with the Arts Council and those to whom it gives grants. We could be tempted into saying, "Yes, more money for the Chester Gateway; yes, more money for the Sheffield Crucible; no, no more money for that other one", but that would be generally agreed to be extremely dangerous. The Arts Council's responsibility is to decide national strategy together with the regional arts boards which have devolved funding responsibility. Ministers do not intervene.
Beyond those general directions within the funding agreement, we do not interfere with the allocation of money. Indeed, the detailed allocation by the Arts Council from the spending review 2000, which was announced in July, will not be announced until February next year.
I want to reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who seems to believe that there is a particular problem of bureaucracy in the Arts Council. I believe that she should look at what has happened to the Arts Council since Gerry Robinson went there. There has been a significant reduction in the number of what she calls "bureaucrats". Of course there has been an increase in the regional arts boards but the thrust of the past two years has been the reduction of bureaucracy. I hope that when the noble Baroness looks at the figures she will accept that.
We must recognise that although many people regard the theatre in this country as the best in the world it has enormous difficulties. Everyone knows about the triumphs of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. We are pleased to have the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh here, not to represent them but to present the case for them.
However, we recognise that the theatre is an art form in crisis. The overall situation has been of theatres surviving rather than thriving, as many speakers have made clear. Richard Eyre, in his LAMDA lecture, said:
Boyden concluded that there had been fewer performances, contributing to a reduction in audiences. There is less employment in the theatre, the average actor being employed in the theatre for only 11 weeks a year. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, they are badly paid, particularly in the regional theatres. Boyden also concluded that there are smaller casts; shorter rehearsal periods; less new work being commissioned; a significant reduction in the number of tours; and an accumulated deficit of £4.4 million to the end of March 1999.
That is the basis on which we have been able to encourage the Arts Council to refine a national policy based on the wider theatre ecology. I want to say a little about how that has developed and is developing. In the Government's first spending review in 1998, we were able to start reversing the decline in real term spending on the arts. In July, the Secretary of State was able to do even better over the next three years. This year, arts funding stands at £238 million. In 2003-04, it will be £338 million. With that settlement, arts funding will have increased by 60 per cent in real terms in five years. That is an average annual growth of almost 5 per cent. That cannot be right; it does not make sense! I must think about that again. There are different figures from different phases and I guess that I have calculated some of them myself.
However, looking at the record of previous years, I am afraid it is true that during the period 1993-99 the national theatres had a standstill in cash terms and the regional theatres had an increase of only 10 per cent compared with a growth in the economy of 15 per cent. That is a significant decline.
With the additional funding that we have been able to announce for the period up to 2003-04, which by then will exactly match the figure that Gerry Robinson said was necessary in his excellent New Statesman lecture, it must be appreciated that we recognise the range of artistic activity flourishing in every region and every art form. The Arts Council and the regional arts boards have a challenging task in determining how best to support the many artists. However, the Secretary of State's announcement adds significantly to their ability to give that support and to enhance the nation's cultural life. It is fair to say that both Gerry Robinson and Peter Hewitt, chief executive, have recognised that.
The total spend on theatre by the Arts Council and the regional arts boards in 2000-01 will be approximately £70 million, including funding through the national touring programme, new audiences and other programmes. The Arts Council has already announced additional money for the
I refer next to the thoughtful speech of my noble friend Lord Bernstein. There is a difficulty about how far we seek to intervene in the way that the money is spent. He made a plea against undue direction from the centre, with which I sympathise. At the same time, we must positively encourage the educational and outreach work of the theatre and its touring activities, particularly those of our national theatres. We must ensure that the policy of the Arts Council embraces the theatre as a whole: producing, receiving and touring. We do not look for change for change's sake. We are not just about doing more but doing it better, and sometimes differently, and spending the money in new ways. We believe that the regional arts boards, like local authorities, can play a major part in developing the regional context. It is important that, like the Boyden report, we address the failures of the regional theatre as well as applaud its successes.
As far as we know, theatre has been a living force in this country since the mystery plays of the Middle Ages. I am sure that it goes further back than that, although it has been lost. Even now with so much electronic entertainment, theatre has a power which comes from creating a shared live experience that can move, surprise and engage us in a way that a screen or radio can never do. I shall not say that in a television debate.
The Government genuinely recognise the excitement and difference of the theatre, including the regional producing theatre. I hope that I have shown how much we care.
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