Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Don Price, Campaign for the English Regions


  A recent report in the Financial Times suggests that there will be little of substance on Culture and the Arts in the Government's forthcoming White Paper on Regional Government. For those who have been working on proposals for the size, shape and powers for an elected assembly in our own regions this makes little sense. Indeed Arts and Culture is the area where there is the most consensus in terms of what could sensibly be devolved down and done at regional level.

  It is also deeply ironic that whilst regional/cultural identity is regarded as an important driver for a successful referendum campaign and the bedding down of any new regional body, it is cultural policy that will still be driven from the centre. Not so long ago the Government seemed to be acknowledging the regional dimension. A paper published by DCMS in 1998, (reviewing regional cultural provision in the light of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review) noted that:

  ". . . the importance of the regions under the Government's new constitutional agenda, and recognition of the importance of DCMS sectors, highlight the fragmented nature of the administration of DCMS sectors in the regions, and the fact that many relatively minor decisions, affecting both Lottery and grant-in-aid, are still taken at the national level. The work of the cultural agencies in the regional context is both overlapping and complementary. They already share the cultural objectives of promoting access, pursuing excellence and innovation, nurturing educational opportunity and fostering creative industries [......] Yet as small fragmented bodies they are often constrained from turning these shared objectives into joint practical action."

  DCMS proposed creating a Regional Board (funded by DCMS) which would have at its core the Regional Arts Board, Area Museums Councils, regional library functions and possibly the regional activities of English Heritage and Sport England. In the end the Department did not act on these recommendations. Instead regions find they have Regional Cultural Strategies that whilst representing a small step towards addressing this situation, is a long way from what was originally envisaged.

  However the force of the original proposals become stronger with the prospect of regional government. A report paper recently commissioned by the NE Regional Assembly reflects on the change of heart by DCMS but recommends that these initial recommendations are re-visited and that the cultural sector should be streamlined, "joined-up" and made accountable to an elected Regional assembly.

  Cultural activities, as defined by the current cultural statement of the Yorkshire Cultural Consortium, touch the lives of everyone living and working in the region, regardless of their wealth, occupation, physical ability, ethnic or geographical origin, political belief, gender or sexual orientation. Cultural activities can have a powerful role to play within a politically devolved region, both as a unifying force and to enhance the quality of their lives. In regions such as Yorkshire and the Humber it is an opportunity to express identity, history, diversity and abilities, and consequently the rationale for the inclusion of cultural provision within the remit of devolved regional structures is well established.

  In this Yorkshire resembles other regions. In Wales, for example, of the 18 fields that have been devolved to the Welsh Assembly, at least five can be grouped together under the label "Arts and Other Culture", whilst already within England the arts have successful regional structures that have been established for several decades. This includes organisations such as the regional arts boards, area museum councils and tourism boards. Such examples are recognition that the vitality of arts and other culture has its source in the activities of local people, and that the structures that best serve the needs of the people are most responsive when sited in the locality.

  Existing and developing regional cultural organisations such as, Yorkshire Archives Council, Yorkshire Arts, Yorkshire Museums Council, Yorkshire Libraries Strategy Group, Yorkshire Tourist Board are in many respects successful. They offer viable models for regionalisation to people in other fields who are perhaps less familiar with regional planning and implementation of services. Therefore the proposals currently being considered by the Arts Council of England to disband the existing regional arts boards and replace them with regional offices of the Arts Council of England gives cause for concern. This may maintain a regional presence for such organisations but the line management will cease to exist regionally and will be replaced by London-based officers who, experience shows, are not always the best people to understand the needs of people in the regions, or provide them with adequate provision of services. The proposal by the Arts Council of England to abolish regional arts boards such as Yorkshire Arts, seems to fly in the face of current devolution of services within England.

  The Campaign for Yorkshire maintains that as they stand, the current regional structures in this area seem likely to be easily transferred to a new elected Yorkshire Assembly, possibly coming under the direct control of a "Culture Secretary" or "Cultural Committee" within the elected Assembly. This is largely due to their origins. Yorkshire Arts, for example, was not established by central Government, but through the local authorities of Yorkshire themselves coming together to co-ordinate their arts activities.

  In terms of explicit policy areas, it is logical that the following be taken up for control by an elected regional assembly:

    —  oversight and control of core funding to the Arts Board, the Museums Council, the Libraries and Information Council and the Archives Council and the Tourism Board, under mechanisms directly accountable to the elected representatives of the people of the region;

    —  establishment of priority policy areas in the arts, other culture, tourism and sport, and establishment, co-ordination and/or funding of publicly-accountable organisations relevant to the implementation of these policies;

    —  establishment of publicly-accountable mechanisms for inter-regional and international co-operation across cultural activities with a view to serving the needs and enhancing the cultural life of the various communities of the region;

    —  establishment of publicly-accountable mechanisms for the protection, enhancement and provision of public access to the regions' cultural heritage in all its diverse forms, including its ancient monuments, historic and culturally-significant buildings, sites of historic and cultural interest, cultural and historic artefacts, history, literature, landscape, language and traditions.

  In terms of added value the provision of these services through a Regional Assembly would lead to:

    —  enhanced regional control by the people, and accountability to the people, through their elected representatives, of various organisations that have a direct influence on the lives of everyone in the region;

    —  clear joined-up co-ordination of the activities of the various cultural organisations;

    —  enhanced mechanisms for co-operation in cultural activity between the region and other regions within the United Kingdom;

    —  new mechanisms for direct international co-operation in the arts, other culture, tourism and sports between regions, elsewhere in Europe, and other parts of the world;

    —  regionally-accountable and responsive mechanisms for protecting and enhancing cultural heritage;

    —  reduction in bureaucracy through the replacement of "national" arts and other bodies, such of the Arts Council for England, with more responsive and accountable regional-based equivalents.

10 January 2002

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