Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)


25 OCTOBER 2007

  Q80  Mr Evans: To be honest, as I say, I welcome it, but in the wording of it specifically it says "up to five hours". That seems to be the maximum. I prefer to see the minimum being five hours not the maximum.

  James Purnell: There are only so many hours in the week. I think five hours is quite ambitious. There are things we want to do. We also want to give young people the chance to develop their cultural activities in and outside school as well. We are very clear that sport and culture are part of living a good life and make a big difference to people's health and their life chances. We want to make sure that everyone has access to that.

  Q81  Paul Farrelly: One of the very welcome and possibly undersold government policies towards encouraging children's sport has been the Community Amateur Sports Club scheme. This week we launched a campaign to try to extend that scheme to allow junior subscriptions to qualify for gift aid. That was launched in the House this week cross party. So far only 4,500 of a possible 44,000 clubs have taken advantage of this scheme. We have a part to play as MPs, Government and local authorities as well. Mine has not really done anything on this and I shall be trying to remedy that. What would really give the scheme a boost would be if you, Secretary of State, could join us in persuading your old friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Andy Burnham, who is a mean footballer himself, to get the Treasury to come to a quick conclusion that that scheme should be extended to encourage more youngsters by giving the clubs the gift aid element of junior subscriptions. Will you join us in that campaign?

  James Purnell: I actually run a sports club of which he is the striker, so I shall be able to lobby him on the football pitch. Clearly this was an important initiative and the fact that around about 10% of people have signed up for it is good, though we would obviously like to be able to do more and there are issues which we would be happy to examine with you. There are also issues which people raise about disposals and the effect that tax status has on that. We are happy to look at those with you. Clearly tax policy is a matter for the Treasury and not for us but we are happy to look at the representations you want to make around that.

  Q82  Alan Keen: Two members have already paid tribute to the hon Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey and I recall that in one of the first debates we had on the Olympics he said that it need not be within the M25. As the escalating costs go up and up, do you not regret that we did not take his advice and have the Olympics on the Isle of Sheppey?

  James Purnell: Clearly it is a world destination and would have been appropriate. I think the IOC were clear that they thought London was the one with the greater chance of success; not that the Isle of Sheppey would have had no chance at all.

  Alan Keen: It must have been touch and go.

  Q83  Janet Anderson: As I think you know, the arts world was delighted with the financial settlement they got. I understand you have indicated that you would like a move away from targets. Could you set out for us what you are expecting from the arts world in return and why you have started to signal a different approach?

  James Purnell: The targets can work very well when you are trying to change the direction of an organisational change to deal with a growing problem. Targets have been effective in moving the debate around excellence and access on to the next stage. I remember back in 1997, when we started talking about the importance of access and you and Chris Smith were doing that, that there was a big debate about whether it could be done. Some people said you could not widen access without dumbing down and I think that argument has been won now. You hear very few people who make that argument, the argument of principle. It is now time to move on to a much more enabling relationship with the Arts Council, but also with other NDPBs, and rather than having crude top-down targets we should have a relationship based on clear strategic priorities. It is then for them to say how they think that should be met in detail and to liaise with their funding organisations about how to achieve that. In terms of the goals we have for them, as you know we have set up the McMaster review to think about how excellence can be promoted both by the way that we play our role, the way the Arts Council does and the way the museums play their role. That is because there is fantastic work going on in Britain. The arts in Britain are world class but we are quite clear that we need to make sure that can continue to be the case and we want to make sure the funding and organisational framework is set up as best it can be to support excellence in the arts and in culture and in museums in this country. The sine qua non of funding has to be that the work is excellent. That, I believe, far from being in opposition to access, supports access and indeed there is a virtuous circle between the two that excellent work stimulates people to come in. If you want to have a continuing world-class arts infrastructure in this country that means having large audiences which are hungry for innovative work, hungry for excellent work and prepared to take risk and to go to sample a wide range of work but also to have people who are going to be coming through to be the stars, directors, actors of tomorrow. That balance of having excellence and access working hand in hand is the key strategic goal for them going forward. It is just that I do not think that I should be telling them how to do that in very great detail. I want to free them up to work out with funded organisations how they achieve it.

  Q84  Janet Anderson: You quite rightly talk about promoting excellence and bringing on new talent. I have two small regional theatres in my constituency, the Royal Court in Bacup and the Millennium Theatre in Waterfoot where I shall be launching the Bacup Film Festival on Saturday evening; international of course. Neither of those theatres receives any kind of public funding at all. Am I right that the Arts Council is going to have a review of funding to regional theatres? What do you think will be the emphasis which comes out of it?

  James Purnell: Everyone pays for the arts and everyone has the right to be able to access excellent work. We do have the arm's-length principle in this country and I am not going to start getting into saying which one they should be funding and which one they should not. The principle is very clear, which is that all regions of the country have the right to be able to access really excellent work.

  Q85  Mr Sanders: You mentioned earlier the Cultural Olympiad. Everyone I speak to has a different idea of what the Cultural Olympiad is actually about: arts, culture, heritage, all three. Can you define for us what the Cultural Olympiad is?

  James Purnell: There is a slightly trite answer to that which is that eight objectives are set out in the agreement with the IOC for the Cultural Olympiad and they form part of the promises we made. That is the core of the Cultural Olympiad. What we have been working on in the first few months of meetings has been the overall spending framework and by providing that uplift for museums and the arts we hope it will allow them to contribute to the Cultural Olympiad. It clearly will not be limited just to the work in those eight objectives: it will be a whole range of people who want to do work in the run-up to the Olympics and Olympic year which is culturally relevant. The thing I was really keen to avoid was getting more money, keeping a bunch of it back and making people bid for it and then only being able to get money from us for the Cultural Olympiad or from local authorities for the Cultural Olympiad. That would have been wrong. Instead, what we have done is given people that money in their baseline, given them a clear overall goal of contributing to the Cultural Olympiad and it is for them to decide how they do that.

  Q86  Mr Sanders: Presumably you want value-added from this. Would you preclude an existing event, festival, gathering of some nature that fitted into the theme set out, from accessing any funding because they simply tweak what they are doing and put five rings on it and call it an Olympiad event?

  James Purnell: Not at all. It is a slightly false distinction between existing work and additional work. What we are doing is funding organisations to be able to run themselves well and there is an opportunity with the Cultural Olympiad to do work which benefits from the fact that people will be coming here, using the themes of the Olympics and people far more creative than I will be able to decide how to do that. We also have these eight commitments in the Tier 2 projects, as it is called in the jargon, which are the big national projects. There are the opening and closing ceremonies which LOCOG are responsible for. There is also a whole series of events which will be happening in the regions under the so-called Tier 3 project. There will be a wide range of events, local, regional, national and the ceremonies themselves and I really think it is going to be one of the great things about the Olympics. It will be a real sporting celebration but also a cultural celebration.

  Q87  Mr Sanders: I think everybody agrees that it is a wonderful idea. There are fears that, for example, something like the BBC Proms, in the run-up to the Olympics, could market themselves as part of the Cultural Olympiad and access funding which might otherwise have gone to funding a new music festival somewhere else in the capital or outside. I just want to know whether you will try to encourage more value-added, new events, perhaps more diverse, perhaps at a more local level than just looking at some of the national events which take place and maybe seeing this as an opportunity to subsidise what they already do.

  James Purnell: I think that is a slightly false choice in the sense that we will be able to fund local and regional events and indeed through the Legacy Trust and the Tier 3 events there are plans to do exactly that. There will also be national events and indeed one of the eight commitments is for a festival of live music. I do not think we should say the money should only go to an organisation which is not planning to do an event already. Some of them will be entirely new events; others will be museums putting on events which are part of their normal course of exhibitions but which reflect Olympic themes or which are somehow related to the Cultural Olympiad. It would be wrong for me as a politician to start to impede that cultural and creative process.

  Q88  Philip Davies: May I ask, whilst you were on the football field with Andy Burnham, whether or not you asked him when the Treasury were going to implement the Goodison Review recommendations which would deliver more money into the arts?

  James Purnell: The Goodison Review was about philanthropy and now is a good time to start thinking about how we can get more charitable investment in the arts. Real progress has been made on the tax treatment of charitable giving and that is something which genuinely benefits people and their cultural and heritage sectors, but if we had been in the position where we had been cutting money to the arts, it would have been harder to say to the private sector that we want them to give more. Given that we have now been able to reach what is not a bad settlement, we can now work with the Arts Council and others to see what more can be done, for example to encourage new money, people who have made significant amounts of money in the City to put more money into culture.

  Q89  Philip Davies: Would Mr Stephens, given his distinguished career in the Treasury, be able to explain why the Goodison Review was set up by the Treasury and then completely ignored by the Treasury for a number of years afterwards.

  James Purnell: That is a slightly political question, if I may say so, so I might take that one back. I do not accept that we have not made progress on philanthropy. Real progress has been made and the Goodison Review will be a helpful input into the work we will be doing on that.

  Q90  Paul Farrelly: One of the other reviews we have looked at has been the heritage protection review. That envisages local authorities, unitary and second-tier authorities, taking on a great deal more responsibility and yet it is not clear, particularly with respect to conservation, where the money for that is coming from, nor the additional expertise. I just wondered how you were addressing those issues.

  James Purnell: We have been able to give English Heritage a cash increase for the next period and they have made clear in their statements following that that they want to move forward with the heritage protection review and will liaise with ourselves and local authorities about exactly how to do that. Overall a large part of that extra work they will be doing will be working with local authorities on training, on how to run this new system effectively. That is a large contribution towards local authority costs. We believe that in the medium term when this is implemented it will make the management of place by local authorities much more effective and therefore there is a lot for local authorities to get from it.

  Q91  Paul Farrelly: Are you suggesting then, quite apart from the extra responsibilities English Heritage have, that local authorities must look to that £5 million from English Heritage to fund their responsibilities and not more direct funding for authorities themselves?

  James Purnell: We do not fund local authorities. What I am saying is that the English Heritage money is going to be spent on supporting local authorities to implement this new system and it will be something which local authorities all round the country will be raising with MPs. I am sure you have probably had letters about buildings which they did not think should be listed getting in the way of regeneration programmes, for example. This is a process to try to respond to that concern that local authorities have put to us.

  Q92  Paul Farrelly: What arguments are you making elsewhere in Government on their behalf?

  James Purnell: This is just a reflection of what English Heritage have said in their statements around the CSR. They want to look at how we can move forward on the heritage protection review. We want to work with them on that and we are not going to prejudge those discussions.

  Q93  Paul Farrelly: May I make one plea? I am the founding patron of an organisation called Urban Vision North Staffordshire, which is one of the 15 or so CABE seed-funded architecture and design centres around the country. It is a fact in areas such as mine, which have every quango alive marching across our patch, all pinching people off each other by virtue of offering bigger salaries at each stage with no expansion of the total expertise available, that these architecture and design centres have contributed to that in attracting young enthusiastic people who normally would not want to work for councils which are overloaded. May I ask you to be a champion for those within your Department? They often have to look for funding from bodies sponsored by the CLG or BERR, as it is now known, through the RDAs. I should like to see the Department standing up for centres like that and standing its ground with the other departments, making sure they are made a priority.

  James Purnell: I certainly agree that CABE's work around that has been successful and that they have been a very good initiative. CABE and English Heritage have a really positive role to play in terms of defining that sense of place in terms of regeneration. What we want to move away from is the sense that there is an opposition between these two, that actually by treasuring and supporting the historic environment as well as having new design which CABE particularly focused on we can really make place born again. That is the goal which has been achieved brilliantly in many of our cities around the UK and which this settlement and the heritage protection review allows us to take to the next level.

  Q94  Paul Farrelly: After English Heritage, who will you pick on next? I see that the Resource Accounts from the Department state that a further peer review of a major non-departmental body will be carried out this year. Which one of your non-departmental public bodies is going to be in line for peer review treatment?

  Mr Stephens: We have not announced that yet, but I am very happy to write to you as soon as we do.

  Q95  Paul Farrelly: When are you going to?

  Mr Stephens: I do not know. Happy to write.

  Q96  Paul Farrelly: Any idea? Before Christmas?

  Mr Stephens: Soon.

  Q97  Paul Farrelly: Soon. Before Christmas?

  James Purnell: Happy to write before Christmas. [2]

  Q98 Chairman: Are you able to give us any more detail about the settlement package for specific initiatives, for instance for Renaissance in the Regions, which we in our last Report praised and said must continue to be funded.

  James Purnell: We will be making announcements on that very shortly.

  Q99  Chairman: And the National Heritage Memorial Fund?

  James Purnell: We will be making announcements on that very shortly.

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