Reimagining where we live: cultural placemaking and the levelling up agenda – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

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High streets and town centres are at the heart of our communities, yet they have been in long-term decline. The rise of online retail, changing work and social habits and the reduced capacity of local government, exacerbated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, are important factors, and this decline is symptomatic of the place-based inequalities facing the UK. The 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto committed several times to “level up every part of the United Kingdom”. The Government subsequently declared that “Levelling Up” would be its “defining mission” in order to “”increase and spread prosperity and opportunity” across the country.

“Cultural placemaking”, which refers to the role of arts, culture and heritage in shaping the places where we live, is an important concept in the context of Levelling Up. Place-based approaches to culture can be locally-led and engaging, deliver direct and indirect benefits and support education, pride in place, health and wellbeing, and therefore support the Government deliver on the missions set out in its Levelling Up agenda.

However, our inquiry has found pervasive and persistent barriers to cultural placemaking. In terms of funding for cultural organisations and activity, there are concerns about the ongoing geographical disparities, as well as long-term sustainability and accessibility. We recommend that the Government and its arm’s-length bodies (ALBs) consider how they can better support arts and culture across the country and better incentivise private sector investment. We also recommend that the Government urgently outline support for at-risk organisations in the culture, media and sport sectors to offset the impact of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

Cultural placemaking also necessitates taking a people-based approach to cultural policy. We have found concerning evidence of persistently poor levels of social mobility and inclusivity within the cultural sector, as well as the ongoing national skills shortage across the creative industries. These issues have been impacted by poor working conditions and detrimental changes to education policy. We urge the Government to bring forward tangible steps to improve the provision of education and address the national skills sector within the creative industries and unlock employment opportunities for people across the country.

We also examine the Government’s efforts to support local decision-making. We recommend a continuation of the Government and Arts Council England’s “cultural compacts” initiative, which aims to bring together local cross-sector stakeholders in pilot areas to enable better engagement and strategic planning.

Finally, we consider the provision of local public library services across England. We conclude that libraries remain an important part of communities’ cultural infrastructure, particularly in deprived areas, and call for further support to improve these services.