Grey paper

Wikipedia says a White Paper is “an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter”. Infopedia says White Papers are “sales and marketing documents used to entice or persuade potential customers to learn more about or purchase a particular product, service, technology or methodology”. In the case of the Culture White Paper launched today, Jude Kelly calls it simply “a statement of belief”. So what is it?

It would be churlish not to recognize the achievement of producing such a document, and what it does is set out in black and, particularly, white that the government believes the arts and culture are fundamental to not just the economy but our collective well-being, so there’s philosophy; what it might be selling is the government’s cultural credibility. But Ed Vaizey, whose baby it is, has encapsulated the essence of change that is shoving our artistic endeavours around at the moment, a change he chooses not to credit to the funding storms that the government has assailed the arts with since 2010. There’s a new mood of enterprise, of philanthropy, of self-reliance that needs to be formally harnessed. 

So he is taking a lead by telling the arts to talk among themselves more, to co-operate, to get the ridiculous inconsistencies of what is called primly “diversity” – not enough black/female/young/homosexual leaders or even participants – corrected, to ensure that kids from poor backgrounds can have a chance of inspiration. He is standing up with the government and saying “This is what should be happening”, and he did well to get it out now given the extreme tightness of government schedules which meant that if he hadn’t managed it before Easter we might have had to wait until the autumn, or later. One very big arts panjandrum there this morning said in its favour that it was better to have had it than not to have had it.

What the White Paper does not do, and Vaizey might say isn’t supposed to do, is present either a stick or a carrot: no sanction for those that don’t adhere to this statement of belief, no financial encouragement either. As we kept being told today, this is the first White Paper since the very first in 1965 but brief as that was (ten pages, 200 paragraphs, Vaizey reminded us) it was accompanied by a considerable hike in arts subsidy and a new national brief for the Arts Council: there’s no new cash in these 68 pages. 

There is plenty in the White Paper that we already know about – the Great Exhibition of the North, City of Culture, £20m for doing up cathedrals – because they are Treasury initiatives already announced by George Osborne. The fact is that the kind of arts that happen in communities and tend to be run by local authorities make almost £6bn a year for this country, and Vaizey is having to find ways of relieving the local authority arts funding crisis without cash. So show willing, not your wallet.

Politics, I’m afraid. Another panjandrum pointed out to me that there is one British institution that more than any other commissions, produces, sells, exports the best of our culture, and in the course of it entertains and informs the entire nation, and it gets no mention anywhere in this document. It is, of course, the BBC. Now why ever would that be?

 

 

 

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Budget fudget

As ever, you have to look for the small print in the Budget to find out what it might mean to the arts, and on the face of it there’s nothing nasty in the woodpile this time. There’s £53m for the Royal College of Art’s new Battersea campus;  £20m for northern cities to bid to for hosting the Great Exhibition of the North, as promised in the autumn statement; £20m to do up our cathedrals, ditto; £19m for a new Shakespeare theatre at Knowsley on Merseyside;  £14m for the STEAMhouse in Birmingham; £13m for Hull for its year as City of Culture next year; £5m for the V&A’s £81m Dundee design museum. 

There are tax breaks for museums, with regional ones that don’t charge for admission eligible for VAT rebates like the nationals are, and touring exhibitions will get the same concession. 

And then it starts to get foggy. The Lloyd George Museum at Criccieth in North Wales, the great man’s birthplace, is funded by the local authority which, in its straits, had opted to cut its grant and probably close it. So the Chancellor has decided to give the museum the same amount, £27,000. Nothing for the five Lancashire museums that are closing or any of the others under threat by beleaguered councils. 

Why single that one out for special treatment? We can only guess, but this rather paltry amount should keep the place open until 2020, by which time we will have forgotten the centenary of the First World War. It would be an international embarrassment to see the closure now of the place devoted to the memory of the leader that saw us through that most catastrophic of conflicts. There was already encouraging news in that there had been a move to get the place nationalised and the Welsh government is thinking about making it part of the National Museum of Wales. Yet George Osborne felt it was politic to put his paddle in and stir it up a bit.

But the Chancellor’s fiddling about with business rate relief for small concerns means that local authorities, which with the other hand he has given the right to retain business rate income, means that councils will be, by the calculation of John Kampfner’s Creative Industries Federation, £7bn worse off. And what is the non-statutory responsibility local authorities have that is easiest to cut?  You got it.

Which makes Ed Vaizey’s culture white paper, due this spring, even more interesting. He has said there would be something to address the conundrum of local authority arts funding so one hopes it will show how these odd bits of a jigsaw puzzle might fit together, and though Vaizey has said that in parliamentary terms spring lasts from about February to October, the word is that publication is imminent. We’ll see.

 

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Taitmail: Budget fudget

As ever, you have to look for the small print in the Budget to find out what it might mean to the arts, and on the face of it there’s nothing nasty in the woodpile this time. There’s £53m for the Royal College of Art’s new Battersea campus;  £20m for northern cities to bid to for hosting the Great Exhibition of the North, as promised in the autumn statement; £20m to do up our cathedrals, ditto; £19m for a new Shakespeare theatre at Knowsley on Merseyside;  £14m for the STEAMhouse in Birmingham; £13m for Hull for its year as City of Culture next year; £5m for the V&A’s £81m Dundee design museum. 

There are tax breaks for museums, with regional ones that don’t charge for admission eligible for VAT rebates like the nationals are, and touring exhibitions will get the same concession. 

And then it starts to get foggy. The Lloyd George Museum at Criccieth in North Wales, the great man’s birthplace, is funded by the local authority which, in its straits, had opted to cut its grant and probably close it. So the Chancellor has decided to give the museum the same amount, £27,000. Nothing for the five Lancashire museums that are closing or any of the others under threat by beleaguered councils. 

Why single that one out for special treatment? We can only guess, but this rather paltry amount should keep the place open until 2020, by which time we will have forgotten the centenary of the First World War. It would be an international embarrassment to see the closure now of the place devoted to the memory of the leader that saw us through that most catastrophic of conflicts. There was already encouraging news in that there had been a move to get the place nationalised and the Welsh government is thinking about making it part of the National Museum of Wales. Yet George Osborne felt it was politic to put his paddle in and stir it up a bit.

But the Chancellor’s fiddling about with business rate relief for small concerns means that local authorities, which with the other hand he has given the right to retain business rate income, means that councils will be, by the calculation of John Kampfner’s Creative Industries Federation, £7bn worse off. And what is the non-statutory responsibility local authorities have that is easiest to cut?  You got it.

Which makes Ed Vaizey’s culture white paper, due this spring, even more interesting. He has said there would be something to address the conundrum of local authority arts funding so one hopes it will show how these odd bits of a jigsaw puzzle might fit together, and though Vaizey has said that in parliamentary terms spring lasts from about February to October, the word is that publication is imminent. We’ll see.

 

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Goosey, goosey – gone?

More wonderful news from DCMS which reports, in the government’s first full analysis of its kind of the economic data, that in 2014 our creative industries grew by 8.9% - almost twice the rate of the UK economy - to be worth now £84.bn in gross value added (GVA) instead of the £76.9bn of the year before.

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