Smith wants opera for all

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The Independent Online
THE ROYAL Opera House could be forced to throw open its doors to more members of the general public, Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, hinted yesterday after receiving a damning report on the civil war within its management.

The report, by Sir Richard Eyre, savages the management of the Royal Opera House - graphically revealed in a fly-on-the-wall television series - for inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

But Mr Smith, who will publish the report in a fortnight, made it clear he wants to use it to force the Royal Opera House to end its reputation for catering for the cultural elite and make itself more accessible.

Speaking to the Westminster press gallery luncheon, the culture secretary said he had received the report by the former artistic director of the National Theatre last Wednesday and there were two themes in the report that were "very clear indeed": the need to make management more efficient and to make the arts more accessible.

He said the report's findings showed that "just because they are producing great art and putting on wonderful performances does not preclude them from the need to run themselves efficiently. Good administration is just as important as high artistic excellence.

"The second lesson is that arts should be for everyone. They are not for a cultural elite. They are not sacred temples that half the population is scared stiff of going into.

"I want as an absolute overriding objective of policy to make things of quality available to the many, not the few. And Richard Eyre argues in his report passionately for the opening up of the Royal Opera House to a wider audience."

Mr Smith cited the example of the Hamlyn Week at the National Theatre, in which ordinary members of the public who did not normally go to the theatre were brought in with seats at the reduced rate of pounds 5.

The culture secretary also appeared to rule out the privatisation of Channel 4, following speculation that the Chancellor was seeking to include it in the list of assets for public private partnerships. Mr Smith said the Prime Minister had given assurances at the general election that it would not be privatised and that policy would remain. "We said we have no plans for the privatisation of Channel 4. We stand by that," he said.

The only part of his empire for semi-privatisation is the tea-house at St James's Park, which is being developed as a private finance initiative scheme. He said the royal parks, museums, art galleries and Trafalgar Square would remain in public hands.