Jowell rejects arts 'betrayal' claims

There will be no return to the stop-start funding that disrupted the arts under the Tories as long as Labour is in power, Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, has pledged.

There will be no return to the stop-start funding that disrupted the arts under the Tories as long as Labour is in power, Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, has pledged.

Responding to the angry concerns of cultural leaders expressed in The Independent recently, Ms Jowell strongly defended the Government's record of increasing spending on the arts by 60 per cent in the past six years.

"You would have to be living in a parallel universe to say that is going back to the bad old days. It's just a denial of reality," she said yesterday.

Nicholas Hytner, of the National Theatre, Vikki Heywood, of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Ruth Mackenzie, a former special adviser to the Department for Culture, have all warned of the potentially devastating impact of freezing the Arts Council's grant at its 2005-06 level for the following two years. The Arts Council calculates this to be a £30m cut and Ms Mackenzie said it felt like "betrayal".

But Ms Jowell insisted there should be no cuts as the Arts Council will be allowed to use £37m not spent from the budget of Creative Partnerships, the project which introduces children from the most deprived areas of Britain to the arts. By lifting the ring-fencing that applied to the scheme, the Arts Council should have enough money to award inflation-matching increases plus 1 or 2 per cent in its grants. In 2007-08, the Government will also establish a £6m fund to support quality and innovation in response to artists' pleas for help in nurturing new talent.

"Given the strictures that have been placed on every budget in Government, that's a pretty good settlement. It's been a very tough spending round," Ms Jowell said. "I understand the anxiety that artists have because for many people the memory of those bad old days - not just the lack of money but the sense of being an utterly optional extra to the kind of country we are - singed deep.

"But as long as there is a Labour government, we will never go back to that, because of our belief in the importance of the arts and of culture. I think funding for the arts is as important in shaping the kind of country that we're becoming as having a National Health Service that everybody uses."

After facing criticisms last week from Sir Christopher Frayling, chairman of the Arts Council, that the Government was being increasingly prescriptive over how money should be spent, Ms Jowell said the Government was entitled to make some demands if it was handing over £1.2bn over the next three years.

But she dismissed as "nonsense" Sir Christopher's contention that politicians were embarrassed by the arts. "For enormous numbers of politicians the arts and culture are what they escape into. One of my greatest conflicts today is that I can't go to the opening of Caravaggio [at the National Gallery]," she said.

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