£100m boost for the arts

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Indy Politics

An unexpected £100m-a-year bonus for the arts in Britain is to be announced this week by the Secretary of State for Culture, Chris Smith.

An unexpected £100m-a-year bonus for the arts in Britain is to be announced this week by the Secretary of State for Culture, Chris Smith.

The increase is Tony Blair's riposte to critics who have accused the Government of committing cultural vandalism. Earlier this month the writer V S Naipaul claimed that the Government had "destroyed the idea of civilisation" and imposed "a terrible plebeian culture".

In a move that will delight the arts establishment Mr Smith will also announce he is abandoning the Government's demand that theatres and artists should find new audiences in return for extra funding - a condition that led to accusations that the Government was "dumbing down" the arts.

A ministerial source who was involved in the negotiations said: "That link will be abandoned. The Government wants to show it trusts organisations to get on with it. We are concentrating on core funding without attaching strings."

Ministers were furious with reports that sport had won more funding than the arts from Gordon Brown's Comprehensive Spending Review. The additional money - rising from an extra £15m next year to £60m in 2002-3 and £100m a year in 2003-4 - will be a lifeline for regional theatres which were running on a shoestring, with tiny casts, and the possibility of having to close for three months of the year to save money.

In the past few months theatres in Ipswich, Greenwich and Leatherhead have closed because of lack of cash. And the acclaimed Octagon Theatre in Bolton is open only for limited periods. The Sheffield Crucible and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds have also experienced difficulties.

There will be more funding for artists, actors and musicians to take the arts into schools, and for more school trips to theatres and galleries.

The increase in the arts budget - over and above sums of up to £200m more already announced - marks a victory for Gerry Robinson, the chair of the Arts Council, who publicly demanded the extra £100m and backed it up in private meetings with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and Mr Smith.

Speaking to the Independent on Sunday, Mr Robinson said: "It shows Tony Blair, having made promises about taking the arts more seriously, is delivering. The Arts Council said calmly and objectively that the arts needed more money. This is very welcome indeed."

The row caused by V S Naipaul's attack on the Government was "a pity", Mr Robinson added. "We are all about trying to popularise the arts. We are not getting into arts for arts' sake, but on the basis that unless Britain invests in the arts we don't stand up in good shape versus the rest of the world, let alone Europe."

Mr Robinson impressed the Chancellor by slimming down the Arts Council operation before asking for more money. He provided an extra £10m for orchestras before tackling the visual arts. The council said it needed £25m extra for theatres alone. To ensure the money reaches grassroots groups, who may lack the expertise of larger professional organisations in form-filling, the application process is to be streamlined.

In a separate move, the Government will answer criticism by the architect Lord Rogers, who chaired John Prescott's urban task force and designed the Millennium Dome, that ministers have forgotten the inner cities in the Chancellor's £43bn "give-away".

Ministers will announce today that extra funding for neighbourhood renewal will be underpinned by "floor targets" for public services in the inner cities. These will lay down the minimum standards that will be tolerated by the Government in education, health and other services in the inner cities.