Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Session 2004-05

23 March 2005

Fifth Report


The Culture, Media and Sport Committee  publishes today at 11.45am its Fifth Report, Theatre  (HC 254).  The Committee’s key conclusions and recommendations are summarised below:

West End theatre estate

Lottery money, absorbed by theatres to make them fit for use for future generations, should be repaid if that theatre changes use. There should also be a benefit for the Lottery if such a theatre is sold within 10 years of refurbishment. (Para 25)

 The OFT has made recommendations about clearer advertising of ticket prices and booking fees. We agree. A complaisant theatre-going public has for too long accepted this blatant rip-off and it is time it was brought to an end. (Para 29)

DCMS should consider how relationships between commercial and subsidised theatre could favour the latter as part of a deal over public investment in the former. (Para 31)

West End theatres have made a case for public investment but has not backed this up so far with commitments to accountability nor a return for the wider public. This initiative needs to embrace the Old Vic. (Para 33)

The West End’s most compelling arguments rest on grounds of heritage and economic impact. Therefore the HLF, GLA and LDA should be the major partners in responding to the West End’s call, with Arts Council England (ACE) taking a back seat. (Para 34)

Subsidised theatre estate

New public amenities, such as libraries and theatres, are legitimate planning gains via Section 106 agreements. We recommend that the DCMS, with ODPM, should report on the use of s.106 to create public amenities to improve people’s quality of life. (Para 37)

The Government should announce the scale, shape and share of the distribution of National Lottery funds for good causes as soon as possible. ACE should remain a distributor of a significant size.  (Para 43)

ACE should re-focus its lottery capital programme towards the maintenance of publicly-funded and not-for-profit theatres; consolidation is needed not further expansion. (Para 50)

Public subsidy for theatre

The case for substantial public investment in the theatre in this country is over-whelming and we note high levels of support for this investment amongst the public. (Para 65)

Arms length distribution [independent of Government] of resources to the arts is important as well as practical. ACE must still account for its policies and performance and respond to challenges from whatever quarter. (Para 67)

ACE needs a more dynamic approach to funding to reward new entrants, and existing theatre groups, who have innovative ideas while being far more critical of those recipients of funding who have failed to develop their original potential or to fulfill their commitments (Para 75)

There is some recognition of the contribution of arts investment to revitalising urban communities as part of what DCMS calls its “culture and regeneration agenda”. DCMS should commission a study of progress and report to Parliament on the potential for further benefits from a far more strategic approach to investing in the arts infrastructure as a catalyst for urban regeneration. (Para 82)

It is a scandal that [theatre] one of the nation’s key cultural activities, must rely, at least in part, on professionals to pay such a high price by earning such low wages. It is a tribute to the power of theatre that so many of them will do so, but  the sector should improve financial support and advice for actors and backstage staff alike. (Para 86)

As in sport, consideration should be given to the public policy gains that can be demonstrated as a result of participation in drama and a strategic approach to the funding of grassroots, or community, theatre should be developed. This should take place as a partnership between all involved. Proposals for a National Drama Association, with public funding, should be properly formulated and then given serious consideration. Local arts forums should also be considered. (Para 91)

We agree with witnesses who said that a real terms cut in funding for the arts is a mistake. (Para 103)

The Government and ACE need to make a far greater communications effort to tackle levels of anxiety within particular art forms in the light of overall real terms funding cuts. (Para 105)

It seems invidious for the DCMS to press ACE for efficiency savings to free money for the arts only to reduce real terms baseline funding a couple of years later. (Para 110)

Theatre is important to the economic life of the country and generates a significant return for the Exchequer as well as showcasing the UK to the world. The commercial theatre sector often rests on work that originates, is developed, tested and proven within the subsidised sector. (Para 112)

The investment made since 2002-and the resulting virtuous circle of better productions and bigger audiences-needs to be protected and built upon. A policy of stop-go-stop, eschewed by the Treasury in macro-economic terms of ‘boom and bust’, is not a prudent approach to the long term investment in the arts to which the Government claims to be committed. (Para 113)

The Government needs to re-evaluate its allocation of resources to the arts, taking a long term view, to ensure that real terms cuts are avoided where no compelling arguments or evidence are presented for their necessity. In our view no such arguments have been made. The Government should re-consider and find the £34 million needed to keep the Arts Council’s funding in line with inflation over the period of the 2004 spending settlement.  (Para 114)