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Guest column: Arts Council must give more money to areas like Bassetlaw

John Mann MP
John Mann MP

For the last ten years, I have repeatedly drawn ministers’ attention to the deficit of culture and arts spending in the coalfield areas.

Whilst Islington residents are falling over dance studios, orchestras and operas, people in my area must travel miles to get anything like the same quality of provision.

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, I asked why is there a decade’s long disparity in arts funding between London and former industrial areas.

In every year in the past decade, the London borough of Islington has received more money than all the ex-coalfields areas like Bassetlaw combined.

This has mean that access to the arts across Bassetlaw is very limited.

We do not have a professional arts centre for dance and theatre but there are hundreds in London.

In Islington, the Arts Council committed £41.5 million in funding from 2015-18, whereas across the former coalfields of England they got £41 million between them.

This is in spite of the fact that Islington has a population of around 225,000 whilst the English coalfields have a population that is in excess of four million.

This deep inequality in arts funding puts children in areas like ours at a severe disadvantage compared to those who grow up in London.

Whilst there have been welcome steps to increase funding to other urban, rural and coalfield areas in the next funding round, it is clear that these do not adequately address the large funding gap.

By 2009, areas such as Bassetlaw had received just £439,389 in Lottery funding for the arts since being founded in 1994.

By contrast, London had received £1.63 billion of funding, whilst Islington had received a combined £139 million.

As long ago as 2007, Bassetlaw received no funding from the Arts Council whilst Islington received a combined £15.4 million.

A lack of access to theatres, concerts and museums puts our children at a severe disadvantage compared to their peers in London.

I am calling on the Government to act to make sure every child has the same access, wherever they grow up.

I have known that this has been a big problem for our area for a good while and have worked to try to counter this is in a variety of ways.

Last week, I met with the chief executive of Shakespeare’s Globe in London to talk about how we can get more students from Bassetlaw attending its theatre productions.

The Globe has been supportive of students from Bassetlaw when we visit every year for my annual summer school.

And my intention is to work with it to enable wider access to theatre in Bassetlaw.

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