Government plans for the South Bank

This article appeared in the Evening Standard today:

Brown’s plan to make Britannia cool again

Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor

London will get a national film centre and a permanent home for its fashion week under Gordon Brown’s plans to revive the “Cool Britannia” spirit of new Labour.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham will publish a detailed list of commitments to the arts next week as he sets out a blueprint to turn the UK into the “world’s creative hub”.

A leaked draft of the Green Paper today revealed that Mr Burnham and the Prime Minister are determined to see London outperform other European capitals and reap the economic benefits of the creative industries.

Projects include a new £200 million national film centre on the South Bank, a permanent home for London Fashion Week and a global arts and finance conference styled on the Davos World Economic Forum.

But after recent cuts in Arts Council grants to theatres and other bodies, critics already warn that the proposals risk sounding like a diversionary “gimmick” or a “Stalinist Five-Year Plan”.

It is also unclear, given recent tight budgets at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, where the money for some of the projects would come from.

A mix of public and private cash could be used for the £200 million film centre but it is uncertain how much the film industry would stump up.

The Green Paper also hints at taking a more active role including a review of the “health” impact of the fashion industry’s use of skinny models and forcing the subsidised arts to hire more ethnic minorities.

However, parts of the arts world will be delighted if the list of more than 20 schemes drawn up by ministers gets the final go-ahead. The British Film Institute, which is housed in a temporary building under Waterloo Bridge, has been lobbying hard for a national centre on the South Bank.

Similarly, the fashion industry has argued that a permanent site for London Fashion Week would help it plan events and provide a focus for the London College of Fashion, British Fashion Council and others.

The global arts conference, called the “world creative economy forum”, would be set up in co-ordination with the West Coast of America, linking London with not only Los Angeles but also San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Mr Burnham was an aide to former Culture Secretary Chris Smith, the man who drove Tony Blair’s original “Cool Britannia” push in 1997 and 1998 and Mr Brown is keen to maintain Britain’s edge in billion-pound arts industries.

Mr Burnham and Children’s Secretary Ed Balls are also due to announce plans to link the arts much more closely to schools. Children will have the right to spend five hours a week on activities such as visiting galleries and museums, attending theatre performances and learning a musical instrument.

The right to “five hours of culture a week” will become the responsibility of a new Youth Culture Trust, with a £10 million trial in 10 areas of England and Wales, beginning this year, and will focus on those from disadvantaged backgrounds and children who display a particular talent. The Government also said it recognises that important music venues are under threat, including the Hammersmith Palais – closed last year to be redeveloped as an office complex – and the Astoria – under threat from Crossrail – and will discuss with the Mayor of London how these venues can be preserved. Ed Vaizey, the Conservative arts frontbencher, said: “This reads more like a Stalinist Five-Year Plan than a vision for creative industries. What makes it so depressing is that we have waited more than a year for this paper and it’s little more than a series of reheated policies or absurd micromanagement.”

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