Culture secretary Maria Miller

Culture secretary Maria Miller’s arts speech in full

Culture secretary Maria Miller’s arts speech in full

Testing times: Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen

Firstly thank you to Neil MacGregor for hosting us here today and thank you to you all for joining me for today’s speech.

It’s fitting that we meet here today in what was the world’s first national public museum. It was opened as a venue for ‘the studious and the curious’ and it allows people to consider their place in the world. It continues to play that role – and many more besides. Over 28 thousand people a day have been coming through the doors. The British Museum’s ongoing popularity and success confirms my belief that culture is at the very heart of what it means to be human. Culture educates, entertains and it enriches. We must never lose sight of that fact.

This museum is the UK’s most popular tourist attraction. It is little wonder that citizens from all around the globe are drawn to this collection of the world for the world, which tells such a compelling story of human civilization.

And it is a high mark of civilisation where culture has a fundamental role in society, as it does here in Britain today. Arts and culture underpin what it means to be British; how we see ourselves; and how the world sees us. Our culture is our hallmark, and it makes the UK distinctive in a globalised world.

The role that culture plays in our national life is well understood. The arts stimulate us, educate us, challenge and amuse us. They are of instrumental, as well as intrinsic, value and their social benefits are numerous and beyond doubt.

Alongside these social benefits –perhaps because of them – culture is able to deliver things which few other sectors can. It brings our country to life and encourages people to visit our shores; it develops a sense of community and attracts visitors to disparate parts of our nation; it allows us to build international relationships forging a foundation for the trade deals of tomorrow; it cultivates the creativity which underpins our wider industrial efforts.

With that in mind, today I want to argue that culture does not simply have a role to play in bringing about a return to growth … Rather, it should be central to these efforts.

That is not to say that every sinew of effort and artistic endeavour needs to be strained to bring in turnover and profit – that is neither appealing nor sensible to approach it in that way. But a proper grasp of the potential economic impact of culture would serve us all well. Culture is an intricate web of activity, where blossoming stars in regional theatres have the potential to become the next generation of British Oscar winners; and where the Paul Smiths of tomorrow can be inspired by what they see at the V&A – and go on to become global icons.

Understanding the economic potential which the arts and culture offer both directly and indirectly is essential. The arts are not an add-on; they are fundamental to our success as a nation.


Given this premise, it is essential that government investment in culture continues despite these testing economic times. Public funding for the arts provides support, offers certainty and unlocks further potential. And that is why we continue to dedicate hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to this sector.

It is reassuring that Sir Peter Bazalgette shares my view that the public funding distributed by the Arts Council should effectively act as seed funding, or venture capital – giving confidence to others to invest in the creativity and innovation of our cultural organisations.

Significant funding is available. After the last Election, the government increased the share of arts funding received from the National Lottery. This means that ACE is now projected to receive £262 million of Lottery funding in 2015. That’s over £100 million more than it received each year before the government took office in May 2010.

As a result nearly £3 billion will go to the arts sector over the lifetime of this Parliament: one billion in Lottery funding combined with almost two billion of taxpayers’ money.

The government is committed to a mixed economy model where targeted public funding will stimulate money from other sources, whether that is philanthropy or commercially generated. We are committed to that model because it helps organisations maximise their income, without becoming over-reliant on one funding stream over another. As in so many other areas, I believe we tread a happy middle path between the American model, based on benefactor-funding, and the European approach, based on state subsidy. Our system encourages risk-taking, but discourages complacency. And I think it should be warmly celebrated.

You have heard a great deal from the government on philanthropy over the last three years and with good reason. We should all be grateful for the profound generosity of those donors who already contribute almost £700 million to the arts each year.

And the government is doing its bit by introducing a reduced rate of inheritance tax for legacy giving. We have further promoted philanthropy by listening to our museums and introducing the cultural gifts scheme; by simplifying gift aid; by ensuring greater recognition is given to philanthropists; and by developing the Catalyst scheme, which I know many of you in this room are actively participating in, £110 million has already been earmarked for arts and heritage organisations, which will unlock at least as much again from private donors.

I know there are reservations about this focus on philanthropy across the sector – and probably in the room today – so let me reassure you here and now that no-one considers philanthropy a panacea, a silver bullet or a magic wand. It is not seen as a substitute for government support – but it is complementary.

I therefore regard it as a crucial part of a longer-term strategy which can help us all find that financial security for your sector. The most significant results might not appear for 10 or even maybe 20 years. But those long-term benefits will be realised.

Similarly we must look to develop the commercial opportunities that exist within the cultural sector. As Matthew Taylor from the RSA recently pointed out in his excellent piece in The Observer, though cultural organisations might be hubs of creative flair at their heart, they are also businesses – which must combine creativity with commercial nous.  The two are not mutually exclusive: entrepreneurial endeavour doesn’t come at the price of cultural excellence.


Faced with a crippling budget deficit, there are big choices to be made at both a national and a local level, few of which are easy, or palatable. You will all have seen the reported headline figures for the savings that will need to be made as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.

Some in the sector say that arts funding should be treated as a special case. They argue that government support for the arts is less than 1% of total government funding – and that’s a drop in the ocean. Culture cannot be seen in isolation at a time of unprecedented economic challenge. Everyone has to play a part in our efforts to reduce the deficit – my Department is no exception. Do we want to be seen to inspire our children or leave them with a mountain of debt?

Ultimately we must reduce the deficit for the economic health of our nation, and the future financial security of the next generation. This is in everyone’s interests and we will all, including arts organisations, reap the long-term benefits of a strong economy.

But that is not to say that positive arguments cannot be made.

It is with this at the fore of my mind that I come to you today and ask you to help me reframe the argument: to hammer home the value of culture to our economy.
I know this will not be to everyone’s taste – some simply want money and silence from government – but in an age of austerity, when times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact.

To maintain the argument for continued public funding, we must make the case as a two-way street. We must demonstrate the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay.

That’s the argument that I, as culture secretary, intend to make in my approach to this spending round – and I need all your help in that endeavour.  In going through this period of transition, the government wants participants – not bystanders – and I need you all to accept this fundamental premise, and work with me to develop the argument.

Unique challenges can also bring unique opportunities, a time for fresh thinking, and fresh approaches. Doing things differently does not have to mean doing things badly. So, over the coming weeks and months, I will argue that our cultural sector can bring opportunities, regeneration, jobs and growth.


Today I want to talk about some of the ways in which we can make the argument that culture is central to bringing about growth. These are not the full extent of the arguments that can be made – and I would be delighted to hear more from you about how the culture can have an economic impact – but this is the place from which I start.

All the research shows that culture encourages tourists to visit our country. Forty percent of tourists to the UK cite culture and heritage as the primary reason for their visit. This generates tens of billions of pounds each year for the UK economy, not only through tickets and entrance fees, but in thousands of pounds spent in shops, hotels and restaurants. All of which is delivering real economic benefits to local businesses and local communities.

This impact can be felt up and down the country. As we look to rebalance our economy geographically, regional arts and culture have an essential role to play. This is ably demonstrated by Liverpool, which attracted almost 10 million extra visitors during the year it was European Capital of Culture. This led to over £750 million of extra spending in the local area. Arts and culture are now thought to be as valuable to Merseyside’s economy as the Beatles and football– worth up to three billion pounds a year. So it should be no surprise that we have 11 contenders in the running to become the UK’s City of Culture in 2017.

Just last week I hosted a reception to launch the Buxton Opera Festival. Their audiences have tripled in a decade. They have won national and regional tourism awards. They have diversified their income streams, and as a result they have generated more than a million in turnover. The other side of the Peak District, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park supports around 100 full time jobs, and is delivering close to £5 million of economic impact to its local community. These are unqualified local success stories.

These examples show the potential impact that can be delivered when local authorities, local businesses and local arts organisations understand the fundamental role that arts and culture can play in delivering local growth. And that is why local authorities provide hundreds of millions of pounds each year to arts and culture.

But the potential for culture to play a central role in driving growth goes far beyond its direct economic impact. I would argue that culture should be seen as the standard bearer for our efforts to engage in cultural diplomacy, to develop soft power, and to compete, as a nation, in both trade and investment.

You will all have seen the GREAT campaign which was launched last year … Heritage is GREAT … Creativity is GREAT … Innovation is GREAT. All these themes market Britain to the rest of the world as precisely what we are – GREAT.

But when I started this job one theme particularly caught my eye – culture is GREAT. British culture is perhaps the most powerful and most compelling product we have available to us. The most compelling platform upon which we can stand.

The world was watching the UK during our Olympic and Paralympic year, and I was just reminded of what Britain had to offer. In fact, I think the world was a little surprised – and we were perhaps even a little surprised ourselves.

Either way, British culture and creativity are now more in demand than ever before. Just as Seb Coe summed up those fantastic Games, we should be increasingly proud to use the label: “Made in Britain,” or even “Created in Britain.” The world clearly thinks this is a commodity worth buying into.

Our cultural and creative excellence is recognised globally and our rich cultural offering is in great demand. So when The Globe Theatre, the ROH, the V&A or our hosts today, the British Museum, take their exhibitions and performances abroad, there isn’t a ticket unsold. And this isn’t just about the capital’s institutions – it’s the same story when Bolton’s museums visit China, when the Hay Festival establishes a presence in India or when Birmingham Royal Ballet performs in the USA, and many more examples could be listed here.

The world wants to buy into Britain – and this interest allows us, as a nation, to develop relationships which we can then take advantage of commercially. That doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over time, driving trust and understanding. This kind of “relationship marketing” helps UKTI to fly the flag for British goods and services, and attract investment which will drive jobs and opportunities here at home. It opens doors for UK plc and makes it easier for businesses to export, and expand.

And although these business opportunities are unlimited in scope, sometimes the benefits will be close to both home and heart. For example, the British architects Foster + Partners will deliver the master plan for developing the new £2 billion West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong, delivering a new museum of visual culture, several theatres and concert halls and other performance venues. I am sure some of you are eyeing up the possibilities already.

The arts and culture can unlock funding on a local, regional, national and international basis both in their own right and for other industries. And nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the case of the creative industries.

The close relationship, and mutual dependence, between culture and the creative industries is not lost on me, I spent over 20 years in the advertising industry and, as a former advertising executive, I know how fluid talent has become between the creative industry sub-sectors. These points are backed up by BAFTA’s research which shows most people migrate into film and television from theatre – and Skillset’s research which suggests more than three quarters of film workers cross over into other audio-visual productions.

Given that the global appeal of our creative industries is worth some £36 billion to our economy, is it essential that the underpinning role that culture plays is properly understood. It is also to be welcomed that the Arts Council sit on our Creative Industries Council, helping ensure our work is properly coordinated, so that we can ensure that work is really understood and co-ordinated.

Our creative artists are acknowledged as world-beaters – be it in stage design, music, CGI, or screenwriting. The National Theatre’s production of War Horse is a perfect example of a risky venture supported by public funding and creative expertise, which has gone global and crossed from cultural experimentation into commercial success. In the last few weeks, Matilda opened on Broadway with a box office advance of £10 million. Skyfall too has been a global success, with box office sales of more than £700 million at home and abroad.

The obvious value of such enterprises suggest we should be bold in encouraging new thinking, be ready to challenge the perceived status quo, and we should leverage the value of our cultural sector to keep the UK at the forefront of creative and economic innovation.

We should value the arts for their own sake. We should, and as a country we do but, now, in these tough economic times we need to make a broader case.
I will not stand in front of you today and try to convince you that things will be easy.

Quite simply the world is changing, and we must change with it; these are undoubtedly testing times; but arts and cultural organisations can adapt, grow and harness change. Whether it is through the Arts Council’s digital R&D work, through its fund for creative industry enterprises, or through The Space, we have shown that we can continue to be ambitious in our endeavours even when times are tough, or perhaps because times are tough.

We specialise in creativity and innovation, and I remain committed to supporting the long-term sustainability of UK art and culture. We need to work together: to create, and to innovate.


It goes without saying that culture’s value to our society is immeasurable. You all help frame what it means to be British, and you help to make this country the attractive place it is to live, work and visit. This, in turn, underpins our wider economic growth.

My call to you as arts and cultural leaders then is simple. I ask you:
• to continue to build resilience, self-confidence and self-reliance;
• to seek out new artistic and commercial opportunities;
• to position yourself squarely within the visitor economy;
• and to look for international opportunities which will benefit Britain.

For my part, I will continue to fight our corner in cabinet. I will position the arts not as on the periphery, but at the centre of economic growth and in that endeavour I ask for both your support and your ambition. And together, we can build a stronger sector, a stronger economy, and above all, a stronger Britain.

Thank you.