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FEBRUARY 8 2024

NEWS

Melvyn Bragg: Nadine Dorries created a ‘state-run arts country’

MATTHEW HEMLEY

Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg has criticised former culture secretary Nadine Dorries for making England a “state-run arts country” after she instructed Arts Council England to do as she “dictated”.

Bragg, speaking as part of a House of Lords debate on the contribution of the arts to the economy, highlighted the situation ACE found itself in after being instructed by Dorries to move money out of London, resulting in English National Opera having its funding withdrawn and being removed from the national portfolio.

“The way in which this was done disgraced the government. Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, ‘instructed’ in a short letter... Nicholas Serota, chairman of the Arts Council, to do as the government, that is, Nadine Dorries, dictated,” he said.

He added: “We had become, it seemed, a state-run arts country, one step away from the dictatorship of the state on the agenda.

Without being rude, what on earth was she playing at? Who did she think she was, and why did the government back her? ENO makes a profit, just as importantly as it makes a mark on the future of opera in this country. The Royal Opera House is besieged by not dissimilar troubles.”

Bragg said Dorries “did not stop there” as she then “threatened the reviewing of the BBC licence fee by 2027”.

“The finest cultural institution in this country is the BBC,” he said.

In his speech, Bragg said the creative arts generate more revenue than the life sciences and the aerospace and construction industries combined.

“However, the arts industry needs a radical overhaul. At present, it is dangerously patchy and punching way below its weight. Last year, there were more than 3 million job roles in the creative and cultural industries – and there could be more if we recognised and reached the full potential of what is still considered too often to be the cherry on the cake,”

he said, adding: “The arts are not the cherry on the cake – they are the cake.”

Responding in the debate, Stephen Parkinson, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, acknowledged that the government’s instruction to ACE before the last funding round had “made its job harder and presented it with some invidious choices”.

“However, I am proud that it has resulted in a record number of organisations being funded in more parts of the country than ever before,” he said, adding that the government’s forthcoming review of the Arts Council “allows us to ask some important structural questions about how ACE makes its decisions and sets its strategy, how it measures them and the timeframes by which government asks it to do it”.

During the debate, former culture minister Ed Vaizey also spoke, and described funding for the arts in this country as “not actually insubstantial, if you take the direct grants to museums, the grants through the Arts Council, the BBC itself, the tax credits that extend from film through to theatre and museums and, of course, university and local authority funding”.

“Although I accept that local authority funding is under intense pressure at the moment, this government also deserves a great deal of credit for the support it gave the arts throughout Covid,” he said.

However, he added: “The arts budget could be increased substantially for the arts insignificantly for what government spends overall, and it would make a difference.”

Vaizey said the government should “decide effectively what its national champions are – the national museums, flagship theatres – and fund them properly, securely and long-term”.

“Not to such an extent that it stifles their creativity, enterprise and philanthropic needs, but certainly to ensure that they do not have to keep looking over their shoulders to see whether they can keep the roof on,” he said.

Editor’s View, p6

Equity issues legal challenge to Spotlight over subscription charges

RSC names Andrew Leveson as executive director

GEORGIA LUCKHURST

Lawyers for Equity have demanded Spotlight justify the current rates of its subscription, or risk facing class action at the High Court.

It comes as the union ramps up its legal threat against the casting site, having previously warned that it would be campaigning for a change in the law so sites such as Spotlight are banned from charging performers, describing subscription fees as a “tax on hope”.

In its official “letter before action” that has been sent, Equity has also asked that Spotlight “immediately” alter access to its website so members can view all profiles within the casting directory.

If Spotlight does not comply or fails to provide “clear evidence” that members are not “being exploited beyond what the regulations allow”, Equity has sworn to take its case to court in order to enforce “a reduction in fees to a reasonable level”.

However, Spotlight managing director Matt Hood has since told The Stage he considers Equity’s approach “misguided and factually wrong”.

A representative for Equity declined to provide a deadline by which Spotlight had to respond to its claims, but said the union intended “to move as swiftly as possible”.

Under UK law, charging people seeking work for the right to join a directory is illegal in almost every sector.

The entertainment and modelling industries are exempt from these rules – although, in November last year, Equity’s council changed its position on this historic dispensation.

In a post published to Equity’s website, the trade union revealed it had “constructive discussions with the Labour Party”, which Equity said could include a commitment to scrap the exemption in its election manifesto.

But the union also alleged that no matter the current validity of Spotlight’s freedom to charge performers, the platform could be illegally overcharging.

The law stipulates that directories such as Spotlight should not charge more for subscriptions than “a reasonable estimate” of the cost of producing and circulating information and images about the jobseeker.

Equity said it “believes that Spotlight may be in breach of this key requirement, among others”, calculating that Spotlight’s monthly income from performers alone equated to more than £1.25 million a month.

In a statement provided to The Stage, Paul Fleming, Equity general secretary, said: “By very definition, those offering jobs have money, and those seeking them do not. We want to see a transition to end the industry-specific exemption that allows any casting platform to charge our members for inclusion. This transition can only start from the point of being fully assured that Spotlight is complying with its duties under the current regulations and is only charging our members the costs of inclusion in, and distribution of, the directory.”

He went on: “With the explosion in Spotlight membership, its continued rising subscriptions and the falling costs associated with digitisation, it is legitimate for Equity’s members to be reassured that they are complying with that duty.”

Spotlight provided a statement in response, saying the company was “disappointed” to receive a letter it characterised as “disingenuous and factually inaccurate”.

It said it had referred the matter to its legal team, and continued: “For almost 100 years, Spotlight has proudly offered performers the most cost-efficient and effective means to promote themselves and to be discovered for the best professional productions, and we have continued to evolve with our industry over this period.”

Tensions between the two organisations were highlighted last year when Spotlight announced plans for a new ‘premiere’ tier of membership – which it has since abandoned. • Spotlight is to roll out a “comprehensive range” of mental health, well-being, legal and financial services to all members over the age of 18. In a statement, the directory said it understood that “there are times when artists need more support”, after it abandoned plans in November to roll out a £294-per-year ‘premiere’ subscription tier.

MATTHEW HEMLEY

Andrew Leveson has been named executive director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Currently at the Bridge Theatre in London – where he is director of finance and administration – he replaces Catherine Mallyon, who stood down as executive director of the RSC last year.

Leveson will work alongside co-artistic directors Tamara Harvey and Daniel Evans. He takes up his role at the RSC at the end of April.

Leveson said: “To have the opportunity to play a key part in leading the next stage of the company’s history with Daniel and Tamara is an incredible privilege and responsibility – humbling and immensely exciting. I can’t wait to get started.”

Harvey and Evans said they had been “inspired by his ambitions for the company, as well as his deep love of theatre”.

“The vast experience and knowledge he has gained as an integral part of the team at the Bridge Theatre will be vital as we begin this new chapter at the RSC,” they added.

RSC board chair Shriti Vadera also praised Leveson’s “understanding of the theatre world” and his “flair for innovation”.

Leveson joined London Theatre Company – which operates the Bridge Theatre – in 2015 as general manager, before becoming director of finance and administration, working across all the company’s output since the Bridge opened in 2017.

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