Sajid Javid's Culture For All speech

Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport's arts and culture speech at St George’s Bristol

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you so much for taking the time to come along and join me today at St George’s Bristol.

It’s a beautiful old building.

I’m pleased to say that it was not only refurbished with public funding 15 years ago, but was also built with a government grant back in 1821.

As we’re in a church I’m going to start by making a confession.

My name’s Sajid Javid.

And I used to be a banker.

No point denying it.

When I became an MP back in 2010 I had a unique sensation – I was the only member of the new intake who was moving into a more popular profession!

I’m afraid there’s more.

I’m a firm believer in the benefits of free-market capitalism.

And the rumours are true.

On the wall of my office there is picture of the great Baroness Thatcher.

Some say this all means I’m unqualified to be in charge at DCMS.

That building a career in finance means I’m insufficiently artistic.

That you can only understand and appreciate culture if you spent your formative years in the stalls of the Royal Opera House.

But I don’t agree with them.

I believe my background, my experience and the life that brought me here have given me exactly the qualities that are required to carry out my job.

And today I’m going to share with you why.

Throughout my career – first in finance, then in the Commons, then in the Treasury – I have always been clear that the job of government isn’t to tell people and organisations what to do.

It’s to create an environment in which they can thrive.

To stand behind them, not stand in their way.

I’m applying the same principle in my new job.

Britain has a world-beating cultural life, we punch well above our weight.

Our heritage draws visitors from around the globe, with record numbers of overseas tourists visiting the UK last year.

We have the most talented people on the planet working in creation, curation and conservation.

So I’m not going to lecture you on how culture should look, sound and feel.

I’m also Secretary of State for Sport, but it’s not my job to tell Roy Hodgson who should be in his starting line-up next Saturday.

And you don’t have to worry that I’m going to insist you focus solely on the bottom line.

That I know the price of everything and value of nothing.

After all, as Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room Of One’s Own, it would be “abject treachery” to…

Actually, I have to confess that that line was given to me by my speechwriter. So maybe I should quote someone I’m familiar with from my younger days.

What we do in this country is great because, far from being ruled by central diktats, our “culture is based on freedom and self-determination”.

That’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

The Next Generation, season three, episode 26.

But I’m going to make one request of you today.

I want you to make what you do accessible to everyone.

That doesn’t mean striving for popularity and aiming for the lowest common denominator.

It means ensuring that everyone in the UK has the opportunity to engage with our artists and actors, our history and heritage.

It means giving everyone a chance to develop their own cultural tastes.

Never forget that every penny of taxpayer support and lottery cash that goes to culture has been provided by hard-working people from every community in the UK.

Communities like the one I grew up in, just a couple of miles from where we are this morning.

My family lived on a road that has been described as “Britain’s most dangerous street”.

And for a bus driver’s son in that world, the idea of popping along to the Donmar Warehouse – or even the Bristol Old Vic – to take in a cutting-edge new production was simply not on the agenda.

It wasn’t what people like me, people from my background did.

As a youngster, the closest I ever came to the creative industries was when the careers adviser at Downend Comprehensive told me I should work in television.

Repairing them at Radio Rentals.

So I had a pretty mainstream cultural education.

The kind millions of Britons will recognise.

I like Star Trek.

I like U2.

And, although I fear the feeling is not reciprocated, I really do like Michael Rosen.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been on a bear hunt with the kids. Yet I’ve always been aware of the power of culture.

One of my earliest memories – it must have been when I was about six – is of a rare family outing to the former cinema in St Pauls in Bristol.

We were there to see Sholay, probably the biggest Bollywood film of all time.

It certainly made an impression.

Four decades later I still vividly recall sitting there, transfixed by this amazing spectacle unfolding on the big screen.

Just as Clemency Burton-Hill recently said of classical music, I didn’t have to have credentials to be able to see it and feel it and respond to it.

It’s a sensation I’ve felt many times in the years that followed, including in my period so far as Secretary of State.

In the past couple of months I’ve been fascinated by centuries-old newspapers at the British Library and awed by Viking longships at the British Museum.

I’ve been entertained by Shakespeare at the Globe.

I’ve been moved by Haydn at the Royal Festival Hall.

I’ve been transported back to my childhood by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Khandan at the Birmingham Rep.

These haven’t just been passive experiences – I’ve witnessed things that have genuinely moved me.

Culture has a unique ability to do that.

But not everybody is able to discover it for themselves.

I certainly didn’t have the opportunities that I do now.

And while I know that a lot has changed since I was a child, there are still far too many people in our country who are effectively excluded from what should be our shared cultural life.

On one of my first days in this job I saw a graph that plotted visits to galleries and museums against socio-economic group.

And as you moved down the socio-economic scale, so the number of visits declined too.

A lot of people who are paying to support culture through their taxes and lottery tickets seem to think that consuming it is simply not for them.

That the work they subsidise is for other, richer people. Just last weekend Michael Volpe from Opera Holland Park wrote about 50-year-olds he grew up with who have never even set foot in a theatre.

And working-class kids who do engage with the arts world face huge hurdles if they try to start a career in it.

Entry-level positions inevitably come with low pay or sometimes no pay, effectively barring access if you don’t have the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ to fall back on.

For a sector that receives so much public subsidy, that’s unacceptable.

The Arts Council’s £15 million Creative Employment Programme is a step in the right direction, helping to support the creation of traineeships and apprenticeships for young unemployed people.

But more must be done to ensure that everyone with the potential to engage with our cultural industries has a fair opportunity to do so. And when I say everyone, I really do mean everyone.

According to National Statistics, adults from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are significantly less engaged with the arts than their white counterparts.

BME taxpayers help support culture in just the same way as white taxpayers, but they’re much less likely to attend a performance or visit a gallery.

And while 14 per cent of the UK’s population is non-white, BME applicants were awarded just 5.5 per cent of Grants for the Arts awards last year.

Why is this?

Are BME people simply less artistic, less talented?

Of course not.

If there’s a lack of BME artists applying for funding we have to ask ourselves why.

Are there enough visible role models?

Are we developing talent in the right way?

Are cultural institutions making enough of an effort to reach out to ethnic minority communities and say “This is for you, too”?

It’s good news that our NPOs are being encouraged to boost diversity in arts and culture.

Elsewhere, Lenny Henry and others have been working with my colleague Ed Vaizey to look at ways we can get more diversity in the TV industry.

So it’s important that we make culture accessible to everyone regardless of who they are.

But the same must be true of where they are.

And that means embracing people who don’t live in London!

Don’t get me wrong, our capital city is a cultural giant.

It’s a global centre of excellence, the powerhouse that drives art across the UK.

Everyone in Britain can be proud of London’s contribution.

But some people claim the government and Arts Council only care about what happens inside the M25.

That we believe there’s little outside London worth spending money on. I know not everyone agrees with the recent reports published by David Powell, Peter Stark and Christopher Gordon, but they certainly added fuel to the debate about funding for culture in the regions.

It’s a debate that’s been going on for far too long, so I’m pleased to see some progress finally being made.

70 per cent of arts Lottery funding now goes outside London, compared to 60 per cent over the lifetime of the Lottery.

Thanks to the generosity of Anthony d’Offay, The Artist Rooms project has created a new collection of contemporary art to share across the UK.

And the national institutions are increasingly running touring exhibitions and loaning works to local centres.

So things are starting to improve.

But if we’re going to make real, lasting improvements it’s important to stamp out a few myths.

First, there are people who claim the funding gap is justified because the 85 per cent of Britons who live outside London just have less of an appetite for culture.

You don’t need me to tell you that’s nonsense.

Just look around right now.

St George’s is 120 miles from the capital but every year tens of thousands of visitors walk through its doors to experience live music.

Second, there’s the idea that vibrant cultural life cannot thrive outside major urban centres.

Yet when the Northern Ballet took its new production of The Ugly Duckling to 20 towns and cities last year, ticket sales ran at almost 90 per cent. In places like Hexham and Whitby and Barrow-in-Furness, audiences flocked to theatres and art centres to see top performers in action.

And all over the country, in Buxton, Newbury, East Lindsey and beyond, arts festivals in small towns and villages draw visitors from around the world.

Finally, it’s simply not true that all of our world-beating, money-making cultural institutions are based in the capital.

Again, there’s a great example in Bristol – the Old Vic’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream shattered box office records here before going on a hugely successful international tour.

In the past few months it has played to packed houses in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and – yes – London.

There is obviously a huge appetite for culture outside the South East and we – the government and the sector – have a responsibility to make sure it’s sated. This isn’t about London versus the regions, or making cuts in the capital to support largesse elsewhere.

It’s about making sure that everyone gets access to great culture wherever they are.

I’m sure many of you are sitting there now thinking “That’s a noble goal, Sajid, but where is the money we need to achieve it?”

So let’s talk about funding for a moment.

Over the past four years you have worked wonders with your budgets.

The arts sector alone will receive £3 billion of public funding during this Parliament.

And because of the steps you’ve taken, more of that is going to support the artists who need it, with less wasted on bureaucracy. But there is another potential source of income out there.

I read recently that London is home to more billionaires than any other city on the planet.

One of the reasons such people choose to live here is our world-beating cultural scene and there’s no reason why they can’t do more to support it.

Sir Michael and Lady Hintze recently made headlines with their extremely generous £5 million unrestricted donation to the Natural History Museum.

I want to see more of our most successful citizens and residents doing the same.

I know it can be tough for smaller organisations to attract donors, especially in the regions.

But there are plenty of success stories out there – from Hornby’s support for the National Railway Museum in York, to Hines Associates backing the Kneehigh Theatre in Truro.

And remember that support doesn’t just have to come from billionaires or multinational corporations.

Attract enough small donors and it all adds up over time.

The National Trust has been doing so for years.

Each of its members contributes a relatively small amount to supporting our heritage, but together they generate tens of millions of pounds.

So I’ll be working with the sector to help smaller organisations become active fundraisers, particularly targeting those who are not currently giving to the arts.

I’ll be encouraging philanthropists to support culture right across the UK.

I’ll be in touch with my former colleagues at the Treasury so the tax breaks designed to encourage philanthropy are well-publicised and widely understood.

And I’ll make sure the new tax credits for theatre really deliver for the sector.

Tax credits have already been a multi-million pound success story for many of our other creative industries, including helping to keep Aardman Animations right here in Bristol.

Now I want our theatres to share in that success, letting directors put more of their budget on the stage and less in the pocket of the taxman.

The Government is also supporting the artists of the future.

We’re investing £340 million over three years to support music and cultural education for children all around the country.

That includes £84 million to help exceptionally talented young musicians and dancers by paying fees for low-income families.

Art & Design and Music remain statutory subjects within the national curriculum up to the age of 14.

And, in fact, the number of children entering GCSEs in those subjects actually went up this year.

And having seen an audience full of teenagers utterly gripped by The Young Vic’s production of A View From The Bridge, I’m more than happy to confirm that Arthur Miller has not been banned from the nation’s classrooms.

Harper Lee’s Mockingbird has not been killed.

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath have not been squashed. Britain leads the world in culture and creativity, and in recent weeks I’ve seen evidence of that right on my doorstep.

For the first time in history, the Houses of Parliament have been opened up to a commercial film crew.

They’re making Suffragette, the story of the women who fought for the right to vote.

I’m sure there are people who would say that, compared to universal suffrage, ensuring universal access to culture is not really an issue at all.

But as the What Next group have said, culture is more than a privilege.

It’s at the core of who we are and how we define ourselves.

If you’re not engaged with our cultural life, you’re not engaged with our national life.

And in 2014, too many Britons are culturally disenfranchised.

This isn’t a problem that will be solved simply by throwing money at it.

You need to use your imaginations, explore fresh ways of looking at old issues. You already do this every day to create new works, so why not apply the same thinking to capturing new audiences and nurturing new talents?

It can be done.

Sir John Sorrell’s Saturday Club is giving talented teenagers from challenging social backgrounds the opportunity to study art and design at their local college or university.

Bristol’s M-Shed has made great strides in attracting audiences that reflect this diverse city. And when, in 1977, I queued up with my brothers to see Star Wars at the Bristol Odeon, I could never have imagined that one day I’d visit the set of a news Star Wars film here in Britain.

A film with, if the rumours are to believed, a black actor from south London in the lead role.

Yet it’s happening, and it’s happening because someone at Theatre Peckham saw John Boyega’s potential and supported him so that he could fulfil it.

Remember that picture of Baroness Thatcher on my wall?

One of the reasons it’s there is because she showed that it’s possible to rise from humble beginnings and reach the top.

Even in a profession where your face, or voice, or name doesn’t fit.

The same should be true of the industry you all work in. I believe that culture is for everyone.

I believe that the colour of your skin, the size of your bank balance and the town where you live should not be a barrier to participation and progress.

And I believe that, as a sector, we can and we must do more to make that vision a reality.

Published 6 June 2014