Karen Bradley’s maiden speech was a short one, but was full of encouraging headlines for cultural learning:
1. Recognition of value beyond the economic argument
It was encouraging to hear Bradley begin her speech by celebrating the economic impact of culture, and then recognising that the value of the arts is much wider – particularly in terms of wellbeing and happiness.
2. Acknowledging impact on attainment
The speech immediately flagged the positive impact that the arts and culture can have on educational attainment, physical and mental health, community cohesion, and crime reduction – a welcome recognition of the evidence on this.
3. Equating arts subjects with STEM subjects.
In her speech Bradley quoted Professor Brian Cox:
‘no-one thinks they can simply pick up a violin and play but they think maths is a natural talent. But in truth, both music and maths take time – and hard work makes all the difference.’
This is important, as it clearly acknowledges the rigour and status of arts subjects and places them on an equal footing to subjects like maths.
4. Cross-departmental working with the Department of Education
‘I will be working closely with the new Education Secretary Justine Greening to make sure that no child is left out of this country’s magnificent and extraordinary cultural inheritance. Education is, of course, vital to expanding people’s horizons and developing lifelong passions.’
We have long called for the DCMS and the DfE to work more closely together at ministerial level and it’s great to hear that this is a priority for Bradley. It will be especially interesting to see how our new government engages with historical issues such as the EBacc; particularly as we are still waiting for the DfE to respond to the public consultation on their plans to give it further prominence (it closed on the 29th of January, so 7 months and counting!).
Even more heartening is Bradley’s statement that she will ‘be making sure the whole of government is involved.’ For the arts and culture to thrive, and for issues of access to really be addressed, the DCMS has to be in regular, high-level discussion and collaboration with other departments like the newly formed Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department (BEIS) , the Department of Community and Local Government (DCLG), HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office.
5. Incorporating Civil Society into the DCMS brief
One of the changes implemented by our new Prime Minister, Teresa May, is that the brief of ‘Civil Society’ (and Minister Rob Wilson) will be incorporated into the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. We think that this is a really positive move for a number of reasons: it brings flagship programmes like the Life Chances Fund and the National Citizenship Service much closer to arts policy, and increases the potential for joint working; but it should also enable our sector to further influence and be influenced by new ways of working and government funding strategies – such as Payment by Results or Social Impact Bonds. This is critical in a time of further shrinking resource and radically changing local government infrastructure. In her speech, Bradley mentioned a number of such schemes which will come under her department:
- The Affordable Lending Portal
- Big Society Capital
- The Centre for Social Action (with a fund administrated by NESTA ).
She also flagged the Community Organisers programme: an infrastructure that supports grass-roots delivery in communities, and which could be a useful partner for the cultural learning sector.
It was particularly good to hear plans to incorporate the arts into the broader National Citizenship Service – moving beyond the current Cultural Citizenship Service pilots that were announced in Ed Vaizey’s Culture White Paper earlier this year and which were confirmed in this speech (see Arts Professional for more details).
6. Commitment to the themes of the Culture White Paper
It seems that the Secretary of State will be broadly following the blueprint set out in this year’s Culture White Paper. All the major themes of Diversity, Place Making and Rebalancing funding between London and the regions, were included within the speech. The mentions of mental health, cohesion and links to Justice were also extremely welcome.
It was also encouraging also to hear the strategic headlines on how the aims and vision of the White Paper will be implemented:
‘we are going to pilot different schemes and expand and replicate the ones that work and do more of what we know works already.’
Action: Write to the Secretary of State
If you find yourself with a spare hour this August to write to Karen Bradley and congratulate her on the speech, introduce yourself as part of the cultural learning sector and share your thoughts, please do. It’s really important that she hears from her new constituents and finds out what we care about. You can find her details here https://www.karenbradley.co.uk/