Labour party’s tough talk on export licences and access to art
New shadow minister says more works should stay in Britain—and be seen by the public
By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 21 November 2013
Helen Goodman, Labour’s new shadow minister for culture, says she will take a tough line over the export of masterpieces and public access to works of art which are conditionally exempt from tax if Labour wins the next election. Last week, she made a keynote speech at the UK Museums Association conference in Liverpool calling for fundamental reforms.
Goodman, the MP for Bishop Auckland, in north-east England, since 2005, took over as shadow culture minister in October, reporting to shadow secretary of state Harriet Harman. Three years ago Goodman supported a campaign to save the series of paintings of Jacob and his 12 sons (1640-44) by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaránin in Auckland Castle. She is a trustee of the Auckland Castle Trust.
In her Liverpool speech, Goodman complained that Conservative arts minister Ed Vaizey keeps putting out press releases saying that he is stopping exports of major artworks: “He isn’t. He is merely pressing the pause button for six months.” She argues that in 2011 to 2012, 60% (by value) of export-deferred works of art ended up going abroad. “Unless we can change the rules, this trend will accelerate. Museums are already facing heavy government cuts and are in no position to find millions to save these objects.”
Goodman pointed out that French museums are given 30 months to save works from export, “a serious amount of time to get up campaigns and raise funds”. She promised to take “a serious look” at the French model.
Goodman also said that 115,000 collections and works are conditionally exempt from estate and inheritance tax, worth more than £1bn. Although some allow public access, Goodman wants tougher conditions imposed on owners. She is calling for the length of time that objects should be accessible doubled from 28 to 56 days a year. Owners should be required to lend works to exhibitions for up to six months on request. And information on objects recorded on the government’s online database should be increased from a few words to a full description, along with images.
Goodman also said she was “appalled” at the findings of a recent independent report, “Rebalancing our Cultural Capital”, which reveals a massive disparity in government arts spending in London and the rest of England. She described culture secretary Maria Miller as “presiding over a centralisation of which Louis XIV would have been proud”.
“Rebalancing our Cultural Capital”, produced by an independent group of three authors, Peter Stark, Christopher Gordon and David Powell, found that in 2012 to 2013 the Arts Council distributed £320m to the arts, with £20 per head of population going to London and £3.60 per head to the rest of England. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport gave £450m to “national” arts institutions (primarily museums), with £49 per head to London and £1 per head to the rest of England. Taking the two figures together works out at £69 per head for London and £4.60 per head for the rest of England.
There is also Arts Council lottery money. Since 1995 it has totalled £3.5bn, which works out at £165 per head for London and £47 a head for the rest of England.
The report concludes with an innovative recommendation: the creation of a new National Investment Programme of £600m over five years, to benefit cultural production outside London. This would be funded by limiting London’s access to Arts Council lottery money to the same per-capita share as the rest of England.
A spokesman for Miller’s department described the report as “an interesting piece of work” which it would “closely consider”. He stressed the need to be “always vigilant to ensure that the distribution of public money is fair”.
The chief executive of Arts Council England, Alan Davey, said that he “welcomes the debate”, saying that, although there had been important investment in regional projects, “there is more to do”. Davey added: “The per-capita figures give a misleading impression that London is just for Londoners. National organisations based in London belong to the nation. They have a role in artistic development, pioneering digital platforms and touring across England.”
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