Art, culture and sport can empower people in our communities, whether that’s youth theatres bringing children into the performing arts or boxing clubs keeping teenagers on the straight and narrow.
The Budget was an opportunity to show the Government is serious about their much-discussed “levelling-up” agenda – and to put art, culture and sport at the heart of their offer. It failed to do that.
Yes, the COVID-19 measures, particularly the changes to business rates, will be welcomed by the creative industries, but much more needs to be done to protect the freelancers and small venues that keep the industry running.
The new money for art and sports education, meanwhile, is a drop in the water given that Tory cuts are squeezing the creative arts off the curriculum in nine out of ten schools.
And while investment in bricks-and-mortar infrastructure is long overdue – with London getting nearly three times as much spent on transport per head as the North – there was no new funding for cultural infrastructure such as theatres, museums and arts centres.
None of this is good enough. The “levelling up” agenda has to be about giving people the skills and opportunities they need to thrive and enjoy wonderful creative careers.
As a young girl growing up on an estate in Batley I was lucky enough to have the opportunities many don’t – I managed to build a great career in the arts as an actor and writer.
But when I look back at that same estate, I fear that the kids growing up today won’t have access to those same opportunities.
Our talent isn’t in question: just look at how we punch above our weight in terms of sport. As a Yorkshirewoman born-and-bred, I was unimaginably proud when Yorkshire produced more London 2012 medallists than Australia, South Africa or Japan.
But you need support, training and opportunities to realise talent and we don’t always have that.
We urgently need a revolution in creative skills funding, ensuring everyone – from young people to career switchers – can access the very best training available. We’re seeing some steps in the right direction here, such as the new Centre of Screen Excellence in Leeds which will help to train the next generation of talent.
We also need to properly fund our cultural infrastructure, because it’s local youth theatres and art centres that allow people to start off in their careers.
In West Yorkshire we boast world-class sporting and cultural institutions, from Leeds United and Huddersfield Town to BBC Yorkshire, the Hockney Gallery and Bradford Alhambra Theatre.
But I don’t want to see our cultural life start and end with our big cities, as vibrant and wonderful as they are. We shouldn’t be in the business of making miniature Londons out of Leeds and Bradford: rather, we need to unlock the creative talent and energy of all of our communities, no matter how big or small.
This will mean providing sustainable funding sources for genuinely grassroots sport and culture. In my constituency alone we have Creative Scene, who produce some of the best work I’ve ever seen on a shoestring budget, and the Mount Cricket Club which is a wonderful way into the sport for young people from the local Asian community. Imagine how much more these projects could do if they didn’t have to worry about where the funding will come from to stay open year upon year.
This is about giving working-class people in our communities the right to be the next Stormzy, the next Jessica Ennis, the next Maxine Peake. To be the leading athletes, creatives and digital entrepreneurs of the next generation.
If the Government isn’t interested in this agenda, we need to drive it forward ourselves. The new West Yorkshire Mayor should treat culture and sport as an integral part of their mission for our region.
This will mean demanding more from central Government. Yes, we’re getting £25 million for the British Library North in Leeds – but I want to see much more for projects in our towns and villages, too.
And while the new Mayor will have full control of West Yorkshire’s £63 million annual Adult Education Budget, they won’t be able to do a lot with it when that same budget has been slashed nearly in half since 2010.
So we need someone who can stand up to Westminster and demand more for our region. They also need to be an ambassador for the region on the international stage, making West Yorkshire known as the best place in the world to start a film studio, open a theatre, or invest in a local football team.