Thursday 14 November 2019

Brass bands losing out to opera: MP

An MP has welcomed an increase in funding for brass bands but says more needs to be done.
An MP has welcomed an increase in funding for brass bands but says more needs to be done.

Brass bands have been losing out to opera as the middle class lobby sways funding for middle class luvvies, a Conservative MP said.

Opera is in line to receive £347.4 million during the five years of the current Parliament compared to £1.8 million for brass bands, new figures show.

Cash for the bands has increased from £75,521 in 2010/11 to £550,495 in 2013/14, while opera has seen a drop from a 2012/13 high of £80.9 million to £65.8 million in 2013/14.

Philip Davies, a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee member, insisted he was pleased the "woeful" funding for brass bands had been alleviated but said the issue symbolised concerns in the North about Arts Council funding.

He noted the overwhelming majority of funding given to opera is for London and the South East, adding that Yorkshire MPs held a long-standing concern that brass bands have not been getting a " fair lick of the saucepot".

Shipley MP Mr Davies, who unearthed the figures via a parliamentary question, said: " I'm quite pleased to see funding for brass bands has risen but there's still a massive disparity in the figures over the five years of this Parliament for opera and brass bands.

"I know some of that money on opera is spent in the North, including in Leeds.

"The overwhelming majority of that funding is for London and the South East and I just think even though I am pleased to see the woeful funding for brass bands has been slightly alleviated... the question symbolises an issue many people in the North have with the relative funding of the Arts Council.

"Brass bands are really an essential part of the local community all over the country, particularly for people like us in the North.

"In Bradford, where I am, we are particularly proud of the Black Dyke Brass Band. They provide an awful lot of pleasure and are also an essential part of the local community.

"The recognition brass bands deserve is not always given so I'm delighted the Arts Council has recognised there's a problem by increasing the funding.

"The other thing, I don't really want to pigeon-hole things, but brass bands may be perceived as working class and opera as middle and upper class things.

"I think perhaps there is a worry that in effect the middle class lobby at the Art Council are keen to fund the things that middle class luvvies like. That's a concern.

"I would stress, I welcome the fact the Arts Council has recognised an issue and started to put it right.

"I still think most people find the disparity in funding too much but the figures are there and people will draw their own conclusions."

The Arts Council's figures given to Mr Davies show brass bands received £75,521 in 2010/11, £289,739 in 2011/12 and £362,829 in 2012/13.

In 2013/14, the bands are expected to have received £550,495 and in 2014/15 this drops slightly to a predicted £531,626.

The five-year total is £1,810,210.

Opera received £69.7 million in 2010/11, £65.8 million in 2011/12 and £80.9 million in 2012/13.

For 2013/14, opera is set to have been given £65.8 million and is estimated to pick up £65 million in 2014/15.

The five-year total is £347,391,472.

On the role of brass bands in his life, Mr Davies said: "I was born and brought up in (Labour leader) Ed Miliband's constituency (Doncaster North), which is full of mining villages.

"That's my background and heritage - brass brands were always part of the local community wherever I have lived and I think they do not just bring a lot of pleasure but are part of the fabric of the community."

Mr Davies said he believes there is a frustration among MPs, particularly in Yorkshire, about the lack of cash for the bands.

He added: "I've been in Parliament for nine years. There's been long-standing concern among Yorkshire MPs of all parties that this is an issue and that brass bands haven't been getting a fair lick of the saucepot."

Addressing why he asked the question, Mr Davies explained the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into arts funding.

He went on: " All of the credit for the question must go to the former Labour MP Jeff Ennis, who was MP in Barnsley up until the last election and he was chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on brass bands.

"I remember him asking this question in the last Parliament and the diversity of the figures was quite striking. I see this as a question in his honour and it is solely down to him."

PA Media

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