Culture Secretary denies ‘destruction’ of cultural sector amid pandemic

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has denied he is “presiding over a complete destruction” of the cultural sector.

The minister defended his record while being questioned by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Asked by committee chair Julian Knight whether he is “presiding over a complete destruction” of the industry, he replied: “No, of course, is the short answer to that.”

He cited the £1.57 billion funding package to the arts and measures put in place for the film industry.

“We have achieved a huge amount in a short period of time against an extraordinary backdrop,” he said.

“I don’t want to suggest for one moment that I’m complacent…

“But I don’t think it’s a fair characterisation… to say we have presided over destruction. We have worked day in, day out.”

The Culture Secretary denied recipients of arts funding had to praise the Government to receive the recent tranche of grants up to £1 million, saying that was “certainly not the case”.

“What we did, when people receive the awards, we got in contact with them and said: ‘Do publicise it.’

“It was the case we encourage people to publicise it. This is taxpayers’ money that is being spent.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to alert people to the fact that it is there. It’s perfectly normal as part of awarding funds for there to be publicity associated with it.

“Many people have completely independently welcomed it and rightly so,” he added.

“It puts to bed this myth around Conservative governments and the arts. We know the value of it (the arts) and we are demonstrating it.”

Mr Dowden was asked about Operation Sleeping Beauty, a plan to bring some theatre back by Christmas.

“Clearly we are facing very strong headwinds right now” with “a rising level of infections”, Mr Dowden said.

“So that has limited what we can do. We are continuing the work behind the scenes to ensure that we can get things going again.”

The Government is continuing to “prepare pilots for, if we are at the point where we get mass testing available … so people can safely go to the theatre without social distancing”.

Mr Dowden added: “We are pushing ahead on all of those, but it has been slow given we can’t make any further easements at this stage”, because of the prevalence of Covid-19.

The Culture Secretary said that he is not ready to announce a date theatres can open without social distancing “because of where we are with the disease right now”.

But he suggested that theatres could be given a “not before date” in March or April.

He added that if he had previously said to go ahead with this year’s pantomime season without social distancing “all guns blazing, I’d now be turning around to those producers saying: ‘Hang on, look at where we are with the disease.'”

Mr Dowden also denied offering Charles Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, the job of BBC chairman.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first choice to be chairman was reported to have ruled himself out of the running earlier this month.