SOLIHULL MP Julian Knight has questioned whether Arts Council England (Ace) can be taken seriously in terms of levelling up when it spends so much on the Royal Opera House in London compared with regional institutions.
Mr Knight, who is chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said members of the cross-party group had visited the venue in Covent Garden and found it to be ‘like the Starship Enterprise’.
He added: “I have never seen such largesse and luxury, in fact, in a cultural venue.
“It’s almost like it is another world compared to the experiences many on this committee will have with their local theatres and their local institutions and libraries.”
During the session on levelling up, the Conservative MP asked Ace chief executive Darren Henley why the organisation had subsided the opera venue ‘to a tune of £96million over four years and you spent £83 million on 54 priority places across the country?’.
Mr Henley replied: “Putting on opera is expensive.
“I would say the Royal Opera House employs something like 800 full-time employees in the cultural sector in London, with another much the same again in terms of freelancers.
“So I think there is something important there.
“For us I think it is important that opera as an art form is supported but (we) also very much want to make sure we are supporting all the other art forms as well.
“The music sector as well – we are putting more and more money into live music venues, for example, and that is something that has been a growth area for us. But you are right. It is a large amount of money.”
Stressing a move towards regional investment, he added: “One of the things we are doing in this next investment round for the National Portfolio Organisations is that we will be moving £16million out of London in each of the first two years – and then a further £8m on top of that in the third year of this funding round.”
Mr Knight asked Mr Henley whether he thought it was ‘entirely incongruous’ that such amounts went to ‘this highly privileged institution’ while the Government sought to level up elsewhere.
Mr Henley replied: “There will always be a mix.”