Culture secretary

Culture Secretary blasted for Portsmouth ‘photo op’ without listening to arts bosses

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, left, chats with a historical interpreter during a visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to announce how the £300million Culture Recovery Fund will be spent. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Oliver Dowden has used the impressive HMS Victory as the backdrop for a tender announcement for the Cultural Recovery Fund’s remaining £300million.

But local theater and hall bosses – who hope to bid for the money – were not invited and accused Mr Dowden of missing an opportunity to hear from them.

Kings Theater general manager Paul Woolf told The News: ‘It’s a real shame he didn’t tell anyone he was coming – we could have had a good little chat.

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Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, right, with Andrew Baines, Deputy Executive Director of Museum Operations at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, walk under HMS Victory during a visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to announce how the The final £300m from the Culture Recovery Fund will be spent. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

“I emailed and texted him – it would have been really nice to know, we could have installed a chinwag at the shipyard or at the Kings.

“There’s no point in visiting a city outside of London just for a photo shoot.

“If you come all this way, you want to take the opportunity.”

Mr Woolf added: “It’s a shame they don’t do that – they seem impervious to listening, they listen to Andrew Lloyd Webber – he’s a person.”

“My voice is as valid when it comes to theaters as it is when it comes to Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

The Southsea theater won £350,000 in the first round and around £170,000 in the second – but have yet to receive the full money.

Some 90% of the first installment has been received, but less than a third of the second has been disbursed.

“This money is absolutely necessary,” Mr Woolf said. “These grants are meant to cover losses and cover costs – it’s not free money.”

“For CRF, you have to bid for the money and show that you need it and what you’re going to do with it.

“When there is a delay, you always have the cost.”

He added that he welcomes the announcement of the third installment and hopes the Kings will be eligible.

Yesterday’s event was described by the culture department as a “closed” visit and The news was not invited.

But a photographer from the Press Association was present to take the images which were then distributed to the press.

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Andy Grays, of the Guildhall Trust, said he believed the sector’s case had been put to Mr Dowden but would have asked him to listen more anyway.

The sites assume that full reopenings can take place in the fall, allowing all to recoup losses.

He said: “The question for him would be if not, is the suggestion that this particular slice of silver is actually another cast?”

Mr Grays added: “The CRF is fantastic but it is not the answer to the sector.

“The sector must in fact reopen. If the Guildhall Trust were to receive £300,000-400,000 that would be fantastic for the next few months, but the fact is it has to reopen.

He wants the results of the test pilots’ live concerts to be released, along with clarification on the sustainability of social distancing requirements.

He said: “I’m so thrilled that the Culture Secretary has finally accepted my invitation to see our city’s vibrant cultural offerings.

“I welcome the funding our historic shipyard attractions have received through the Cultural Recovery Fund, but the sector as a whole continues to face a number of serious challenges.

‘Many organizations are facing another month of closure due to the government’s chaotic border policy and ministers are refusing to tell the truth about the results of the event research programme, meaning many events seeking to bounce back this year are facing crippling uncertainty.

“The photo ops and victory laps are great, but Portsmouth’s cultural assets need full support to see them through their biggest challenge in living memory.”

Some £1.2million has been donated by the CRF to support both the Mary Rose and the on-site boat building academy.

The funding follows Mary Rose losing 80% of her income due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Matthew Sheldon, executive director of museum operations at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said he was delighted to give Mr Dowden a “lightning tour of HMS Victory”.

He added: “It was a truly valuable opportunity to demonstrate the importance of heritage and museums to the cultural mix of the country and to thank DCMS for their support.

“Although the National Museum of the Royal Navy is not directly eligible for the Culture Recovery Fund, we wish every success in their bid to the Mary Rose – our operating partners at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.”

MP Mr Morgan was also hopeful that a Government-backed insurance scheme for festivals could be announced – something the industry is calling for.

He said: ‘I’ve been calling for this since March to support our city, but ministers have been dragging their feet. Today, delays in easing restrictions threaten the recovery of our vibrant cultural sector which has been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

“Major events and festivals will struggle to endure another wasted summer. Ministers must act now to secure jobs, promote local economic growth and help our city bounce back.

The CRF is doling out £2billion to the cultural sector after the Covid-19 pandemic decimated revenue.

Some £1.2 billion has been distributed, including to more than 5,000 organizations in England.

The third round of funding will consist of “supporting major work and repair grant programs for endangered heritage”.

In a statement, Mr. Dowden said: “Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has already helped thousands of organizations across the country survive and protected hundreds of thousands of jobs. “

“Now, as we look forward to full reopening, this funding shows our commitment to supporting culture and heritage throughout the pandemic.

“This round of funding will provide an extra boost to help organizations build back better and ensure we can support more people in need – safeguarding our treasured culture and heritage, and the jobs they support.”

News‘view on ‘closed’ visit

Burning questions remain over government support for the UK cultural sector.

Nor in Portsmouth where theatres, festivals and museums are desperately trying to get back on a stable footing after repeated closures.

This week, Victorious Festival made its latest announcement regarding its lineup – an indication that the city’s premier festival is gearing up full speed ahead to take place.

But that doesn’t make one wonder why the government won’t act with an insurance scheme that will help revelers and festival businesses if the worst happens.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden could have taken a few minutes to answer questions from The News during his visit to the historic Portsmouth Dockyard on Thursday.

Instead, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport did not even invite this newspaper to its announcement in the heart of the city.

It is a snub to the inhabitants of this city for whom we proudly hold – on a daily basis – the power to be accountable.

If Mr. Dowden is afraid of the local newspaper in this town, what does he have to hide?

This is a question we can add to our list.

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron