NWR Issue 17


The Government's creation of a Department of National Heritage with responsibility for the arts, broadcasting and sport is an intriguing development. It creates for the first time in Britain an institution with which most other member countries of the European Community have long been familiar, namely a Ministry of Culture. In so far as it should increase the political clout of these reflective aspects of any healthy modern society, it holds out the promise of significantly increased resources for the arts, including literature.

If the Welsh Office (and for that matter the Scottish Office) follows usual practice, it will now be in the process of establishing a mirror department to implement and interpret the new Department of National Heritage's policies as they should apply to Wales. But it also presents the Welsh Office with a problem. Hitherto, the Welsh Office has studiously avoided developing a coherent cultural policy despite the fact that it is responsible for disbursing substantially more resources to the arts in Wales than the Welsh Arts Council itself.

It is not just the considerable resources which the Welsh Office channels into artistic endeavour in Wales via education and local authority grants. Take, for example, the National Museum of Wales. Its annual Government grant annually of some £15.5m. is channelled directly through the Welsh Office. It goes nowhere near the Welsh Arts Council. Other cultural responsibilities which the Welsh Office has accumulated in recent years include a substantial annual contribution towards the costs of staging the National Eisteddfod, life-saving payments to rescue the Sherman Theatre and the Welsh National Opera; and - of particular interest to those seeking to foster Wales's literary heritage - take-over of the direct funding of the Welsh Books Council

The Welsh Arts Council itself is heading for major change. From next April, Wales's arts funding body will have a new name, and different relationship with the regional arts associations. Consultations on their form and content are under way at present. In this context it is important that the literatures of Wales get a better deal in the 1990s than they suffered in the 1980s.

But this in turn is also going to be influenced by another dimension of the National Heritage Department's remit on which the Welsh Office also needs to have a firm view - broadcasting policy. Both the BBC Charter and S4C's unique arrangements within the broadcasting structure are due for renewal in the mid-1990s. It is vital the Welsh Office prepares itself politically and therefore intellectually to exert more muscle in this area or Wales could lose out badly.

Reshaping the delivery of services and support which have traditionally flowed from the Welsh Arts Council cannot be an excuse for ignoring the central issue: the need for the Welsh Office to adopt a clear, coherent cultural policy to match its role in other aspects of Welsh life.


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