In his first major speech on the arts, Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged to “put policy for arts and culture and creativity at the heart of the next Labour government’s mission.”

Speaking at Battersea Arts Centre last night during an event organised by the Creative Industries Federation, he said: “The importance of the arts and culture for me goes far beyond pounds and pence… publicly-funded art and culture is vital to our dynamism as a country.”

Quoting figures from the recently published Warwick Commission report, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, which highlight the decline in creative opportunities for young people in education, he said: “The number of primary school children taking part in music fell from well over half in 2010, to just over a third by 2013.

“The number of arts and culture teachers in schools has fallen by 11 per cent since 2010. And in 2013, only 8.4 per cent of students combined arts and culture and science subjects at AS level.

“In my view, this is a direct consequence of a backward-looking, narrow educational philosophy from a government that has gone from the Gove regime, to the Gove regime in all but name. We have to turn that round.”

He pledged to do this by guaranteeing “every young person, from whatever background, access to the arts and culture: a universal entitlement to a creative education for every child.”

This would be done by strengthening creative education in schools and after-school clubs and by building “clear paths from school, college and university into the arts and culture or creative industries.” He added that he would use “the power of the Prime Minister’s office to raise the status of arts and culture policy and improve provision for young people across the country.”

Prime Minister’s committee

Interviewed about the speech by John Wilson on Radio 4’s Front Row progamme, Miliband said he would set up a committee on arts, culture and the creative industries chaired by the prime minister, and pledged that a Labour government would not consider abolishing the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

“It seems to me that arts and culture policy have got to move from just being about the department of culture to being about every department across Whitehall,” he said.

During the interview, Miliband also reiterated Labour’s commitment to free museums and galleries – a policy brought in by Labour culture secretary Chris Smith in 2001 – and addressed the problem of unpaid internships in the arts.

Stressing the key role of the arts and creative industries to the country both economically and culturally, he said: “I deeply regret what this government has done on the downgrading of arts and culture. It makes no sense to devalue these areas.”

A key theme was the importance of reinstating the arts as a vital part of every child’s education. Responding to a question about accessibility to the arts, and in particular Warwick Commission findings about how middle class and white most arts audiences are, he said: “It does go back to education you know. What happens in education is fundamental.”

Pre-election events

Miliband’s speech at Battersea Arts Centre was the first of a series of events hosted by the Creative Industries Federation featuring senior politicians in the lead up to the General Election in May.

Shadow minister for the arts Chris Bryant will discuss Labour’s cultural plans on 25 February at The Custard Factory, Birmingham, while on 16 March in London (venue TBC) education secretary Nicky Morgan will outline the government’s position on cultural education.

On 8 April at the Royal Opera House, London, the Creative Industries Hustings will see culture minister Ed Vaizey and deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, along with spokespeople from the other major political parties, debate their parties’ policies on the arts and creative industries.

Launched in November 2014, the Creative Industries Federation is a national membership organisation for the UK’s public arts, commercial creative industries and cultural education.

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