Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Thank you to everyone who got in touch with me about the English National Opera (ENO).
As an opera fan myself who regularly attends performances, it’s my strongly held belief that cultural organisations like the ENO give us pride and are at the core of our national identity. The ENO also provides accessible and affordable performances to the British public, including free tickets to people under the age of 21 and relaxed performances for those with sensory needs.
That’s why I share the concerns raised by many that during a cost-of-living crisis that threatens the survival of many cultural institutions, the Tory government proposed cutting funding to a key British cultural asset.
It’s right that individual decisions are for Arts Council England to make based on the performance, sustainability, and governance of individual organisations. However, I am concerned about how this decision was made and communicated, without any consultation with the ENO or cultural institutions outside of London. While it’s positive to see the expansion of opportunities for arts organisations nationwide, I don’t believe doing this by undermining London-based institutions of national importance is the right approach.
This lack of consultation is yet another instance of the Tories mismanaging our national cultural institutions and failing to seriously tackle regional inequalities. The Arts Council had suggested that the ENO could move to Manchester without even consulting the local Opera company, Opera North, nor local venues or representatives. In my view, the government should be urgently undertaking a strategic review of opera access across the UK as the ENO have asked for, taking in both large opera companies and much smaller grassroots organisations, so that future decisions are driven by proper data and research.
Nevertheless, I’m pleased that there has been progress towards a compromise, which will hopefully safeguard the jobs of those working at the ENO in London. The ENO will now be provided with £24 million to establish a base outside of London, while maintaining a home at its present Covent Garden location for a further year. It has also been invited to apply for further funding rounds to maintain its London location for a further three years. While I’m glad that under this new proposal it appears that common sense has prevailed and the right balance has been struck, I can’t help but feel that better consultation and decision-making could have averted this crisis from occurring in the first place.
Under the last Labour government, the arts were revitalised in Britain with free access to national museums introduced, increased funding for regional theatres, and importantly, stabilised funding. Please be assured that I will always stand up for our fantastic cultural institutions here in London and across the country.