Webchat with Ed Vaizey MP
Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries, joined us on 31 Jan 2011 for a webchat. He discussed government plans for music education in schools, net neutrality and library closures.
jonicomelately: You are abolishing the Film Council. The Oscar-nominated film The King's Speech was backed by the Film Council. The success of this film, and others like it, adds to the fiscal and cultural wellbeing of our nation. Where precisely are filmmakers going to get their funding from in the future? I'd like specific answers, please.
Ed Vaizey: The funding for British film will be handled by the British Film Institute from this April. We are aiming for a seamless transition, and filmmakers tell us that there has been no disruption in their applications. We have increased Lottery funding for film, which will rise from £27m to £40m, Film4 is also increasing support from £10m to £15m and today a film finance company announced a deal with a US distributor to make three British films a year.
So I think the investment climate for British film is looking good. I should also add that the BFI is increasing the film production fund by £3m next year. The abolition of the UK Film Council was a tough decision to make - but in a tough economic climate we felt we had to make the savings where we could, and by saving on overhead we can secure investment in film.
TondelayoSchwarzkopf: The film finance company that is investing in British films is Murdoch's Fox for everyone's info.
Ed Vaizey: Yes, the same company that distributed Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours.
TondelayoSchwarzkopf: David Cameron said he wanted Britain to make more films like Harry Potter. JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book on benefits and the second on a £8,000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council. I don't know off the top of my head how much the Harry Potter franchise has brought in investment to the UK, but it is measured in billions, I imagine, rather than millions. And it continues to build - with a Harry Potter theme park soon being built in Leavesden.
Would you agree that investment in the arts and creative industries is not something worthy and nice-to-do, but rather integral to our economy and necessary for growth? We are never going to compete on manufacturing with emerging economies, but maintaining a vibrant creative sector and media is essential. What is the coalition going to do to safeguard investment?
Ed Vaizey: Yes I would agree. I think we have secured a good settlement for the arts and our national and regional museums. I made a speech last week about technology and the arts - technology gives arts organisations a great opportunity to show off their content to much larger audiences, but also to be seen as a key part of the creative industries. Technology means that people no longer have a stranglehold on distribution, and arts organisations can pioneer new ways of engaging either by telecasting into cinemas, or with apps and things like that.
LilyBolero: The performing arts contribute immeasurably to revenue brought in by tourists. It is estimated at something like 3.7% of GDP. We have the largest performing arts economy as a proportion of GDP in the world. It is not a big outgoing budget, but essential for both institutions and events. And yet funding to world-class institutions like the Royal College of Music is being slashed by 100%. In addition to this, visa entry requirements are preventing world-class musicians from travelling to this country to engage in master classes/recitals etc. How is it a good idea to cut funding from a sector that we are world leaders in, resulting in a much greater loss of revenue, and a further drop in GDP?
Ed Vaizey: Well, as I say, I think we kept the cuts to a minimum. No political party has denied the need to reduce public spending but we fought hard for a good settlement for the arts. I hear what you say about conservatoires, they are world-class and I am pursuing this issue with the HEFCE. Visas can often cause problems, and we must make sure we resolve this.
AlistairSim: Do you have any comment to make about the library closures? I believe half of all the libraries in Oxfordshire, where your own constituency is, are due to close?
Ed Vaizey: Clearly I am concerned by library closures. It's important to emphasise that I cannot intervene until a council has made a firm decision. At the moment the closures are all proposals and things change all the time. I think Somerset and Gloucestershire have already made changes. Even after a decision has been made, I have to take advice from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council before deciding to intervene. I am a great supporter of libraries - they are important spaces for the community, not just for books, but also for internet access, education, advice, or simply as a neutral space. There are loads of library authorities that are pioneering changes which make libraries more relevant than ever.
arentfanny: I want your thoughts on library closures. Dorset is proposing to close 20 out of its 34 libraries, but about to spend a few million on a new flagship one.
Ed Vaizey: I can't comment on the specifics here, but it is worth making a general point that sometimes headline closures can mask a decision by a council to invest in a different strategy, like investing in key libraries while closing others.
sethstarkaddersmackerel: Don't you realise that allowing all these libraries to be closed is going to lose a hell of a lot of Conservative votes? There are a lot of people - including older people like my parents, and many young families who use libraries, who will never forgive your party for allowing this to happen.
Ed Vaizey: I hear what you say. What I would say is that libraries are a local service, delivered by local councils, who are democratically elected. So they can listen to their voters and take decisions in the light of what their voters are telling them.
Bumperrlicious: So what can and will you do when the libraries do announce their changes?
Ed Vaizey: As I say, when a decision is made by a council, I will seek advice from the MLA on whether they believe it breaches the Public Libraries Act. If they think it does, then I can order an inquiry. If the inquiry concludes against the council, the council is required to fix the breach. Another important point to make here is that the MLA is already on the ground working with a number of councils advising them on better ways forward. I also set up the Future Libraries programme last year to encourage councils to work together to create more effective library services. 36 councils are part of the programme.
MarinaResurgens: I would like to ask you if you have any personal, extended experience of coordinating volunteer workers, as this is what your Government is advocating as a viable alternative to paying professional and paraprofessional library staff to provide a service.
What are your views on Philip Pullman's brilliant summary of this unworkable suggestion?
Ed Vaizey: Well, I thought Philip Pullman made a very powerful speech. But as a local MP I am constantly amazed by how many people do volunteer - working in the Citizens Advice Bureau, running after-school clubs for music and sport, caring for the elderly. Society wouldn't function without volunteers. So I am not sure we should stand in the way if people want to volunteer to work in or run their local library. We have never said volunteers should take over from professional librarians, but they can support their work either by keeping a library open or keeping it open for longer.
gloriadepieromp: It's Gloria De Piero MP here, shadow culture minister. Heard you were taking questions today so wanted to submit a few of my own. I'm sure some fellow Mumsnetters will be interested in your answers too.
As you know, hundreds of libraries are under threat of closure. Have you looked into how or whether children's reading groups might be affected? Many of the mums I know say their young ones can't get through picture books fast enough at toddling age. They say their local library is really helpful in the early years. Have you picked this up at all?
There's a growing issue with employers only advertising online - when people are out of work and don't have a computer at home, they are advised to go to the local library to look for vacancies. Given one in four don't have access don't have a computer at home, libraries are more important than ever, aren't they? As the minister for libraries, what kind of powers do you have to stop a library closing?
Ed Vaizey: Hi Gloria, sorry, you got lost in the thousands of posts that have gone up. Local libraries are fantastic for early years - speak to Havering who are pioneering signing up all babies at birth. They have quadrupled parent/toddler sessions in their libraries. Also, of course for internet access. You do understand the powers that we have to intervene. Good to see you on here and thanks for your very positive comments.
gaelicsheep: How does the Government plan to help people get access not just to broadband but affordable broadband? We have satellite broadband through the Scottish Broadband Reach project and we pay £35 a month for a distinctly flaky connection that cannot deliver streamed video at all. 2MB would cost well over £40 a month. (Hold on Mr Vaizey, don't bat it back saying that's a Scottish problem - there will be rural communities in England with the same issue.) It's all very well getting everyone access to broadband - how are you going to make it affordable for all and address the huge divide between cheap superfast in the towns and expensive barely-a-crawl in areas like mine? The market is not going to deliver improved landline broadband, certainly not for small and ancient rural exchanges like mine.
Ed Vaizey: We set out a detailed broadband strategy for broadband roll out in December, which covers the whole of the United Kingdom. It includes £530m of investment to help get broadband to rural areas. We're looking for local councils to come forward with bids, working with private providers or community broadband groups. While satellite is expensive it may get cheaper with the launch of new satellites. But there may be other solutions for you apart from satellite. As a whole, we have some of the cheapest broadband in the world because we have a competitive market place.
Avocadoes: I have read that you plan to scrap the idea of net neutrality (for those that do not know, this means that websites will have to pay Internet Service Providers for delivering their content. A big business with lots of cash will be able to afford to pay top whack and will therefore have its pages loaded faster onto your screen than a smaller, poorer rival). Potentially, this means that there will be a two-tier internet, with big business being able to provide easy access to its content and small business/charities/individuals only being able to offer slow-loading pages. The consumer will soon get irritated by the slow access to some information so will start avoiding the pages of smaller companies thus disadvantaging them even more. Even the US Government thinks net neutrality is of supreme importance, so that all information is equal. That is the magic of the internet. Can you please explain why you are willing to undermine equality on the internet in favour of big business? Please don't use technical gobbledygook in your answer in the hope of boring people to death so they continue to ignore this really important issue.
Ed Vaizey: I gave a speech on this issue last year. It was called The Open Internet. Basically I said that people should have the right to get all legal content they want on the internet. I also pointed out that a lightly regulated internet had enabled all the massive innovation we have seen eg Mumsnet and I wanted to preserve that.
At the moment, internet providers manage their traffic, they have to, but I have said that they will need to be more transparent so that big services which take up a lot of bandwidth will know if they are being slowed down. I also said that no traffic management should happen that is done on the basis of discriminating against competitors.
Finally, I pointed out the difference between us and the US - the US has two main providers so the potential for discrimination is huge which is why there is a big debate. Here we have 4 big providers at least plus dozens of others, so customers can switch easily. So I concluded we did not need to legislate at the moment but we will keep the situation under review.
freshmint: Was that the strategy which you got completely and utterly confused about net neutrality and said that you and Tim Berners-Lee were "as one" and he said "No we aren't"?
Ed Vaizey: That'll be the one.
policywonk: Can you tell us exactly what you're asking the big ISPs to do around the issue of children's access to adult material on the internet? An off-the-record briefing a few weeks back had you telling ISPs that you were considering legislation on the issue, but your public stance always seem to be that you'd prefer a voluntary code of conduct. It would be great if you could clarify which of these two options you're leaning towards.
Ed Vaizey: Talk Talk have come up with a voluntary opt-in system so that you can sign up for internet access that is already filtered rather than put the filters in yourself. I want to see what more ISPs can do together to help parents who want to ensure that their kids don't see inappropriate comment. Before everyone weighs in, I am well aware of the huge technical issues and difficulties this involves. However, we already have the UK Council for Child Internet Safety that looks at these issues, which are very concerning to parents. I want to explore whether more could be done.
Betelguese: Music and Art in schools is part of a humanistic culture. Support for fine art, drawing, design and music in schools needs to be addressed now, after so many years of cuts and decline. Children have the right to be educated in music and arts from an early age. Music and the arts are a most essential part of our society, life and education, is a means to socialisation and a unifying thing. They ought to be considered compulsory subjects but they were not so during the previous administration.
What is your vision for the education in arts and music in schools? How do you see music and art being funded and promoted in the curriculum of schools? Some free primary schools are been established as art schools but we need more done. Can you promise a dialogue with the families on this arts and music issue?
Ed Vaizey: I completely agree. We'll shortly be publishing a report by Darren Henley, the MD of Classic FM, into music education in schools. I think it will be very well-received as it emphasises the huge importance of ensuring all children get access to a good music education and the chance to learn a musical instrument. I'm also confident we'll be able to respond positively to the review when it comes out. Working with Darren has been great and we're going to ask him to take forward what he's done to cultural education. There is a lot of good stuff going on but again it needs a bit of joining up and coherence.
LilyBolero: Well, hurrah for Darren.
Ed Vaizey: Is "hurrah for Darren" meant to be sarcastic? It's not clear, but I am very happy to defend Darren. He is a wonderful man who does a lot to promote classical music and learning in schools (he's very involved with the In Harmony project for example). His knowledge of this world is encyclopaedic, but he doesn't come from any one part so he does not come with a specific agenda. He has received and read more than a 1,000 submissions and produced a report, which is well worth a look if you are interested in the subject.
LilyBolero: I do hope that David Cameron's insane "Search for a Star" 'X Factor-style competition for schools' plan to revolutionise music teaching in schools has been scrapped. As a professional musician, I can't imagine anything worse - X Factor is the worst example of the commercial world of pop music, and the idea of introducing it to schools as 'education' is madness. It is reducing something that is part of our cultural history to the triviality which pervades competitions such as the X Factor, in which it is widely acknowledged that the only winner is Simon Cowell. Please can you confirm that this will not be happening?
Ed Vaizey: I am very impressed that you remembered! It will be going ahead and I am sure it will be great. The music industry is very excited by it.
LilyBolero: By its very nature, this will benefit one child/group out of the whole country in what is supposed to be an education. I wonder how much it is costing, when, as mentioned below, 100% of the funding to all the music conservatoires has been cut.
Ed Vaizey: Well, the music industry is funding most of it, and they will run it. It will be a nationwide competition and I think will involve hundreds of thousands of young people. And, of course, all types of music will be welcome
TondelayoSchwarzkopf: I think our concerns regarding Classic FM and the music industry are that music teaching now appears to be in the hands of the private sector rather than teaching specialists. There is clearly a commercial interest here. How are the music industry going to recoup their investment from the 'search for a star' - it won't be from record sales of the star.
Ed Vaizey: No, there is no commercial interest for Darren - he is doing this in his spare time. You've all been going on about volunteering and then when someone volunteers you shoot him down in flames!
fivegomadindorset: This will be soul-destroying for vulnerable children who really think they have a chance and are shot down in flames.
Ed Vaizey: Er, I don't think it's in anyone's plan to shoot anyone down in flames. But with that attitude no one would ever give anything a go, would they?
CaptainNancy: How are children supposed to reach a high enough level in music to enable them to enter this trashy-sounding competition? Music services across the country are being closed down and/or privatised due to cuts.
Ed Vaizey: I think the Henley review will address this.
LilyBolero: If you want to get kids involved in music, get singing going in schools again. Keep SingUp's funding going. Provide opportunities for massed singing for kids. You don't need to play an instrument, everyone can have a go, and you can perform in amazing venues, with loads of other people, and perform some really worthwhile music. I hate competitive music - marking people out as successes and failures. For kids, the great thing is to do music, not to be in a competition with some dream of performing with Gary Barlow, which the vast majority of them won't.
Ed Vaizey: It's one scheme among many. Presumably if you don't like School Stars, we should also ban Young Musician of the Year?
bitzermaloney: Do you think that Rupert Murdoch is a fit and proper person to be given even more power over the British media? Go on, be brave and answer... off the record, you understand (no one is listening in, honestly).
Ed Vaizey: The question is whether a takeover would damage media plurality in Britain. There are clear procedures in place for assessing the issue, and Jeremy Hunt is following them to the letter.
Crumblemum: What are you doing (as a Minister) that makes you proud?
Ed Vaizey: Well I am very pleased to be doing this job. I asked David Cameron if I could be his culture spokesman, and I am pleased that I am now the Minister. I am pleased that we got a good settlement for the arts, and that we have a clear strategy for the arts going forward. I'm pleased there's more money for British film. I'm pleased we've got a great broadband strategy, and I am pleased we have got an initial deal on mobile spectrum. The most difficult issue so far has been libraries, of course, but I am pleased I got the Future Libraries programme up and running in the summer to help.
nottirednow: Strange - or not - that Ed hasn't answered any questions about his family library use or what he will be doing on Saturday. What volunteer work do you do, Ed? I think that should be the new Mumsnet "biscuit question".
Ed Vaizey: we use a local library and of course I used a local library when I was a child. You can see all the voluntary organisations I'm involved in on my website www.vaizey.com.
freshmint: I ask as one of your constituents, do you find it difficult to reconcile your ministerial role with your constituency role? Libraries are an obvious example.
Ed Vaizey: Most MPs try not to be 'political' in their constituency, in the sense that if a constituent has a problem with a Goverment department, you have to represent them, and I have no trouble doing that. Obviously, I am defending Government policy more than I used to when I was in Opposition!
Querelous: Does the World Service not come under culture and communications for the UK?
Ed Vaizey: No, it's a Foreign Office responsibility.
OhBuggerandArse: What do you make of the fact that not one poster here has come on to say, "Good work, chaps, that's the way we'd like to see things going?" What would it take to make you reconsider your direction?
Ed Vaizey: Great to have the opportunity to reply to you. I think people don't come on a site like this to cheerlead or simply say how great things are - they come on to express their worries and concerns.
I'm slightly dismayed that Darren Henley and School Stars have been dismissed out of hand - I hope there will be a forum on the Henley Review. I do think it's important that people raise their concerns about library closures. Of course I share them and we are doing all we can to work with local authorities. I have had a great time on here. It's amazing how quickly the time goes, and it does feel odd coming here and then being made to type for an hour and a half!
Last updated: almost 2 years ago