Keep up the good work

Gordon Brown was yesterday told to get his wallet out for arts in the North-East or risk "enormous" damage to the region's cultural renaissance.

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown was yesterday told to get his wallet out for arts in the North-East or risk "enormous" damage to the region's cultural renaissance.

MPs delivered the message in a hard-hitting report that stressed the importance of the Government's "renaissance in the regions" funding programme which has helped underpin development of the region's museums and galleries.

Museum chiefs from Tyne and Wear to Hartlepool, Beamish and Bowes have worked together to transform services - especially for young people - and allowed the region to more fully appreciate its own rich history, while the economy has been boosted by rocketing visitor numbers.

But concerns are growing that funding may be slashed in the upcoming comprehensive spending review, which Mr Brown will use to outline his priorities but which is expected to put the financial squeeze on schemes.

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee yesterday stressed funding should "at the very least" be sustained so museums could fulfil the promise and build on achievements of the programme, launched in England in 2002 and which will have distributed £150m when it is due to end next year.

"If this successful and inspiring innovation were to be curtailed half way through the programme, it would be a serious waste of achievement and would significantly cut access to museums for schools and other key target groups," said the committee in a new report.

The "Caring for our collections" report also highlighted warnings from museum chiefs that switching off funding would cause "enormous" damage to regional centres.

It comes after a series of articles in The Journal highlighting those very concerns.

The report added the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCLG), responsible for the scheme, should be in a strong position to secure continued funding for a "perfect Treasury programme" given its demonstrable impact.

But MPs called on the DCLG to monitor the programme amid concerns a two-tier system is developing between funded and non-funded organisations - an issue raised by the independent Bede's World museum in Jarrow during evidence-giving to the committee.

North-East MP Sharon Hodgson, who has campaigned for continued funding, said the committee was "spot on" in its funding calls.

"The funding has already proved its weight in gold judging by the massive turnouts especially amongst children and young people," she said.

The MP for Gateshead East and Washington West also praised museum chiefs for doing a "tremendous job" and promised to keep up the pressure on ministers over the issue.

"Our heritage is vital for our future. This isn't about living in the past but allowing us to build on the accumulated wisdom of our predecessors," added Mrs Hodgson.

Alec Coles, director of Tyne and Wear museums, said: "We are delighted with the support they gave the renaissance in the regions programme, not least because of the way they saw it working in the North-East when they visited. They are very explicit in their support for future funding and we obviously endorse that."

Mr Coles also welcomed demands for action to restore museums' power to develop collections in the face of declining acquisitions budgets and rising prices as well as moves over tax breaks to encourage philanthropy.

Committee chairman John Whittingdale said it was "essential" the Government continued to provide support and create greater incentives to encourage private giving to preserve and enhance collections for future generations.

"It would be a tragedy if the gains made were now put at risk due to funding being cut off," he added.

Newcastle Council executive member Pauline Allen, who holds the culture portfolio, called on Mr Brown to maintain funding but said: "I am not sure the Government has the same priorities it used to have about the importance of culture to people's lives."

The developments come just weeks after DCLG minister Richard Caborn recognised the region's cultural renaissance in Parliament and expressed hope that Mr Brown will provide funding to underpin its future.

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