The National Media Museum, The Northern Powerhouse & the North-South Divide

Recently it was announced that an archive of over 400,000 photos would be transferred from Bradford’s National Media Museum to the V&A Museum in London. The news was met with huge criticism; the story was covered by many national media outlets who questioned the decision, and a petition entitled Stop the Cultural Asset Stripping of Bradford’s National Media Museum was set up to halt the move. It’s a sore subject, and one that encapsulates the general feeling of injustice in the North, that the already culturally vibrant capital has “acquired” yet another valuable piece of heritage.

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national media museum

The museum has a rich history, but like many other museums and galleries, in recent years it has faced an increasing number of financial challenges due to cuts. Unfortunately some have succumbed to closure as they are no longer deemed ‘financially viable’. But this in itself presents a problem with how culture is cultivated and measured – as Ben Myers points out, the cuts are indicative of “an administration that singularly fails to judge the value of culture in anything but fiscal terms“. The message is clear, investment is about return rather than preservation.

This perhaps accounts for why a disproportionate amount of funding is allocated to the South, or more specifically London – a report found that “the combined spending of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England amounted to £68.99 per head in London and a meagre £4.58 per head in the rest of England. Lottery spending on the arts in the previous two decades was judged to be £165.00 per Londoner and £46.77 elsewhere” [newstatesman.com].

Whichever way you look at it, there is money available – maybe not as much as before, but available nonetheless. So if there is money to spend, why does the North seem to be suffering more than most? Why can’t the funding be used to support arts and culture nationally, rather than leaving 1 in 5 regional museums at least part closed?

In an idealistic world, there is no reason why the distribution of funding cannot be redressed. This is not however, an idealistic world. As long as London occupies a cultural pedestal, and Westminster continues to favour the South, the North-South divide will continue to grow.

Take the “Northern Powerhouse” that was promised by George Osborne and David Cameron during the 2015 General Elections. The Tories set out to “transform Northern growth, rebalance the country’s economy and establish the North as a global powerhouse“. The potential benefits are huge, and investment is what the North wants and needs, yet as far as the public is concerned, not much seems to have happened since…

HS2, the transport network that would better connect the North and a key part of the Tories ‘Northern Powerhouse’ vision, has had a particularly rough ride over the past year or so – major concerns over planned routes have emerged, as have escalating costs.

As for Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ itself, one man on BBC’s Question Time recently described it as “buzzwords and jingoism“, an empty promise from Cameron’s Tory government to narrow the economic North-South divide, and cement the “North as a global centre for innovation and trade“.

Whilst Osborne and his colleagues may shrug off this criticism, many in the North echo these concerns over the lack of tangible results. Even more worryingly in a recent, albeit somewhat limited poll, it was found that “more than two in five adults in the North of England […] have never heard of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ (44%) [and] a further one in five (20%) say they have heard of it, but know nothing about it“.

Considering the bold claims made by the Government about the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, this seems absurd, not least because “it is simply not true” according to Amber Rudd MP, that nothing is happening.

Whether you believe that the Government is actually committed to the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ or not, it is difficult to see how much, if anything, has really changed for the North of England – employment has risen but wages remain low, there are more employment opportunities but the North struggles to “attract and to retain talent“, and crucially people are sceptical that the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ will even materialise. It’s time the Government is pressured into keeping it’s promises – although given the amount of broken ones* left in it’s wake since May of last year, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

*Not cutting in-work benefits. Not cutting child benefits. Tax-free childcare by Autumn 2015. A budget surplus by 2019. No change to Sunday Trading. Pledges on Child Poverty. Government transparency. The list goes on

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