The government was 'gravely concerned' about reports of claims by Westminster City Council's arts council chairman that arts funding was being slashed because of the cost of asylum seekers, peers were told yesterday.
DETR spokeswoman Josie Farrington, replying to Lord Strabolgi, agreed costs of asylum seekers could be recovered from central government. An additional£30m had been allocated to support arrangements for asylum seekers, particularly in the most affected areas, such as Dover and London. 'Local authorities will be able to recover the costs of accomodating and supporting asylum seekers. It would appear to be a tragic juxtaposition of two competing claims on a false premise', she said.
The minister told the Earl of Clancarty, who asked if the government would intervene to help prevent Westminster council's cuts to arts and community, that the government had no intention of interfering with these decisions.
Baroness Farrington said some areas of local authority provision must be a matter for local decision. The government could not be held to account for not imposing their views on every council and then criticised for running a nanny state.
She told crossbencher and former Labour cabinet minister Lord Marsh, who said it was a matter purely for the city council: 'In a democracy we are free to express views on decisions taken, albeit by legitimately autonomous democratic authorities. I believe that for an authority to slash funding for the Serpentine Gallery, the Photographers' Gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the orchestra of St John's, Smith Square, which must offer solace to people working in Smith Square [where Conservative Party headquarters are located] - and to have a situation in which we are not even allowed to comment is asking too much...
'Grant cuts made in a year when an additional£5m has been given to Westminster City Council is not the kind of political action that one can expect to go unchallenged'.