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Delivering solutions to social and economic problems after the pandemic will require policy-makers in different areas to “re-think received wisdom” about how they should function, and collaborate more closely rather than ‘jostle for space at the table’.

Reading Hexagon theatre
Local authority cultural provision should be part of a bigger conversation

Uli Harder (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“New narratives, new structures and new business models” are needed if the cultural sectors are to deliver solutions for health & wellbeing, economic recovery, community cohesion and social identity, according to CLOA, the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association.

Pointing to the “clear demand for our work” that has emerged during the lockdown, as the municipal parks, online libraries and other cultural services have provided a life-line for many, CLOA hopes to seize the moment as politicians have started to acknowledge “the importance of the cultural, tourism and leisure sectors within the national economy” and refer to the future role of the creative sectors in supporting economic recovery.

Commission needed

Although the cultural sector is “uniquely placed” to deliver such outcomes, CLOA believes it will require policy-makers “to re-think received wisdom” about how they should function. In a statement proposing a coordinated response to the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, its Executive said: “We have the opportunity to develop new approaches with built-in capability to identify, target and meet needs in our communities”.

To achieve this, it is calling for a new Culture, Tourism, Sport & Physical Activity Commission to be established.

The Commission would be “a national coalition of the willing, to use our shared capacity for creative thinking and bring the best minds to bear on these pressing issues, to ensure that debate is well-informed and sector and sub-sector interests do not obstruct a constructive dialogue about system change”.

Its role would be to:

  • Set out a new narrative about the invaluable role of parks, culture, sport, leisure, libraries and tourism
  • Better articulate the contributions to society being made by leisure and culture, and the cost of failing to protect and develop the richness and diversity of these
  •  Develop an evidence base of good practice within localities, with particular focus on cross-sectoral practice
  • Identify new financial and investment models to underpin recovery and reset, taking account of local context, the ‘levelling up’ agenda and the changing role of the public sector
  • Address issues of inequality

Collaboration, not competition

A “reset and build back better” tone should be adopted in the national discussion about the value of the leisure, sport and culture sectors in the short and long term post-Covid recovery, says CLOA.

An emphasis on “meeting the broader needs of local people” should be at the heart of the process, it says, and local authority cultural services “can and should be right at the heart of recovery, using this opportunity to really challenge ourselves and colleagues across our sectors about the outcomes we are seeking to deliver”.

But recognising that local government is one local leader amongst many, it wants to “work in true collaboration with national government, the provider sector, private business, charities and communities” as recovery strategies are put in place

CLOA concludes: “The present crisis has shown there are many competing needs amongst these partners and we do not serve our places well by jostling for space at the table.”


Liz Hill