In addition to all our usual ongoing work on issues such as unpaid fees, legal advice, and member representation, political engagement and lobbying is an important part of our work in Wales and South West England.
Much of this is done in collaboration with our counterparts in the other creative unions (Equity, Bectu, and WGGB, plus the NUJ) and the Wales TUC (as we have a seat on the General Council) but we also focus on issues specifically affecting MU members where necessary. We have a particular remit to cover issues that are devolved to the Senedd and Welsh Government in Wales, as South West England is ultimately governed by the UK Government which our colleagues engage with centrally in Westminster.
Some brief highlights of specific groups and issues that we have been working with and on recently are set out below, in addition to which we have submitted and presented formal evidence to the Welsh Government Expert Panel on the Devolution of Broadcasting and two Senedd Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee inquiries in the last six months.
In the long term we hope that other areas of the region - particularly South West England - will introduce night time economy and/or culture boards that we can engage with, while members can always get in touch about affiliating to their local Labour Party CLP and/or trades council as an MU delegate.
Bristol Nights, WECA, and South West TUC
We have a seat on the new Bristol Nights board, which gives us a good platform to discuss issues affecting members in Bristol, and ensure that musicians' perspectives are heard in discussions about the night time economy. Across the broader West of England Combined Authority (WECA) region we have ongoing engagement with the Labour WECA Mayor Dan Norris, on issues such as fair work and training.
In terms of the whole of the South West we have a positive relationship with the South West TUC (SWTUC), and are hugely grateful to Regional Committee member David Merrick for acting as a delegate to the SWTUC Regional Council.
Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government
The Arts Council of Wales (ACW) is currently accepting applications in relation to its delayed Investment Review process. We submitted evidence as part of ACW's earlier consultation process setting out our concerns about the proposals to, among other points, remove Arts Portfolio Wales and reduce the number of years funding is allocated for.
We have also recently written to the Welsh Government Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport and the ACW Chief Executive to set out the same broad points, as well as issues around the c.1% cut to the revenue funding for ACW and Creative Wales in 2023/24 - which we have argued should at least be reversed with the small amount of additional consequential funding for Wales from the UK Government budget - and the need for national support for St David's Hall.
St David's Hall and Cardiff Music Board
Members have probably seen various reports about potential changes by Cardiff Council to St David's Hall in recent months. St David's Hall is a unique venue that's crucial for many members' work and culture in South Wales and beyond, but has unfortunately been left in the care of Cardiff Council without national support to reflect its status as the national concert hall.
Unfortunately it seems that Cardiff Council cannot afford the investment required to keep the Hall open given its current state of repair and the financial pressures the Council is facing. It has therefore been exploring a proposal for AMG - which runs Academy venues around the UK - to lease the Hall and take over the responsibility and liability for maintaining it, while also making changes to enable a broader range of activity to take place in the hall.
We have made our concerns about the proposal clear to Cardiff Council, including through a letter to, and meeting with, the leader of the Council as well via our seat on Cardiff Music Board, but it seems that unfortunately there aren't currently any viable alternatives. We have been reassured about some aspects of the potential change, such as the classical/community programming and hire costs and will continue to engage with the Council as well as other stakeholders on the future of the Hall.
Welsh Labour Conference
We're really grateful to WSWE Regional Committee member Elizabeth Owens for attending Welsh Labour Conference as an MU delegate in the middle of March and speaking on the Union's motion on arts funding, which was passed unanimously by delegates.
The motion noted the general decline in arts funding over the past decade and the significant cuts imposed on some major organisations by Arts Council England. It welcomed work to fund a more diverse range of organisations but highlighted that this should not involve damaging other organisations. It also called on Welsh Labour and the Welsh Government to advocate for increased funding for arts, culture, and the creative industries, and to support funding for more diverse organisations as well as those with good quality, unionised employed and freelance jobs.