26 November 2013
This is the first of what I hope and expect will be a regular series of blogs, covering the things I’m responsible for here at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. But please don’t worry; it won’t be a series of links to government announcements strung together with the kind of snooze-inducing prose that only a committee – and a rather dull-witted one at that – might come up with.
No. This will be a place where I share my personal observations on the sectors I’m responsible for in government. I’ll be writing, not just on the things that the DCMS gets up to, but also what our funded bodies are doing and, from time to time, issues that affect us all more generally.
Fun is a serious business
So let’s begin. I took on sport, tourism and the work around the government’s First World War (FWW) when I became a full-time minister here, just a few weeks ago. It’s something of a truism that ministers here have among the best jobs in Whitehall, and one of my Parliamentary colleagues was quick to remind me of the department’s old soubriquet – ‘The Ministry of Fun’ – when I first arrived. Well, rather disappointingly, it turns out that ‘fun’ is a serious business and very hard work but, yes, I’m involved in delivering government work in some fantastically exciting areas and, if I can’t get some of that excitement across in these blogs, then I’m clearly not getting it right.
Local enthusiasm yoked to a good idea
A couple of things caught my eye this week, by the way. First of all, I was really pleased to see the latest batch from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s FWW small grants programme. These are great because they go to the sort of projects at grass-roots level that are very often examples of ideas where there’s a deep well of local enthusiasm, yoked to a good idea, but not able to get off the ground because a (relatively) small amount of money is missing.
A grant of £10,000, for example, went to something called ‘Blinded by War’, a project in Wolverhampton where people, mostly blind or severely visually impaired, get the chance to research the extraordinary effect the war had on ophthalmic medicine.
As you can imagine, soldiers on both sides suffered horribly with eye injuries caused by poison gas, shrapnel and other battlefield injuries throughout the conflict. And pictures coming back from the front at the time showing servicemen shuffling along, hands on their comrades’ shoulders, as they tried to reach help, rightly appalled the public, who responded by quadrupling donations to fund ophthalmic research and the building of eye hospitals after the war.
Inspiration and humanity among the horror
And there are hundreds more stories like this from that time. Very often they tell of unexpected consequences from huge events: flashes of inspiration and humanity among the horror. So it seems absolutely right to me that Lottery money should be helping to capture this, and preserve it, as the story of that time begins to set in stone.
Great news on growth from tourism
Meanwhile on the tourism side, I managed to get along to the launch of a rather extraordinary new report on the impact of the industry on employment. Consider the following (from VisitBritain, who commissioned the report): Inbound tourism will continue to be the fastest growing tourism sector – with spend by international visitors forecast to grow by over 6% a year (and) the value of inbound tourism is forecast to grow from over £21bn in 2013 to £57bn by 2025.
All of which draws a great big ‘wow’ from me.
Better yet, the new jobs that will be created are expected to be largely for women and young people and disproportionately in rural and seaside areas, where they’re desperately needed. The tourism and hospitality sector is about to boom and, speaking as someone who used to work as a waitress in an Indian restaurant to help make ends meet when I was at college, I could not be more pleased.