First came the demotion of the ministerial office to a junior position in September 2014 (and ‘arts’ was gone from the title altogether, and chucked in with tourism, sport, hobbies and crafts, and doodling). Now comes a 10.6% cut in funding to the Welsh Books Council as part of the wider cuts to public funding of the arts in Wales. This 10.6% cut, double what other arts organisations are shouldering, actually signifies what is a 21% cut in funding to English language literature over the last three years, and it is applied to what is arguably the most precarious of funded bodies as it is. A paltry saving, but a devastating attack on the intellectual life of the UK’s most impoverished nation.
Many people will make very strong arguments about why the Welsh publishing industry should be supported, as has Kathryn Gray, who has so excellently spearheaded the reaction to Ken Skates’ proposed cuts (Angharad Price has corralled the Welsh language responses), and I would prefer to bring whatever extra attention and help to those people that I can, rather than echo them here. The letters setting out the opposition to the cuts have now acquired over 600 hundred signatures between them, an impressive list of the great minds of Welsh literature’s stable, all of whom have benefited at some point from Wales’ successful public subsidy model. But no one person benefits to the extent that the nation does. Literature is the eternal quest in the understanding of who we are. I genuinely feel sorry for people who don’t get that, those people who are suspicious of books, contemptuous of the learned. The work of the Welsh Books Council is not to prop up individuals, but to encourage and support the ongoing conversation that is the creation of a nation’s literature.
The real sadness of this cut is that it is all so unnecessary, at least to those of us outside of the hermetically sealed political bubble that simply do not believe in austerity as the honest course of action to deal with the UK’s financial situation. But by cutting the arts the way they are, the Welsh Labour Government carry out the London Tory will. Wales is being lopped off and left to drift.
How many times do we have to win the argument that investing in art is an investment in the health and wealth of a nation? Indeed, a civilised nation would not have to defend these pillars as often as we do. No civilisation in history has been remembered, admired, or loved because of its bankers, its CEOs, or its politicians. It is the artists, the writers, who spread the ideals of worthiness.
In the hope that such things can work, there is a petition (go here), and I would urge you to sign it. At least go to the page and read the details as to why this cut would be so devastating not just to an industry, but to Wales. Often political decisions like this are made in the hope of a quiet life. They are smuggled past a public the smugglers assume to be sleeping. Show the Welsh government you are not asleep, and make it clear to them they are about to make a grave mistake in the management of our country.
Editor, Wales Arts Review
p.s. for the sake of transparency: Wales Arts Review, which in 2015 was read in 165 countries (including Greenland, for goodness’ sake!), would not exist without Welsh Books Council support. The numbers of excellent books that have come out in recent years, (and my own novel), have done so because public subsidy helps Welsh independent publishers give chances to writers who might not fit into the ever constricting marketing categories of the major London-based publishers. And, most importantly, they are allowed to publish books about Wales. Without the support of the Books Council, the opportunity for books to be published about our country, not just in our country, will be hobbled. As a novelist myself, I am not only proud to have been published by a Welsh independent publisher, but I am proud that that publisher is part of a Welsh tradition of public investment into the intellectual well-being of our nation. And it is that tradition that makes a country of which we should all be proud.