My guitar playing was never anything to write home about, I didn’t inherit my Dad’s artistic genes, and the less said about my singing the better, but growing up in Suffolk I was so lucky to be surrounded by talented people with a love for music, art and culture.

All these years later, it really feels like Ipswich is on the brink of something special. Just look at our thriving cultural scene – Brighten the Corners, an ambitious multi-venue music festival, returns this summer, but it is by no means alone in helping transform our town. SPILL Festival, the Wolsey 550, Christchurch Mansion, the New Wolsey Theatre, DanceEast, the Regent, Eastern Angles, the Red Rose Chain and Gecko Theatre – all are helping to forge a new, proud identity too.

Yet, this progress isn’t inevitable, and despite the overwhelming benefits the creative industry brings to Ipswich and Suffolk – both socially and economically – their contributions are in danger of being shackled due to zero sum political thinking.

Last month, the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council removed £500,000 worth of core funding for the arts. Although they finally bowed to public pressure and performed a u-turn of sorts, their replacement of core funding with a one-off pot of money that organisations will now have to fight over will make the arts and culture landscape less secure.

The organisations who will be affected don’t just put on wonderful productions, they also support thousands of young and vulnerable people through community engagement projects across Ipswich and Suffolk too. It is those people who will suffer.

The arts are not just something that is ‘nice to have’ or a throwaway luxury. They are a crucial part of our educational, social and economic fabric. They can be a gateway to a better life, raise hope and aspiration, and bring joy and happiness to people. Lord knows we need some of that right now.

And this is something I don’t think the Conservatives will ever understand. They seem to think that culture should just be the preserve of those who are better off, that people from working class backgrounds don’t care and shouldn’t care about art, literature, music, theatre or dance. It is patronising, outdated, and damaging.

There is no strategy and no willingness to harness the talent of kids growing up today, despite the creative industries having the power and the potential for ‘levelling up’ like almost nothing else. The Conservatives’ attitude to creative education says a lot about their attitude to the arts and our society as a whole. When they proposed cutting arts funding in higher education by 50% in 2021, they said arts subjects ‘weren’t a strategic priority’, but in doing so they wrote off the chances of so many bright and talented young people, and harmed our economy in the long-run too.

The creative industries are essential for our economic growth as well as our personal growth, and we should want to raise the next generation of creatives. In the UK, 2.4 million people work in a creative industry. It is worth £125 billion and our music, our films, our games, our fashion and our literature is known and loved in every corner of the globe.

Labour’s ‘Access to the Arts’ plan will secure the future pipeline of talent for this multi-billion pound industry, harness the talent and ambition that exists in Ipswich, Suffolk and our country, and ensure creative opportunities are there for people regardless of their background.

We will broaden the curriculum to better incorporate creative subjects and give all children the opportunity to explore them, and we will work hand in glove with creative industries to create more secure jobs in the sector. Because we want the arts to be for everyone, everywhere.

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