FOUR of the candidates for next week’s West Yorkshire Mayoral Election vote took part in a heated discussion on the future of culture in the county this week.

The hustings, arranged by Leeds University and chaired by journalist and screenwriter Nick Ahad, was attended by Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green party candidates.

Labour candidate Tracy Brabin said talks had already taken place over an idea to create a new film studio in the North of England, while Conservative candidate Matthew Robinson talked up the idea of creating “community culture champions”.

The meeting was also attended by Green Party candidate Andrew Cooper, who  proposed creating a Mayor’s award for arts in the community; and Lib Dem candidate Stewart Golton, who said a “creative hub” should be placed on every high street.

Ms Brabin told the hustings: “I have already had meetings with the BFI (British Film Institute), and others, to talk about identifying a place where we can put National Film studio of the north, we know the power of film, to regenerate communities, and bring jobs and skills. It can be done.

“It has been so frustrating that the Chancellor has seemingly a deaf ear to the creative industries, when, if you have their phone numbers, it seems much easier to get contracts and so on.”

Proposing his party’s stance on culture, Andrew Cooper – also a Kirklees Councillor – spoke of his formative years as both an bassoon player and punk musician.

He added: “I think really, we shouldn’t look at arts and culture as some drain on public resources, or something which is an add-on. It’s got to be integral to what we do.

“The proposal I made about having a West Yorkshire mayor’s award for arts in the community could have a really strong focus on how that’s affecting young people, and how that’s affecting people who have been unemployed, and how they are being engaged as part of that.

“When you do get people coming through, and they are thinking what is it we are doing? How can we do it? How can we make that happen?”

Leeds City Council plans to spend around £11m on the Leeds 2023 year of cultural events – devised in the wake of the city’s failed European Capital of Culture bid.

Lib Dem candidate Stewart Golton said he supported the plans, adding: “We are taking forward the ambition of that original culture bid to say, we can create our own festival. We don’t have to have it under the aegis of the European Union. We can celebrate where we come from.

“I’m interested to have a culture hub in every single high street, because as the high streets change in the future, they are not just going to be about where you go to buy your shopping, they are also far more about social mixing.”

Conservative candidate Matthew Robinson defended the Government’s position on arts funding, adding: “There’s been a huge amount of investment that has come in over the years, it’s about how we use some of that investment and how we bid for more. One of the things I’m keen to do is look at reviewing the Arts & Culture offer.

“There’s merit in the culture forum, and I would believe in setting that up. You have to believe in levelling-up for the whole of West Yorkshire, and that means levelling-up the benefits of culture, in every year.

“I think we should have culture champions, and if I’m mayor I’m hoping Tracy will be one (in Batley and Spen).”

On the importance of cultural events in the community, Coun Robinson said: “(Schools) have said ‘Leeds city centre is three miles away, but it’s equivalent for being 100 miles away’ – it needs to be brought to people in the community. Using a venue like the old fire station to deliver culture & engage with people breaks down some barriers.”

Responding, Ms Brabin said: “I challenge (Coun Robinson’s) characterisation of the councils not taking interest in culture when we have had 10 years of Conservative austerity, and 60 per cent cut to some of our councils who are just struggling to deliver Adult Social Care.”

Coun Robinson said: “When some communities hear ‘I’m from the council and here to help’… they don’t have faith and trust in it. It’s better using trusted community leaders and to get people bought in – you will get more bang for your buck, and will reach people more quickly.

Coun Cooper brought up the issue of adult education, and whether the area of spending should be so focussed on jobs.

He added: “The Adult Education budget is not all about getting a job. There’s more to life necessarily than work – it is incredibly important because we have all got to put the bread on the table. But it’s things about what brings quality to life.”

Coun Golton spoke of the need for strong internet access and learning equipment for all children following Covid.

He added: “During Covid, a lot of our young children were held back as they didn’t have access to laptops, and to good broadband. It meant they weren’t able to participate as effectively in online teaching. There’s so much more that can be delivered online including cultural stuff.”

Other candidates standing in the mayoral election are Waj Ali (Reform UK), Bob Buxton (Yorkshire Party) and Thérése Hirst (English Democrats).