The tsars come out at night

It seemed like a rather clumsy lay-down for a not-very-funny side swipe at the previous mayor, who had a penchant for creating deputy mayors. “We were gonna have a night mayor – yeah, we really were” Sadiq Khan told the happy throng of arts pros gathered in City Hall on Wednesday night. “But in the end we decided on night tsar”. It turns that there actually is going to be a night tsar, “a champion for the night-time economy”, which is a “crucial part of London’s economy”.


It’s one of a handful of policy pointers Khan announced for what he said would be the first ever cultural infrastructure plan for London. He’s going to make cultural enterprise zones that will get extra support; he wants to encourage apprenticeships in the creative industries; much as he loves the tourist dollar for which London’s arts and heritage are a magnet he wants to aim a new publicity campaign at Londoners themselves so they too can enjoy the fruits of your creativity; there’s going to be a London Borough of Culture competition when year-long programmes will be put up for consideration; he’s going to put some kind of protection around grassroots music venues to defend them from changes in the planning laws, using the agent of change principle.

It’s very sketchy, and presumably the head of culture at City Hall, the estimable Justine Simons who is now on her third mayor (and is also chair and founder of the World Cities Cultural Forum), will have to colour it all in. Some of it looks gestural, even daft, but there is serious intent in all of it, starting at pavement level and, I would guess, letting the more high-flown institutions look after themselves.

There’s no mention of money in all this, but the new thinking is looking beyond the Arts Council application form and at the same time beyond central government. The mood is spreading across the country where conurbations, like the ten Core Cities, are taking more control and mayors as figure heads (of which London’s was the first in 2000) are going to lead the charge. All of them agree with the London mayor that their cultural quiddity is “the glue that binds us together”.  

Leicester, Liverpool and now Bristol have directly elected mayors, and the 2016 Cities and Local Government Devolution Act will allow new directly elected mayors for Great Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the North East, the Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley, West Midland and North Midlands from next year – it’s interesting that, for now at least, the Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham sees a more promising future for himself as the elected mayor of Greater Manchester.

They’ll all be watching what Sadiq Khan does, and if his first ten days in office are anything to go by they won’t have to wait long to see “the new benchmark in pro-culture planning” of London’s Cultural Infrastructure.

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