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30 May 2013

Is Osborne about to abolish the culture department?

Speculation grows that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport could be abolished in the Spending Review, with its functions hived off to other departments.

By George Eaton

When George Osborne announced the seven government departments that had agreed “in principle” to cuts of up to 10 per cent in next month’s Spending Review, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was a notable absence. Notable because the department is not one of those ring-fenced from cuts, nor is Culture Secretary Maria Miller one of the cabinet militants (dubbed the “National Union of Ministers”) bidding to blunt Osborne’s axe. But an answer to this conundrum could be at hand: the DCMS may not exist at all after the review. 

Shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis tweeted last night that “well placed sources in Whitehall” suggested that “#CSR13 may scrap @DCMS – with Culture, Media & Sport going to other Govt depts”. When I spoke to Jarvis this morning he told me that while he was “not convinced” that significant savings could be made by scrapping the department, “the government could go down this road to demonstrate that it is ‘leading by example’ in these tough times and has found way in which ‘to do things more efficiently’.” 

Rumours that the DCMS could be abolished first began last year, after an Institute of Economic Affairs report suggested that the move would save £1.6bn a year, but it was abandoned after a campaign by Labour and cabinet resistance from the Lib Dems. Now, with Osborne attempting to identify £11.5bn of cuts for 2015-16 (he’s currently £9bn short), the option appears to be back on the table. 

As in 2012, Labour has pledged to oppose the move, with Jarvis warning that it would be “driven by short-term expediency, rather than the desire to plan for the long-term”. He told me: “Abolishing the department wouldn’t be in the long-term interests of sports, or the arts, or the constituent parts of the culture brief. With the importance that they represent to people’s daily lives, they deserve that focal point that sits at cabinet.” He added: “the DCMS brief, based on its economic contribution alone, well deserves its own department.” 

But a DCMS source told me there was “absolutely no truth in these rumours”. The source said:

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Unsurprisingly, Dan Jarvis doesn’t know what he’s talking about. There is absolutely no truth in these rumours. In Leveson and Equal Marriage, DCMS is responsible for two of the government’s most politically complex policies, alongside delivering one of the government’s largest infrastructure projects – Broadband. The department’s responsibilities continue to expand and its role is more central than ever before.

We’ll find out who’s right when Osborne’s big day arrives in less than a month (26 June).