Lisa Nandy on being the new Minister of Fun

The new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, makes an appearance at Bury FCs Gigg Lane.
-Credit: (Image: Kenny Brown)

Lisa Nandy has set out her top priorities in government as the new 'minister of fun'.

In her first interview as the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, the Wigan MP told the Manchester Evening News that she wants to put football fans 'at the centre of the game'. Returning from Germany where, alongside pop star Ed Sheeran, she watched England beat the Netherlands to secure a spot in the Euros final, she visited Gigg Lane.

At the home of Bury FC, she spoke about plans to protect football clubs from going under, telling fans 'never again'. Speaking to the M.E.N. during her first ministerial visit, she promised to get the new football regulator up and running 'without delay'.

She also spoke about how she wants to open up opportunities for working class kids in media, film, dance and drama. And she committed to reviewing how public funding for the arts is spent to make sure that the north of England gets its fair share.

READ MORE: All the Greater Manchester MPs at the top of the new Labour government

The newly-appointed Labour minister addressed officials at her new department in London this week, with staff from its Manchester headquarters watching online. But she told the M.E.N. that she plans to spend much of her time as secretary of state up in the north.

She also spoke of the importance of her role on the international stage and her pride in watching England win the Euros semi-final in Dortmund this week. But whether a win in the final on Sunday (July 14) means we get a bank holiday to celebrate, she would not say.

Here is the Manchester Evening News's interview with Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Lisa Nandy in full...

Q: Hi Lisa. How are you doing?

A: Well it's been a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest, the last few days. This time last week I was over in Wigan, banging on doors in the rain and now I'm back here at Gigg Lane talking to football fans about how we're going to make sure that we put fans at the centre of the game again. So it's been a pretty amazing week, but really exciting.

Q: So how does it feel? You've been on the sidelines for 14 years and now you're in power.

A: It's amazing, actually. But it also feels like a very heavy responsibility. Across our arts, culture and sporting sectors there are lots of challenges. Obviously the pandemic had a major impact, but also the inaction that we've seen on issues like football sustainability and regulation for a long time.

We'd almost got there before the general election and then we didn't. And I know better than anyone what that inaction means for clubs, not just like Bury, but for Wigan Athletic as well, my own club that went into administration. We nearly lost it twice. And so, I'm here with one message and one message alone for people in this country.

If it matters to you. It matters to our Labour government and we're going to stand with you and support you to protect the things that matter in your communities.

Q: As you'll know from the work you've done as a local MP, loads of our clubs in Greater Manchester have been at risk. You have committed to backing the football regulator, but I think what fans really want to know is, when is it going to happen? Because the longer we wait the more likely it is that we'll lose a club forever.

A: Absolutely and obviously we've got the King's Speech coming up next week and I obviously won't pre-empt what the King has to announce, but I'm here as a statement of intent as my first visit to show that this is a top priority for me in this job. And it's personal for me. Not only was my club Wigan Athletic at risk twice, but my step-dad was a season ticket holder here, a lifelong season ticket holder at Gigg Lane. We couldn't care more, in my family, about this. Just as all of the families that I've just met, all of the fans, care as well.

So it's going to be a top priority for us. I don't want to pre-empt the King's Speech, but it was a central part of our manifesto and it will be an essential part of my job to deliver on that and to deliver on it without delay.

Bury North MP, James Frith (L), and the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, makes an appearance at Bury FCs Gigg Lane.
Bury North MP James Frith with Lisa Nandy at Gigg Lane -Credit:Kenny Brown

Q: Does that mean by the end of the year? Within a year? What were we talking about? What kind of timescale?

A: You're gonna have to wait a few more days, I'm afraid, to find out exactly what it is that we're announcing as our legislative programme. But Stephanie Peacock is our newly appointed Sports Minister, and I can't wait to get started.

Q: You've got a big department here, the second headquarters of DCMS is in Manchester. Does that mean you're going to spend more time here as a Secretary of State?

A: Very much so. And, in fact, I had the great privilege of addressing the staff in London with the Manchester staff beaming down the line, and I looked over onto the screen and said to them all, it makes me feel homesick, especially the rain falling outside the window! But they are an essential part of what we're trying to do. Because the mission of our department is to put people back at the centre of their own story again.

For too long, too many people in many parts of the UK have not seen their lives, their families, or their communities reflected in the story that we tell ourselves as a nation about ourselves and that I think has fed this real sense of alienation from governments, this sense of anger and division.

We found multiple ways to divide ourselves from one another in recent decades and it's been bad for our country, bad for our communities. So whether it's through investing in grassroots sport, whether it's through opening up opportunities in media, film, dance, drama to working class kids in communities like Bolton and Bury, that is going to be the mission and the work of our government.

So, having a headquarters outside of London, where people are rooted in different communities and can provide that level of challenge and that link to other communities, is going to be absolutely essential to us, and I'll be working out of there quite often, especially this summer.

Q: When it comes to arts funding, there's been a push in recent years for more arts funding to go to the north. Last year, we had the announcement that the English National Opera are going to be making Greater Manchester their main home, but it was only after they had threats of their funding being cut. We had Aviva Studios open last year as well, which came from public money. At the same time, Oldham Coliseum got its money cut. Thankfully, we learnt recently it's been saved. But what's your approach going to be? How are we going to make sure that money is spread across the country and there isn't that sort of London bias?

A: First of all, I think, right on our doorstep here, we've got one of the best examples of levelling up that this country has ever seen, before levelling up as a slogan even existed and that's Media City over in Salford. You'll remember as well as I do, the furious row about whether the BBC and other media institutions could possibly move outside of London, but that has been a stunning success. It's been an economic success story.

It's opened up opportunities to kids from across our region. But more than that, what it's done is enable a different range of voices to be heard and different stories to be told than the ones that were being told by a very narrow group of people in one part of the country.

And that's been absolutely essential to us. So, it's my belief that some of the work that the government - the previous government - started to do to try and move some of those big institutions, to try and open up that conversation, was a very important part of the picture.

But there's another part of the picture too that the funding that exists for the arts, the public funding that exists has been cut significantly over the last decade and a half. And what that's meant is that private philanthropy has had to come in to fill the gap. But much of that private money goes to the big institutions in the capital, whereas the public money was usually channelled through councils to local institutions, like the Oldham Coliseum and the Bolton Octagon and other institutions all over the country. Now, that collapse in council funding has been a real problem. So we're determined that we're going to look at funding in the round. We're committed in our manifesto to looking at a review of Arts Council England and the way that that works, but we don't want to do that in isolation because if all you do is ask for private funders to come in and fill the gap, what you could very quickly find is that you increase regional inequality rather than break down those barriers everywhere, which is our intention.

The new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, makes an appearance at Bury FCs Gigg Lane.
'The mission of our department is to put people back at the centre of their own story again' -Credit:Kenny Brown

Q: And what about the ticket levy on arena and stadium concerts that's been talked about? The culture, media and sport committee recommended it in May. Is that something that Labour would look at doing?

A: Well, we haven't got any plans to do that at this stage. We want to support the work that is going on around the country through a thorough review of where funding is currently going, how people are able to access it and how much impact it's making, not just economically, although economics is very important to us, but also, for the communities that they serve to make sure that those stories are told.

Our number one priority though is to grow the economy. That means supporting businesses to be able to thrive in a very difficult environment. I see the creative economies as an absolutely essential part of that. You talk to any mayor - metro mayor - around the country, they'll talk to you about the possibilities of clean energy and they'll talk to you about the possibilities about arts and culture.

Tracy Brabin for example, the mayor over in Yorkshire, is doing a great piece of work on a cultural corridor that runs right up the north of England, all the way up to Sunderland where the film industry is thriving. These are things that we want to put up front and centre as part of our priorities. Because if we can create those good jobs and parts of the country, they're not just jobs. They're high-wage jobs that enable more people to participate in our national story. So that's the emphasis. I suppose it's a much bigger ambition than just looking at individual measures. We want to make sure that we're supporting creative industries and business to thrive in every part of the UK.

Q: I just wanted to finish by asking you about last night. So you just got back from Germany. What was it like?

A: It was a very hard job for me, but someone had to do it!

Q: You must have the funniest job in government.

A: I am definitely the minister for fun, but there's a serious side to it as well, you know, for Britain, for England in particular, but for the whole of the United Kingdom, that was a really important moment. We're there, we're out in front of the world. Our football, just like arts, film, many of the areas in my brief, music, dance, drama, we're world leaders in. And it's a great source of our soft power and influence around the world as well. And so it's fantastic to be there watching everyone.

All eyes on us, on the world stage, knowing that in a few years' time, the United Kingdom will be hosting Euros 2028. And we've got stadiums up here, in the north west of England, as well as right around the country, in every part of the United Kingdom, that will be hosting and playing their full part in those games and will feel the benefit from them as well.

So I was there to have fun - and I did have fun - but I was also there with a very serious message for the top officials in football. That the UK is absolutely 100 per cent committed to making a success of that and making sure that every part of the UK feels the benefit.

Q: So, if we win on Sunday, any chance of a bank holiday?

A: Well, I think if we win on Sunday, I will be breathing a sigh of relief, because when the Prime Minister appointed me, he said, the emphasis of my new cabinet is on delivery and if you don't deliver the right result on the Euros, this could be a very short-lived appointment indeed. So I've done my bit, I've been to the semi-final. I've delivered us into the final. Now all eyes on the Prime Minister and we'll see if we can deliver Sunday first.