A £600,000, two-year scheme providing at least 40 paid placements for arts graduates from low-income backgrounds has been announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in a Billy Elliot-themed launch at Downing Street.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown led a cherubic party of young actors, recruited from the 5th anniversary production of Billy Elliot the Musical, on a tour of his parliamentary home to mark the new grants programme, which will begin in September.
"This funding will help give some of our gifted young artists the extra support and valuable experience they need to get a foot in the door of our creative industries," he said.
"It is a vital boost for some of our great future actors, artists and musicians who may otherwise have slipped through the net."
Gordon Brown outlines his manifesto to the gang of Billy Elliots
Based at "established arts companies", the internships are targeting less well-off students in the pilot scheme.
"There is no shortage of cultural and creative talent in this country, but breaking into the business and turning talent into a job or career can be really difficult unless you come from a well-off or well-connected background," acknowledged Culture Minister Margaret Hodge, claiming the past ten years had been "a golden age for the arts".
"This scheme aims to help create a level playing field of opportunity so that real talent in the arts can get through, regardless of economic barriers."
Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt accused the Government of getting their wires crossed over the project.
"Ignoring the fact that Billy Elliot is a fictional character for a moment, it would appear that the DCMS didn't manage to brief Number 10 on the scheme," he pointed out.
"When asked at a Lobby Briefing how much the bursaries would be worth to internees, Brown's spokesman said that 'with 15,000 places, it would amount to £7,500.' On this reckoning the scheme would be worth £112.5 million.
"Whereas Margaret Hodge was reported as saying that 40 person scheme had been her 'obsession' and that she has been thinking about it since she came into post as arts and culture minister [sic], the Prime Minister's spokesman said that 'anything which helps with the next generation of tutus helps.'
"Not only does Number 10 clearly not have much of a clue how limited the budget of one of Whitehall's smallest departments is, it would also seem to be the case that they don't take this initiative quite as seriously as the DCMS."
Funding body The Jerwood Foundation will manage the process, allocating 20 positions to applicants in 2011 and 2012, each lasting up to a year.