Entertainment & Arts

Arts Council England funding must shift from London, MPs say

Ballet dancers Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The government's grant to Arts Council England has dropped by 33% since 2010

London's galleries, theatres and other cultural organisations get a disproportionate share of England's arts funding, a group of MPs has said.

There is a "clear funding imbalance" in favour of the capital, a report by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee has concluded.

Arts Council England should "restore some balance" across the country and do so with "greater urgency", it said.

The Arts Council distributes £600m of taxpayers' and Lottery money per year.

The committee's conclusions come a year after a separate report said arts funding from central government amounted to £69 per head in London and £4.60 elsewhere in England.

'Disproportionate share'

"London has long received a disproportionate share of arts funding, something which even the Arts Council acknowledges," the select committee's report said.

"To a limited extent this reflects London's position as the capital city and a world cultural centre.

"However, there remains a clear funding imbalance in favour of London at the expense of taxpayers and lottery players in other parts of the country.

"The Arts Council is well-placed to restore some balance. It must do so with greater urgency if it is to realise its declared ambition to engineer the provision of great art and culture for everyone."

Arts Council England chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette, who has said the body has been redressing the balance in recent years, said he was pleased the committee "has acknowledged that we are tackling this".


Image copyright Getty Images

Analysis

by BBC Arts editor Will Gompertz

The argument about London getting more than its fair share of the subsidy pie in England has been rumbling on for decades and will probably continue as long as the state continues to fund the arts. Which it should, according to the Select Committee report that stated, "we would be disappointed if the Arts Council saw any further fall in its grant-in-aid".

I sense a change in attitude among politicians across the spectrum. Where once the arts were viewed as a nice to have sideshow of no great consequence, they are now being seen as the engine powering the country's burgeoning creative industries (one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy), as well as a reliable investment for urban regeneration - from Turner Contemporary in Margate to The Sage in Gateshead - and a force for social cohesion.

I don't think that will mean more money for the arts across the board anytime soon, but I do suspect the rhetoric towards the arts will become more positive.


'Shrinking income'

The government's grant to the Arts Council has dropped by 33% since 2010.

Sir Peter welcomed the committee's suggestion that any future increase in the government grant should be spent outside the M25.

"We share the committee's desire for a speedy response to the historic challenges to rebalancing," he said.

"It is difficult to act urgently when our income is shrinking and additional resource would certainly allow for greater flexibility in supporting our ambition to achieve this."

ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND FUNDING 2013/14

Grant in aid £000s Grant in aid % Lottery £000s Lottery % Total £000s Total %
London £157,811 36% £51,475 30% £209,286 34%
Midlands £51,500 12% £24,133 14% £75,633 12%
North £65,513 15% £58,101 34% £123,614 20%
South East £26,127 6% £22,535 13% £48,662 8%
South West £15,212 3% £15,910 9% £31,123 5%
National £123,963 28% £0 0% £123,963 20%
Total £440,126 100% £172,154 100% £612,280 100%

The disparity in funding between London and the rest of England was highlighted in a report by arts industry analysts David Powell, Peter Stark and Christopher Gordon in their Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report in 2013.

Faster pace

The select committee supported the trio's suggestion that Lottery funding, rather than government grant-in-aid, should be adjusted to achieve a fairer spread.

"We believe this could be achieved in a timely fashion without threatening London's world status as a cultural centre," the MPs' report said.

It continued: "We believe the pace of change should be much faster than it has hitherto been."

Elsewhere in the report, the MPs expressed concerns about the future of the National Media Museum in Bradford and the prospects for further cuts to local council arts budgets.

They said they were "staggered" by arts minister Ed Vaizey's admission that he could not recall a single conversation with any local authority, and urged him to do more to champion the arts to hard-pressed councils.

The report comes at the end of an inquiry by the committee into the work of Arts Council England. Putting the question of regional funding aside, it said there was "much to praise in the hard work and dedication of the staff of the Arts Council".

Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have their own arts funding arrangements.

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