As the UK gears up to celebrate three ‘cities of culture’ between 2017 and 2023, questions still remain over how they will be funded. 

Photo of a man lighting a torch
Celebrations in Derry-Londonderry in 2013

Greg Clarke (CC BY 2.0)

The DCMS has chosen to go ahead with the UK City of Culture 2021 competition, following a consultation that asked whether it should be delayed, given that the European Capital of Culture competition will be hosted by the UK in 2023. The decision means that between 2017 and 2023 the UK will have three ‘cities of culture’.

The competition will continue to be run by the DCMS after suggestions to outsource its management were criticised. The DCMS has committed to assessing whether it can do more to support the programme, particularly in the area of research – building on and disseminating information about the impact of the programme.

The bidding processes for UK City of Culture 2021 and European Capital of Culture 2023 will both take place in 2017. The consultation asked whether bidding for the UK competition should be brought forward to 2016, but respondents felt this would deny cities sufficient time to prepare and would risk clashes with elections in the devolved administrations. Most respondents were in agreement that the UK and European programmes are very different competitions – in scale and ambition, aims and criteria – and that cities are unlikely to want to bid for both.

Part of the consultation focused on the future of UK City of Culture and how it should be funded. Suggestions included requiring bidding cities to pay an ‘entry fee’ and asking the winning city to pay for the whole of the next competition through sponsorship funds. The Government’s response does not rule out the possibility of either of these measures, although almost all respondents suggested that an entry fee would deter cities, and undermine the principle of a level playing field, and some expressed concerns that sponsorship is too volatile to rely on, pointing out that Derry-Londonderry failed to meet its sponsorship target when it was UK City of Culture in 2013. But some respondents did suggest the DCMS explores the idea of national sponsorship for the whole competition.

A photo of Frances Richens