Widespread cuts in arts spending across local authorities in England and Wales have been revealed in the latest figures from an annual survey by nalgao, the national association of local government arts officers. The survey, undertaken in February and March 2006 as councils were finalising their spending plans for 2006/07, found that 38% of local authority arts services are operating under smaller budgets than in the previous year, despite overall Council Tax increases averaging 4%. With inflation taken into account, three-quarters of authorities have experienced cuts in arts budgets.
At least seven authorities including Thanet, Somerset, Cotswold, the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, Maldon, Congleton and Fenland are cutting their arts services completely or making their arts officer redundant. These are in addition to the 18 that have already completely cut their services in the past three years. Average spend per authority, excluding the £11.7m cash injection to Liverpools Capital of Culture build-up for 2008, currently stands at £409,000. However, the national picture is improved by the 25% of authorities that indicated growth in arts spending with average increases of 12%. Sizeable proportions of the additional funding are associated with the growth of public art as a result of highways or environmental improvements and increased provision related to investment in cultural industries.
Referring to the survey findings at the annual nalgao conference, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Head of Arts, Phil Clapp, described the findings as giving cause for concern, if not alarm and predicted that the pressures on a non-statutory service such as the arts are likely to become more rather than less pronounced. Whilst dismissing the possibility that the DCMS might sideline Arts Council England and start to fund English arts organisations directly, reflecting moves in other parts of the UK, he went on to highlight the importance of a broad coalition of support in delivering its agenda for the arts: &we now realise that what you might call a linear view of delivery DCMS funds the Arts Council, the Arts Council funds a range of organisations, we all pull behind the target doesnt achieve as much as we would like.