Chloë Reddaway uncovers the lack of joined-up government when it comes to funding policy.
In the late 90s, with a new DCMS and a Prime Minister who talked about writing the arts into the ‘core script’ of government, one might have thought that the arts would become part of government priorities as never before. That happened in part: there was more money, more talk, more policy – and there were more demands. What has been singularly lacking, however, is a degree of coherence, clarity and consistency in policy-making: education, health, trade, diplomacy, and cultural policies remain insular, and there is serious dislocation between the policies produced by different departments.
The complete lack of co-ordination between even the simplest things, such as funding for the arts, and the ‘outcomes’ which they are expected to ‘deliver’, can be staggering. The Olympics and the great Lottery raid is a prime example. It is conceded within Government that the bid was won partly on the strength of the cultural offer, yet the Cultural Olympiad has practically no budget except for the major ceremonies. The arts sector is expected to produce four years of work in-keeping with the Olympic ‘themes and values’, but the Lottery’s good causes have been raided to help to pay for the Games, to the detriment of the arts across the UK. The last Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) settlement for the DCMS provided a small increase in funding, but did not replenish what was lost from the Lottery. The DCMS would have had the right to be quietly content with the settlement were this the only source of funds, but it should have been screaming blue murder about the Lottery raid. The burgeoning Olympic budget (and the lack of provision for the arts within it) is all the more offensive to arts organisations, given that in the last CSR they were (rightly) vigorously encouraged to improve their own financial management and asked to make efficiency gains. The transfer of Lottery funds was debated in both Houses and the Government much criticised, but it was approved nevertheless, and arts are asked to provide a Cultural Olympiad without adequate financial resource.
Other agendas are pursued with no greater degree of consistency. The Home Office takes the departmental biscuit for policy which fails to promote cross-departmental objectives. When it drew up proposals for switching to a Points Based System of immigration, it was apparently unaware of the serious impact this would have on artists from across the world coming to the UK, requiring visas and work permits. The proposals showed no regard for the influence of the arts on tourism, business, diplomacy, the creative economy or community relations, all of which are Government priorities, let alone the intercultural dialogue which the Olympic Games seek to foster and which arts projects in the Cultural Olympiad are encouraged to demonstrate.
It is a similar story with policies relating to the arts in education. The recent Cultural Offer and the Find Your Talent programme should be music to the arts sector’s ears, but already there are doubts about whether reality will live up to policy-makers’ expectations, and questions about resources and the extent of ambitions. It is salutary to note that, while drama is becoming increasingly popular among young people and applications for training places for drama teachers are increasing, the number of teacher training places is being reduced drastically. Meanwhile, the Department for Children, Schools and Families is trumpeting increased cultural provision for young people, while proposing cuts to youth theatre funding. Other instances of insular policy-making include local government policy seeking community cohesion and regional development but barely mentioning the arts; putting the tax cat among the non-dom pigeons while trying to promote philanthropy; what Baroness Neuberger described as the Government’s “deafening silence” in response to considerable research demonstrating the benefits of the arts in health, and so it goes on.
Cross-departmental policy-making has to be better than this. The DCMS may be something of a poor relation in departmental terms, but that is no excuse for allowing the arts to be overlooked by other departments – nor does it excuse inconsistency within the department. The National Campaign for the Arts works on the basis that strong advocacy for the arts can bring about significant changes across government agenda. It is time that the DCMS adopted this idea too.
Chloë Reddaway is Campaigns Manager for the National Campaign for the Arts.