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Arts Professional has been heavily focused on arts funding in England in recent weeks. But how are arts councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland managing their funding budgets? Patrick Jowett has been finding out. 

Northern Ireland music archive


Arts Council England’s (ACE) next National Portfolio has dominated headlines in the sector since it was announced at the start of November. With funding decisions being debated in parliament, and ACE’s relationship with DCMS a key talking point, you could be forgiven for forgetting that ACE’s portfolio almost exclusively covers cultural activity in England only.

Elsewhere in the UK's devolved nations, the equivalent arts councils of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland operate similar funding programmes to ACE’s national portfolio, allocating annual grants from money received from their governments to arts organisations that have outlined a commitment to the relevant art council’s strategic priorities.

To balance the dominant focus on England, here we put the spotlight on the devolved arts councils with a rundown of each of their current regular funding arrangements and plans for future programmes.

Creative Scotland

In Scotland, arts funding is in the remit of Creative Scotland. The current cycle of Creative Scotland’s regular portfolio, known as its Regular Funding Network, began in 2018. It consists of 121 Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs), 19 of which were added to the portfolio for the first time in 2018, joining an existing 102 which also received the three-year funding commitment in 2015.

RFOs are currently based in 21 of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas. Although around two thirds of RFOs have a postcode in Edinburgh or Glasgow, Creative Scotland reports 74% of all RFOs operate beyond their home postcodes, ensuring regular funding covers activity across the breadth of Scotland. Collectively, RFOs currently receive around £33.8m per annum. When the current portfolio was launched, it was supported by a £101.6m Grant-in-Aid funding and a three-year budget commitment from the Scottish Government. 

The current portfolio was extended beyond the initial three years due to the pandemic. But RFOs are on standstill funding - acknowledged by a Creative Scotland spokesperson - receiving the same level of in 2021/22 and 2022/23 as they did in 2018/19 - which is a real terms cut of some significance given rising energy costs and inflation. 

Looking ahead, a new Future Funding Framework to replace the current portfolio is in the pipeline. But this initiative has been dogged by delays. A fresh twelve-month delay to the programme was announced just last month, attributed to post-Covid challenges and budget pressures. The deadline for the implementing the new framework, which will introduce a new multi-year funding programme, has been pushed back to April 2025. In the meantime, current RFOs have been assured by Creative Scotland that, "budgets permitting", their current funding levels will continue through 2023/24 and 2024/25 - again, another real terms reduction.

Arts Portfolio Wales

Arts Council Wales’s (ACW) equivalent to England’s National Portfolio is known as Arts Portfolio Wales. The last round of the portfolio launched in 2015 with 67 organisations allocated a guaranteed five years of funding. Portfolio holders work at local and national level across a range of artforms in both the English and Welsh language, with just under a third (32%) based in Cardiff. Collectively, they have received £28.8m per annum.

The portfolio is usually renewed every five years, but as with everything in 2020, the pandemic led to this review being postponed. ACW now plans to relaunch an equivalent to its current portfolio next year. Work on the new programme got underway earlier this year. Just as with the development of ACE's new 10-year funding strategy - Let's Create, ACW began with a public consultation into the way it might allocate regular funding in the future - known as the Investment Review.

In the review, ACW proposed a simplified application process and a move away from funding a portfolio of companies towards a mix of multi-year revenue and project funding agreements. It also suggested three-year funding arrangements, rather than five, with the option of an additional three years based on performance. And in November, ACW's Chief Executive Dafydd Rhys said the consultation process attracted a record number of responses that were “broadly supportive of our proposed direction with this review”.

Guidance documents for the Investment Review are due to be published next week (12 December), ahead of a three-month application window opening in January. Whatever shape ACWs next regular funding arrangements take, the current timeline suggests decisions will be delivered in September 2023 ahead of funds being released in April 2024, by which time those within the portfolio will have been continuously funded for almost nine years.

Arts Council Northern Ireland

Unlike the other three UK nations, Arts Council Northern Ireland (ACNI) does not have a national portfolio. Instead, it administers an Annual Funding Programme (AFP) which includes “all the larger scale venues and organisations that are key to the arts infrastructure in Northern Ireland”, according to an ANCI spokesperson. Grants are allocated to organisations in all artforms and practices for both their core and programming costs. Again unlike the other arts councils, organisations in Northern Ireland have to reapply to be part of the programme each year.

During the pandemic ACNI ran a closed AFP programme to “protect the core arts infrastructure in a time of crisis”.  But it will return to being an open programme in 2023/24. The amount of future funding available is currently unknown and will be determined by exchequer funding from the Department for Communities and ACNI's National Lottery sources.

The latest round of funding was announced in July this year and awarded 95 organisations just over £13m in total in what it termed “standstill funding”. At the time of its annoucement, ACNI Chair Liam Hannaway acknowledged that arts funding in Northern Ireland “now sits at an all time low”. With obvious frustration, he also said: “Despite fulfilling almost identical functions, investment in the Arts in NI sits at only £5.44 per capita, based on 2022/23 budget figures. This contrasts sharply with Wales at £10.35 and the Republic of Ireland at £25.90 per capita. A reinvestment in the arts is needed to regenerate a sector which struggles year on year to make ends meet.”

Comparing the nations

Per capita analysis is just one way of evaluating how far arts funding goes. In the absence of official figures, a quick back of the envelope calucation tells me that in 2022/23, the per capita funding for England equates to £7.33 per annum. This figure will rise in 2023/24 as ACE's next National Portfolio will be its largest ever investment. So there is at least one arts council in the UK trying to stretch proportionally less money as far as ACE is.

Broadly all four nations have the same objectives for their funding decisions: to support organisations whose work aligns with their strategic objectives while at the same time developing creative opportunities across the nation.ACE's latest investment decisions show only too clearly that arts councils  can't please everyone all of the time. Ultimately they are at the mercy of the government deparments (or schemes such as lottery funding) which fund them.

With that in mind, as we monitor how each nation develops its regular programmes, it may be just as important to measure how successful the arts councils are in advocating for increased investment as it is to critique their funding decisions.


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