Research into the impact of local government cuts on cultural activity has found sports and libraries face heavier cuts than the arts.

Child book wizard

Guy Evans (CC BY 2.0)

Staff reductions and funding cuts made to local authority culture and leisure services are falling more heavily on sports programmes and libraries than the arts, according to a new report by the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association into cultural spending by councils.

The report, Financial Settlements for Culture & Leisure 15/16 and beyond, identifies significant job losses in development posts for the arts, museums and sport over the past three years. Although only 52 out of 326 local authorities in England responded to requests for information, by extrapolating the figures they supplied, the report estimates that there could have been as many as 6,000 job losses nationally.

Over the last three years 10% of local authorities report closing or decommissioning arts services, while 20% closed sports and leisure services. Arts and sport also experienced some of the heaviest cuts, with more than one in five local authorities reducing their funding to these services by more than 15%. Although roughly the same proportion shielded these sectors from cuts entirely, just 3% spared libraries. The report warns that these cuts to culture and leisure may indicate “decision makers are unaware or unconcerned about the impact these services have on health and wellbeing, economic development and community cohesion”.

The authors remain optimistic about the resilience of the sector. Strategic commissioning brought additional funds to 70% of responding authorities and new ways of working have been or are being introduced in almost all localities. Around three quarters have or are considering delivering services through a trust, or transferring assets to community groups. Other popular moves include sharing services with other local authorities and delivering services through private contractors.

The report also found fertile ground for improved commercialisation: 71% of authorities aim to recover some or all of their operating costs in culture and leisure, or secure a surplus. One method for doing so is the introduction or increase of charges for services and activities – 35% of local authorities have done this for arts services. The report warns: “It is essential that price increases do not result in lower attendances.”

A photo of Frances Richens