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Combined local authority funding for arts, theatres and museums is predicted to be 6.3% down on last year, a real terms drop of £60m, despite overall spending levels across local government rising.

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Councils across England will cut funding for arts, theatres and museums this year - the first time local authority spending on the sector has dropped since before the Covid pandemic, Arts Professional can reveal.

Figures published by central government show that although forecast spend by local authorities on "cultural and related services", which includes tourism, libraries and sport, has risen to a seven-year high of £2.47bn, the sub category of "culture and heritage", of which arts, theatre and museums are a part, has dropped.

Spending on culture and heritage is predicted to be £429.9m for 2023/24, down 6.3% on the forecast spend of £458.9m for 2022/23. This represents a reduction of £29m. After factoring in inflation - 8.7% in the year up to April 2023 - the real terms reduction in funding is in excess of £60m.

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In full, the culture and heritage spending category includes arts development and support, heritage, museums and galleries, theatres and public entertainment.

Predicted spending on these services had been increasing year-on-year since 2019/20 (when it was £387.7m) prior to this year's fall.

Culture and heritage is one of six sub categories of cultural and related services on which local authorities are required to submit spending data to central government - the others being archives, tourism, library services, recreation and sport, and open spaces.

Predicted spending on all five areas are forecast to go up this year.

Among these, library service spending is predicted to rise by 5.7% from £655.9m to £693.1m, and spending on sport and recreation will go up by 5.2% from £428.8m to £451.2m.

Overall spending on cultural and related services will hit a seven-year high of £2.47bn - up 3.6% on the figure for 2022/23.

The forecast drop in spending on arts and culture comes at a difficult time for the sector with theatres, museums and arts organisations all struggling to cope with the ongoing impact of Covid and the cost-of-living crisis.

This week Derby Museums, which has seen its funding from Derby City Council reduced by 10% from £710,000 last year to £639,000 for the current financial year, said it is facing an "existential challenge" because it can no longer balance the books.

As part of its 2023/24 budget, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (BCP) has made three key proposals that will hit funding of the arts.

Meanwhile, there are concerns for the future of arts and culture organisations in Birmingham after the local authority effectively declared itself bankrupt in light of a prospective budget shortfall of £87.4m for 2023/24, rising to £164.8m for 2024/25.

Woking Council has said it is planning cuts to arts services for the next financial year (2024/25) as part of efforts to make combined savings of £12m across all its services.

And Hampshire Cultural Trust has warned that the closure of multiple museum and arts venues across the county will be ‘inevitable’ should a proposed halving of its funding be agreed by Hampshire County Council.

'Very concerning'

Jack Gamble, Director and CEO of Campaign for the Arts, has called for government to step in and help.

"Local access to the arts depends on local funding of the arts, so it's very concerning to see these forecasts. We all appreciate the scale of the financial challenge faced by many councils, but scrapping what's left of cultural budgets will be all pain for no long-term gain.

"Fewer arts venues will mean fewer jobs - not just in the arts, but in hospitality and retail, transport and tourism. Fewer arts programmes will most likely lead to increased pressures on mental health services.

"Rather than kicking the can down the road, let's harness the potential of the arts to strengthen and enrich our local communities. If local councils cannot afford to do so, central government should step in to support them."

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