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Culture Secretary says additional £600m for local authorities will help them protect arts venues, but councils warn that the funding shortfall for social care remains too large for it to make a significant difference.

Home Office, 2 Marsham Street

Flickr: Steph Gray Photo: David Pearson

The Local Government Association (LGA) has said that a £600m support package for councils unveiled by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will likely "not be enough" to prevent funding reductions to non-essential services such as arts and culture due to the estimated funding gap of £1.6bn in 2024/25 that councils are facing.

A spokesperson for LGA said the government's announcement on 24 January of extra funding was “positive” and would help ease some of the pressures facing councils when delivering statutory services but added, “all councils will be using any additional money to lessen reductions in frontline services”.

The government said the funding boost was being made “in light of the exceptional circumstances” and will primarily see an additional £500m added to the Social Care Grant to help fund children's and adult social care. Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said protecting these services will "reduce pressure on council’s budgets, and allow local authorities to continue to support the cherished arts venues, libraries, youth services and leisure centres at the heart of our communities". 


Around 26 English councils have declared or are on the verge of bankruptcy, with dozens more dealing with high debt levels. Recently, several local authorities, including Somerset, Hampshire, Suffolk, Coventry, Bristol, Nottingham, Birmingham, and Leeds, have proposed cuts to their cultural services as they look to prioritise funds for social care.

In December, Bristol City Council revealed its forthcoming Cultural Investment Programme, acknowledging that its arts and cultural funding has been reduced by 40% over the last five years, leaving flagship organisations such as Arts Council England National Portfolio members Bristol Old Vic and Watershed without council subsidy.

"It is hard to justify ongoing levels of investment in the arts," said Deputy Mayor Chris Cheney previously.

"As the budget becomes harder to maintain, costs increase, and people’s needs become more complicated, it’s inevitable that anything non-discretionary that we don’t have to do legally will gradually be driven down.”

Responding to the announcement of the support package, a spokesperson for Bristol City Council said that although welcome,  the money "won’t cover the [national] shortfall" due to "funding that’s been cut already by national austerity since 2010". 

Last month, Coventry Council also proposed reducing some of its future cultural spending as part of a range of measures designed to save £11m across all its services. The measures included a 15% reduction from 2025/26 for Culture Coventry, which runs two museums in the city, and the Belgrade Theatre Trust - both members of Arts Council England's National Portfolio - and the "phasing out" subsidy to the Godiva Festival.

Cllr Richard Brown, Cabinet Member for Strategic Finance and Resources, said any additional funding for local government has to be welcomed.

But added that "the current funding system is broken as it fails to take into account the unprecedented and sustained increase in demand on services such as social care and homelessness as well as ongoing inflationary pressures".

“However, the devil will be in the detail and we await to find out the formula on how this additional money is to be distributed. We may not find this out until the final Local Government Settlement in early February or even the spring Budget announcement in early March.

“Although any increase in funding is welcome and will help councils in the short-term, it will not address the long-term funding gap."

Reducing pressure on council budgets

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: "We recognise that councils are facing challenges, which is why we have announced an additional £600m, on top of the £64bn funding package announced in December, to ensure they can continue to deliver core services and make a difference to their local areas.

"Protecting funding for these services will reduce pressure on council’s budgets and allow local authorities to continue to support the cherished arts venues, libraries, youth services and leisure centres at the heart of our communities. 

“Arts, culture, sports and heritage make our communities unique and vibrant, drive economic growth, and help improve wellbeing. We hope councils reflect on the important role these sectors play in local communities and continue to provide vital support."

The money does appear to have made an impact in Suffolk. Suffolk County Council, which recently proposed cutting all its £528,000 annual grants to nine arts organisations and museums - five of which are members of Arts Council England's National Portfolio - has said that the extra money for social care could enable it to fund a new cultural "funding pot" worth £500,000 and open all arts and heritage organisations in Suffolk.

Councillor Richard Rout said: “We estimate that Suffolk will see around £7.2m as a result of this extra investment. This...enables us to make [the] welcome proposal of new project funding for Suffolk’s arts and heritage organisations."

A headshot of Mary Stone