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The increased spending may not indicate increased investment, as councils are forced to compensate for income lost during Covid-19.

photo of New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth
Portsmouth City Council purchased the New Theatre Royal earlier this year

Robin Sones

English councils have budgeted more for culture for the second consecutive year.

Figures reported to the Government show local authorities collectively budgeted £2.38bn for cultural services in the 2021/22 financial year, a 6.9% increase on the previous year. 

It’s a larger increase than the budget for expenditure across all services, which increased by 5.9%.


The figures come as new research from Arts Council England reveals the value of culture in regional town centres and highlights cultural venues as a key to preventing the decline of high streets. 

Unlike last year’s budget increase, where investment in cultural showcases like Coventry 2021 reversed a pattern of annual budget cuts, this year’s increase likely has multiple contributing factors.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the increase in recreation and sport expenditure was in part due to reduced income whilst Covid restrictions were in place.

The Local Government Association (LGA) told ArtsProfessional there is “no definitive reason” for councils’ increased investment in cultural venues.

“Some councils are investing in their cultural offer to stimulate regeneration post-Covid, others will have taken the chance to do renovation and repairs, and some of it will be covering lost income due to Covid.”

Investing in venues

Some councils’ increased budgets reflect their purchase of local cultural assets.

The LGA said acquisitions like Portsmouth City Council’s purchase of the New Theatre Royal freehold allow councils to preserve key local cultural assets for the community.

Overall investment in cultural venues remains lower than for sports facilities because there are fewer under council ownership. 

LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport board Chair Gerald Vernon-Jackson recently told the Local Government Chronicle that Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden “had little grasp of the level of funding that councils put in to services his department covers”.

The Portsmouth City Council Leader said LGA representatives “had to get Mr Dowden to understand local government puts £2.2bn a year into DMCS’ priorities”.

Dowden met the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport board in a delayed meeting following the publication of next year's budget.

“Regional theatre is completely dependent on local government [and] he had not realised that.” Vernon-Jackson added.

The LGA declined to comment further on its meeting with Dowden.

Cultural high streets

The public would like to see increased cultural investment in their local areas, according to Arts Council England’s (ACE) newest research.

Culture was tied with shops as the most popular answer to what people want to see more of on their high streets. 

69% of people said cultural spaces make their local area a better place to live.

Chester has seen a 15% increase in its city centre’s footfall since the redevelopment of Storyhouse theatre and Stockton estimates its ARC centre draws 110,000 visitors to its high street each year.

ACE Chief Executive Darren Henley said cultural organisations will be “essential” in bringing people back to high streets post pandemic.

“[They] help drive economic growth, boost community pride and promote wellbeing in villages, towns and cities across the country.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that cultural organisations are well equipped to play this vital role in our national recovery.”