ACE blames local authorities while DCMS points to the Lottery as the sector starts to examine the regional arts funding imbalance.

Arts Council England (ACE), the DCMS and England’s arts community have been quick to react to the publication of a new report detailing the extent of a London-bias in public funding for the arts in England. ACE Chair Sir Peter Bazalgette has admitted an imbalance favouring London and told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “more needs to be done… judge us in two years.” But ACE Chief Executive Alan Davey has issued a statement defending ACE’s record and citing local authority cuts as “the biggest threat to the arts outside London”. He said: “The per capita figures in the report give a misleading impression that London is just for Londoners. National organisations based in London belong to the nation. They have a role in artistic development, pioneering digital platforms and touring across England.” ACE will soon be determining the funding fate of arts organisations across England, inviting them to apply to be among its National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), and Davey says: “…we will target our money intelligently across England. We are already using specific lottery schemes that nurture art and culture where there is not enough, and reach more of the public through touring and digital distribution.”

A DCMS spokesperson described the arts and culture in England as being “in very good shape at the moment with huge investment from both the National Lottery and taxpayers’ money”, and described London as “a magnet for overseas visitors, many of whom visit the capital because of its outstanding cultural offer, boosting the national economy and helping growth.” But he went on to say: “Lottery distributors, of course, make their funding decisions independently of Government and this Department. As a Lottery distributor, Arts Council England must take care to ensure that all areas of England have access to Lottery money.”

Arts organisations across England have also been giving their responses to the report, with much comment on Twitter suggesting that evidence of an imbalance between the capital and the regions comes as no surprise, though the extent of it does. Donna Renney described the report as “Comfort for those doing great work in regions”, and Roger Tomlinson tweeted: “Local authority arts funding in UK regions has often followed ACE under-funding, creating double jeopardy for many arts orgs”.

Dorothy Wilson, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of mac Birmingham, has made a statement on behalf of the Birmingham Arts Partnership (BAP) which echoes his concerns. “Birmingham’s cultural infrastructure, which is unique in scale and quality outside the capital, relies on public investment from both ACE and Birmingham City Council. Funding from both is decreasing whilst the co-ordination of policy and funding approach is increasingly isolated. Meanwhile, as we and all the core cities tackle gaps in public funding, London continues to benefit from the lion’s share of private investment from philanthropy and business sponsorship.” Bristol Old Vic’s Artistic Director Tom Morris has responded to the report with a YouTube video which echoes this and restates the financial crisis facing regional theatres. He rejects the idea that money should be taken away from London, but instead supports the ring-fencing of strategic Lottery funding to the regions.

Other issues have also been raised. Ivan Wadeson, Executive Director of The Audience Agency, warned: “It would be unfortunate, if not potentially disastrous, for the arts world to engage in some intemperate in-fighting or divide along North vs South lines. The most serious loss here could be the good-will and support of the tax-payers and National Lottery players who provide this substantial public investment.” And Sally Goldsworthy defended the arts in London in her tweet, saying: “Stats about London taking all the funding are distorted by the national orgs: many arts orgs serve massive population on small grants”. She went on to point out: “Indeed we do all pay tax; [the] majority of Londoners can't afford the ticket prices or travel so don't benefit from subsidy.”

Author(s): 
Liz Hill