Viewpoint: Rebalancing our Cultural Capital

Sage centre Gateshead, Newcastle, Tyne, culture, regeneration

David Powell, Visiting Professor at the London East Research Unit, blogs for LGiU about the need to tackle the bias towards London in public funding of the arts. His blog is based on the new report, ‘Rebalancing our Cultural Capital‘, which he produced with Peter Stark and Christopher Gordon independently.

Public spending on the arts is heavily skewed towards London. The extent of the bias is shocking, as evidenced in our report  Rebalancing our Cultural Capital (www.theroccreport.co.uk) launched on 31st October 2013. In this we show how with both Arts Council England’s funds from the taxpayer (£320m in 2012/13) and DCMS’ direct expenditure of national cultural bodies (£450m), the capital benefits to the tune of £69 per head compared with £4.58 per head for the rest of England.

The evidence shows serious, structural and long term imbalances in funding for the arts and culture with money derived from both taxpayers and Lottery players. For more than 30 years successive Governments and Arts Councils have acknowledged this disparity but argued that new funds were needed for substantive remedy.

However, the “new” funding which became available from the national Lottery has just reinforced the imbalance. Arts Council’s distribution of its £3.5bn of new Lottery funding since 1995 has provided benefit to London of £165 php against £47php in the rest of England over the 18 years of the Lottery so far. Combining 2012/13’s figures for taxpayers’ and lottery players’ funds distributed by Arts Council England shows a benefit to London of £86 php against £8 php in the rest of England – a ratio of over 10:1. The Lottery expenditure on the Olympic Games and the Millennium Dome have been excluded from the London analysis, being treated as exceptional.

We argue that funds from the National Lottery – derived disproportionately from the less well off in society – carry a different ethical mandate for the Arts Council. This suggests at least a measure of geographically proportionate distribution based on size of population.

This unequal allocation of taxpayers’ and lottery players’ funds has a massive effect all over England on local authorities, communities and arts and cultural organisations.   It diminishes local capacity to invest in projects that impact positively on quality of life, health and well being, and on local economic and employment prospects.

This report and its evidence has already caught the attention of local authority leaders and chief executives all over England. Strong voices are articulating their determination not to let this pattern continue unchallenged, in the North East, South West, Midlands, Yorkshire and elsewhere. Meanwhile, 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”.

As three experienced arts managers and researchers, we propose a new national investment programme of £600m – money made available by limiting London’s ‘fair’ access to lottery cash. This would, over the five years of a parliament, be targeted on investment in new cultural production outside London.

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Photo Credit: Wojtek Gurak via Compfight cc