Tories and Labour both warn of tougher times ahead for arts funding

Both Labour and Conservative culture secretaries have failed to commit to maintaining current levels of arts funding, if they win the next general election.

Speaking at the first ever State of the Arts Conference, organised by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce and Arts Council England, culture secretary Ben Bradshaw and his shadow Jeremy Hunt both gave speeches in which they warned of a more difficult climate for arts funding over the next decade.

Hunt revealed that he could not promise to maintain the current levels of direct subsidy for the arts, but stressed that he hoped to increase the levels of funding the cultural sector receives through the National Lottery and philanthropy.

He said: “I can’t promise to maintain funding. I would love to be able to promise to maintain funding but I think the reality is we face cuts whoever wins the next election. What I can promise you is that we are committed to the mixed economy model and we believe in the importance of state funding and I can promise you that the arts won’t be singled out because we recognise their fundamental strategic importance to the economy as well as to society. But can I say that the arts won’t have to bare their share of the pain? I can’t say that because the reality is that getting the economy back on its feet, which I believe means sorting out the deficit, is as important for the arts as for everyone else.

“My priority is to find as many ways as possible, that if there are cuts in public support for the arts, they have as little effect as possible.”

Bradshaw offered a more upbeat assessment than his opposite number, but still fell short of committing to maintain current levels of funding. He warned: “We would be kidding ourselves if we thought that the next decade was going to feature similarly large increases in real terms government spending on the arts. But I also think we would be depressing ourselves unnecessarily if we assumed savage cuts or what some people have termed ‘an age of austerity’ is now inevitable. As I’ve already indicated, I believe there is a strong case, and if I’m still here I’ll be making it very strongly, to protect investment in culture and the arts.”

“I think it’s worth pondering just for a moment that even a flat cash or stand still budget for our sectors over the next comprehensive spending review period, would still leave spending on culture 83% higher in real terms that it was in 1997.”

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster