Exclusive: Culture minister Vaizey insists £66m arts cuts figure is ‘way off the mark’

New culture minister Ed Vaizey has moved to allay fears that the arts are set to face £66 million of cuts this financial year, insisting the figure is “way off the mark”.

He explained that while the DCMS is looking to make savings of £66 million from its entire budget for 2010/11 – as part of the £6 billion savings being proposed across government by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – this figure is across the entire department and the figure for the arts will be significantly lower. Vaizey added he is also confident these savings will be made from administrative budgets and not from frontline arts services.

Speaking to The Stage, he said: “I think it’s important to stress for the arts audience that [the savings] would be across the department. People seem to be using this loose language that the arts will be cut by £66 million and it’s way off the mark.

“You’re looking at a lower figure than that. If you’re talking about cutting £66 million from the arts, then it would be hard to argue with a straight face that you weren’t going to affect frontline services, but because the money is going to be substantially lower, I think we are confident that we can find the savings within administrative budgets. But I think it’s important that Jeremy [Hunt, culture secretary] is also literally walking the walk in the sense that he cancelled ministerial cars as his first act as Secretary of State – he was one of only two cabinet ministers who walked to Buckingham Palace – and we’ve all taken a 5% pay cut. We meant it when we said the pain would start at home and there would be savings in this department, because what Jeremy strongly believes is that it’s the practitioners who deserve the funding and they are the ones we are going to do our best to protect.”

Hunt will this week lay out his plans for the sector in his first speech as Secretary of State, delivered at the Roundhouse in north London and on the subject of the arts. In it, he is expected to lay out how the new team in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport plans to make changes to the Lottery, so more money can be directed to the arts sector.

Funding levels for the DCMS beyond 2010/11 have not yet been confirmed and will be decided this autumn as part of the comprehensive spending review. It is understood the £66 million of savings which the DCMS will have to make this year will be in addition to the £60 million of savings over the next three years – until 2012/13 – that were already announced by former chancellor Alistair Darling. This means the DCMS is currently looking to make total savings of £126 million over the next three years.

Vaizey stressed he and Hunt would be looking to get an early funding settlement from the Treasury later this year and reiterated the Tories’ promise the arts would not be “singled out” in any cuts.

He added: “I think it’s a significant point – particularly for those in the arts – that Jeremy has chosen to make his first speech on the arts, that he is reiterating his commitment to get an early settlement for the arts in terms of the autumn spending round and what Jeremy has always said, which I think most people accept, is that while the arts won’t be ring-fenced, they won’t be singled out. I think that’s an important message to get across.”

The new DCMS team sees an almost straight switch-over from the Conservative shadow DCMS team, with Hunt as culture secretary, Vaizey as arts minister, John Penrose as tourism minister and Hugh Robertson as minister for sport and the Olympics. There have been no Liberal Democrat appointments to the department, although Vaizey said the team would “work with our colleagues in government to implement as much of their arts manifesto as possible”. Specifically this could include Lib Dem proposals to change the way the Lottery is taxed from a ticket tax to a gross profits tax, which it is claimed will help generate more cash for good causes such as the arts.

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