Newly appointed Arts Council England chair Peter Bazelgette has called on local authorities to prioritise culture as an “essential” service.
Bazalgette, speaking in his first live web chat since taking up the post in February, admitted he is “most concerned” about the funding pressures faced by local governments, and the “prospect of losing as much as a third, or more, of their investment in arts and culture over the next three years”.
Responding to a question about how local council arts cuts will impact on the UK, he said: “They [local councils] actually invest more than the arts council does at the moment, so this is a real threat.”
He highlighted Newcastle as an example of a local authority showing “there is a way forward”.
Yesterday, Newcastle City Council, which had been proposing to remove its entire £1.2 million arts grants, approved a 50% reduction in its support, as part of wider budget proposals aimed at saving it £100 million over the next three years.
Bazalgette described the council’s reduction on arts spending as a “big cut, but not a total cut” and added: “We need to remind all local authorities that arts and culture are one of the ‘essential services’.”
In the same online question and answer session, Bazalgette said he wanted to use his four-year tenure to “get more people engaged in the arts and persuade more people to support the arts”.
He said there is an “amazing opportunity to use digital technology to bring more art to more people in more places and in more ways”.
The chair also warned that “the regulations and requirements of boards of charities” have become “more onerous over the last ten years”.
“And we are noticing boards becoming more averse to taking risks – perhaps as a result of a tough financial climate. But art is all about taking risk, trying to find the new and challenging. So we need to be able to provide flexible funding to accommodate more creative and flexible governance structures,” he said.