Unions are campaigning for local authority arts funding to be made compulsory, following what has been labelled a “crisis facing local theatres” caused by the government’s “failing austerity agenda”.
BECTU and Equity put forward a joint motion at this year’s Trades Union Congress, which called for “local authority support for the arts to be a statutory obligation” and was passed unanimously. It claimed the crisis facing local theatres had been caused by a mixture of reductions in arts council funding and local authority budgets.
However, the government has said it does not intend to impose “a one size fits all model of cultural provision”.
Equity and BECTU’s TUC motion follows news last month that local authority support for culture will fall by a further £124 million in 2013/14. In their motion, the unions claimed that “local authorities, traditionally major supporters of the arts, face cuts of up to 50% in central government grants by 2018”. They cited local councils that have had to make severe cuts to their arts budgets or remove them completely, including Westminster City Council and Somerset.
“Under extreme pressure, most councils have reviewed their arts expenditure, all of which is discretionary, resulting invariably in cuts, sometimes to zero,” the unions said.
They claimed that “the existence of hundreds of arts organisations is threatened”, while highlighting how the arts encourages social inclusion and supports “learning and achievement”. BECTU and Equity added that cuts to local theatres were “damaging and short-sighted”.
Equity spokesman Martin Brown said the motion “deplored the crisis in performing arts brought about by the coalition government’s cuts to arts council and local authority funding”. He added that trade unions covering the whole of the UK’s industries and services gave “unanimous backing to the My Theatre Matters! campaign”, which was launched by Equity, The Stage and the Theatrical Management Association.
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Local government support for arts and culture is vital. Almost £3 billion is provided by local authorities to fund cultural organisations, libraries, sport, tourism and open spaces. Arts and culture are also supported by other forms of public funding including grants from Arts Council England and the Lottery. We want local communities and local authorities to make decisions that are right for their area, rather than imposing a one size fits all model of cultural provision.”
He added that imposing a statutory duty would also add to “burdens placed upon local government at a time when deregulation is a priority”.
“Many enlightened councils realise not only the economic contribution the arts can make to an area, as demonstrated recently by the variety of bids to become City of Culture 2017, but also the way they recognise the importance of arts and culture as part of wider service provision, by making places more enjoyable environments in which to live. We should hold up those authorities as exemplars for others,” he said.
Making local authority funding for theatres compulsory would bring them into line with libraries, which are a statutory service.