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Revealed: Which UK constituencies get the most – and least – Lottery cash for the arts

National Lottery money is a vital source of revenue for theatre companies. But which areas of the UK benefit the most? Photo: Shutterstock
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Far from being the ‘icing on the cake’, National Lottery money is a vital source of revenue for theatre companies. But which areas receive the highest amount of Lottery arts funding? David Brownlee examines the latest data


Which politician has done the most for the arts and audiences in the UK in the last 70 years? Jennie Lee may be the natural first reaction for many readers (particularly the older ones) but I think John Major deserves an awful lot more recognition than he usually receives.

I started my career in the arts at the very end of the Thatcher era. Things weren’t looking great. Years of funding cuts had left many arts organisations teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and our arts facilities were in a very shabby state.

What kick-started a complete transformation of the arts infrastructure in the UK was the introduction of prime minister John Major’s new National Lottery in 1994. Initially, Lottery funding was for ‘special’ projects, but these included not only a mass programme of refurbishment and new builds but also special grants to ‘stabilise’ or aid the ‘recovery’ of struggling arts organisations.

In the Blair years, substantial growth in core Treasury funding helped to fund sustainable arts organisations in shiny new Lottery-funded buildings to thrive rather than just survive.

It could be argued that since 2010 Lottery funding has become far more important. The share of Lottery funding distributed to the arts has risen, which has played a major role in mitigating Treasury cuts. The notion that arts Lottery funding is simply the ‘icing’ on the cake has long gone as more and more revenue funding of arts organisations is provided by Lottery players.

You may have noticed that we’re heading to the polls again. I thought this would be a good time to review where arts Lottery money has been going in the last few years and seeing which constituencies have been benefiting the most (and least).

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport logs every grant from every Lottery distribution body and then tags by good cause, local authority and parliamentary constituency, among other things. It then posts all the data on a website (search for ‘DCMS Lottery database’ and you’ll find it). With a little technological knowledge, you can then download all the data year by year.

I have taken the data for 2015 and 2016, and for each constituency appended the size of the electorate and current MP and their political party.

Nine UK constituencies didn’t receive a penny in arts Lottery funding in 2015 or 2016, seven of them Tory

Before looking at the figures, a few obligatory caveats. The DCMS database records when a grant offer was made, not when the money was claimed or spent. It includes project, revenue and capital grants, and big capital grants can get spent over many years. The database also records only the location of the recipient, not where the beneficiaries live. Residents of constituencies with little or no funding in the last two years may still be benefiting by visiting Lottery funded work in other places or from tours visiting their constituency.

If you combine all ‘arts’ awards across the UK in 2015 and 2016 and then divide by the overall size of the electorate, the average per capita amount per constituent across the UK is £13.10, excluding the 1,928 grants worth £101 million that were not designated to a constituency (16% of the total amount of grants awarded).

There are 659 UK parliamentary constituencies, so we’re not going to list them all here (although we will post the full list to the National Campaign for the Arts website if you’d like to see how your constituency is doing). But let’s start by focusing on the top and bottom – see Table 1.

The first thing that strikes me is how urban this list is, with three of the four UK nations represented.

Six of the top 10 constituencies are in London, with Hilary Benn’s Leeds Central just pipping Mark Field’s Cities of London and Westminster to the top of the tree. Of the 90 grants in Leeds Central, the biggest were revenue funding for Opera North (£31.2 million) and Northern Ballet (£9.3 million).

In the Cities of London and Westminster, 132 awards combined to equal the £34.3 million, the biggest of which was English National Opera’s revenue funding of £18.6 million for 2015-18.

On a side note, when examining this data I confess to being surprised by how much money raised from Lottery ticket buyers is being used to subsidise opera and ballet-goers. In fact, of the 10 biggest arts awards across the UK in this period, nine were for opera and ballet – see Table 2.

The top nine on this list collectively account for £125.7 million, or 18% of all Lottery funds distributed to the arts in this period. I am all in favour of funding high-quality opera and ballet across the UK, but is it appropriate to use such a high proportion of arts Lottery funds to do this?

Looking at the other end of the league table, clearly many places have received little direct Lottery funding for the arts in 2015 and 2016 – see Table 3.

While not exactly entirely rural, the bottom of the table represents smaller town Britain, or more accurately smaller town England and Scotland. Nine constituencies didn’t receive a penny in arts Lottery funding in 2015 or 2016, seven of them Tory. There are some very familiar names in this list of MPs, including our lead Brexit negotiator and of course the prime minister (whose constituency was awarded a £10,000 arts grant in January 2017!).

While the Lottery has so little direct impact on the artistic lives of those particular MPs’ constituents, do they understand the vital role that Lottery funding plays in our world-leading creative sector? I think we should encourage John Major to have a word.

David Brownlee is vice president for the UK and Europe  at arts consultancy firm TRG Arts, trgarts.com

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