Arts face funding cuts of ‘as much as 20%’, warn local authorities

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Local authority leaders have warned that financial support for the arts across the UK is threatened with cuts of as much as 20% from 2011 to 2014.

A new report, After the Downturn, which was written by the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, envisages reductions of between 7.5% and 15% in public spending in the 2011-14 spending round. It also suggests that ring-fencing areas such as health and education may result in cuts of 20% or more to some "unprotected services", which include arts and culture expenditure.

The National Association of Local Government Arts Officers held a joint seminar with the National Cultural Forum this month to explore how councils may need to adapt to meet the demands for cultural services in the current economic landscape.

At the conference, Lorna Brown, chairman of NALGAO, said: "The economic downturn, irrespective of whether the recession is officially over or not, is yet to wreak its full force on local government.

"After the Downturn, the joint paper from CIPFA and SOLACE proposes a likely cut in real terms of between 7.5% and 15% in public spending in the next three years and further cuts beyond that. With political commitments to protect health and education, the cuts to unprotected services such as culture and sport could be as much as 20%."

Speaking to The Stage, Brown stressed that local authorities have flexibility over discretionary budgets and so the impact on arts and cultural expenditure will vary from council to council. She added that the NALGAO conference had been about "making sure we are able to respond to the challenges we face, including potential loss of funding".

Director of the National Campaign for the Arts Louise de Winter said potential cuts to local authority funding were concerning and said if a 20% cut was handed down it would be "pretty devastating" and could mean the "difference between survival or closure" for some arts organisations.

She added: "We are very concerned that there will be fairly significant cuts at the local level and that those cuts will have a very large impact.

"I think the job that we all have to do is to persuade those local authorities why investment, and it is relatively small levels of investment, in culture services could actually deliver further savings up the line."

Theatrical Management Association chief executive Richard Pulford declined to comment on any specific forecasts for cuts.

However, he said: "Any significant cut in [subsidised theatres'] resources is bound to mean first of all a cut in jobs, a disproportionate cut in jobs because, broadly speaking, a pound in subsidy spent on a performing arts organisation produces three pounds' worth of jobs.

"So, to cut a pound would cut three pounds' worth of jobs, which is altogether disproportionate. That is quite apart from the impact that the spending through theatres has on the immediate local economy, so I think the impact would be really, very unfortunate."

NALGAO will survey local authority arts officers next month about their budgets for this year and their expectations for the future. The results will be published later this spring.

Local authorities are the second largest financial supporters of the arts in England after subsidy from Arts Council England.