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Arts and culture have “zero” impact on the economy claims new report

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The financial impact of cultural events on local economies “tend not to be large and are more often zero,” according to new data produced by the What Works Network, a government-backed initiative launched in 2013 to offer guidance on decision making and spending in public services.

Its latest report, What Works? Evidence for Decision Makers, seems to contradict long-standing claims about the added value the arts and culture return to the economy as a result of public investment.

The report’s authors claim that while cultural events offer “intrinsic value to people aside from economic benefits,” anticipated financial rewards are seldom realised.

“Given the significant cost of most major sport and culture projects they are unlikely to be cost-effective in terms of increasing local economic growth,” it states.

It also claims that the wage and income effects of such projects “are usually small and limited to the immediate locality or particular types of workers” and that tourism benefits are usually “short lived.”

A more detailed report into sport and culture published in July by the network, analysed more than 550 policy evaluations from the UK and other countries. It found that the proximity of sports grounds, theatres, arts centres and other facilities “are likely to have a positive impact on very local prices” and suggested that policymakers should see them as “part of a broader strategy rather than as stand-alone projects”.

Central to the conclusions of both reports was the need for greater evaluation of the impact of cultural projects, with most of the currently available evidence “focused at the very large end of the scale.”

It added: “We found no robust evidence on the economic impacts of smaller projects (such as arts centres or small-scale festivals) – although based on what we found for larger projects, we can assume that the economic impact of such projects would be even smaller.”

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