MPs: ‘Arts council must rebalance cash to regions urgently’
MPs have called for Arts Council England to address the imbalance of funding between London and the regions with “greater urgency”.
A report published by the culture, media and sport select committee, which undertook an inquiry into the workings of ACE earlier this year, states that more must be done to rectify the regional disparity, and the change of pace should be “much faster than it has hitherto been”.
The report also calls for ACE to adopt a “far more robust stance” with local authorities that implement heavy cuts to the arts.
It follows the Rebalancing Our Culture Capital Report in October 2013, which claimed that London organisations received five times the amount of ACE funding per capita than regional areas.
The committee’s report states: “The arts council is well placed to tackle the clear imbalance of funding that favours London unfairly. It must do so with greater urgency if it is to realise its declared ambition to engineer the provision of great art and culture for everyone.”
The report also urges ACE to take a stronger stance regarding local authorities that “show little inclination to support the arts”.
It cites councils such as Westminster and Somerset – which implemented 100% cuts to arts funding – and says there is “little point in pumping public money into areas that do not particularly want or need it”.
The report emphasises that more could be done to foster cultural partnerships across the country, stating that there is “scope for different potential sources of funding to be better coordinated”.
It adds that while there is potential for organisations to raise more through philanthropy, money has become more difficult to secure and that “£5 cheques – even lots of them – will only go so far”.
The culture committee also says that national portfolio organisations should “seek to extend further [their] reach” by doing things such as using new media more creatively, developing cinema screening initiatives and touring productions.
The report praises ACE for its increased involvement with museums and libraries, the development of music education hubs and for increasing lottery-funded grants for the arts, adding up to £210 million in 2015-18.
Among the recommendations set out in the report is that the government should consider an increase in ACE grant in aid, and the increased money should be “earmarked for the English regions beyond the M25 area”.
Responding to the report, ACE chair Peter Bazalgette said: “We share the desire for a speedy response to the historic challenges to rebalancing. It is difficult to act urgently when our income is shrinking; additional resource would certainly allow for greater flexibility in supporting our ambition to achieve this.”
Bazalgette added that ACE would continue to broker cultural partnerships across the country in order to deliver “strong cultural engagement”.
Harriet Harman, shadow culture secretary, criticised the government for talking “a lot about devolution and supporting the regions, but when it comes to the arts they are not walking the talk”.
She continued: “Today’s report highlights the government’s ignorance of the key role of local authorities in supporting arts and culture, and shows that DCMS ministers are not engaging with local councils.”