Most people want local arts funding to triple, poll reveals

Samuel West, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts.
Samuel West, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts.
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Local authorities in England are spending on average three times less on culture than the majority of residents want invested, new research has revealed.

According to the results of a new survey – jointly commissioned by The Stage – 63% of residents in the UK want to see their local council budgeting at least 50p per person every week on arts, museums and heritage.

However, statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Office for National Statistics show that the current average net spend on culture per resident each week in England is just 16p, and in some areas local authorities are making a net investment of less than 1p per resident per week.

Eight councils are failing to provide even 1p per constituent: North Somerset; Bath and North-East Somerset (this figure is artificially low due to the income received from the Roman baths in Bath); Isles of Scilly; Forest of Dean; Wokingham; Huntingdonshire; Wigan; and Selby. Just three councils invest more than 50p on culture for each resident – Exeter, Middlesbrough and the City of London (this figure is artificially high due to the small number of residents in the City).

The findings form part of research co-commissioned by the National Campaign for the Arts, industry bodies UK Theatre and the Museums Association, actors’ union Equity and The Stage. It reveals the steady decline of local council culture investment over the past few years. In 2010/11, the average budgeted cultural spend was 20p. This figure dropped to 18p in 2011/12 and then 16p in 2013/14.

A survey of 970 UK residents, carried out by Ipsos Mori as part of the research, shows that more than 75% of people want councils to provide some financial support for the arts. Of those surveyed, 63% say councils should be investing at least 50p for each resident each week. More than 20% say they want £1 to £5 invested.

A campaign will be launched next week, using the research to help make the case for council investment. Called the 50p for Culture campaign, it will encourage residents in England to find out how much their council plans to spend on culture this year via the campaign website, and will then urge them to contact local politicians calling for sustained or increased support.

The website will also rank the local cultural spend of the 326 areas in England and provide comparative spends for nearby local authorities.

Actor and director Samuel West, chair of the NCA – which is leading the campaign – said he hoped it would put an end to the 100% arts cuts that had been made by some local authorities in the UK.

Somerset County Council axed its regular arts funding from 2011, while in 2013 Westminster City Council agreed to remove its entire budget for the arts by 2014/15. Newcastle was also faced with a 100% cut last year, but this was reduced to 50% following protests. In February, Cardiff Council confirmed it would cut all of its regular annual funding to cultural organisations in 2014/15.

West said: “We would like to put a stop to the arts being the slightly easy targets of the accountants when they are sent a punishing budget from the government.”

He added that the survey showed those councils cutting arts funding by 100% were acting against the wishes of the majority of their electorate.

He said: “The research has revealed that people care about it [cultural investment] a lot more than the local authorities think they do. More importantly, we have to give authorities credit where it is due – not just where they spend money to support affordable arts for citizens now, but where they did in the past. If they turn their back on that, they are turning their back on an incredibly proud tradition.”

West said he expected those councils spending an average of less than 1p per resident per week to defend their low investment level by claiming they do not have an arts venue in their constituency.

“We [the NCA] would say that you could always build one or fund some dance classes, or get people painting or bring in a touring exhibition or theatre company rather than saying ‘If you live here we don’t really do that’,” said West.

 

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