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ACE and government to tackle London and the regions arts funding imbalance

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The government and Arts Council England have pledged to tackle the imbalance of arts funding between London and the regions in official responses to a select committee report that called for ACE to address the issue with “greater urgency”.

The report, published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee in November 2014, found that more must be done to rectify the funding disparity between London and the regions, urging ACE to achieve a fairer system of making art available and accessible for everyone.

In its response, the government said it was pleased to see that in its 2015-18 portfolio ACE “continues the trend in the increase of the share of funding that is going to organisations outside London”.

It does concede however that “there is much more to do and much further to go”.

The select committee report called on ACE to address the funding imbalances “much faster than it has hitherto been”. However, both the government and ACE warned of the dangers of a “sudden and hasty shift”.

“Given the current situation regarding public finances, we feel that it is important for the arts council to ensure that funding decisions are made carefully and with a view of the national picture. We would be concerned if there was a sudden and hasty shift in funding that would weaken and threaten London’s cultural offer,” said the government’s response.

ACE claimed in its response that it shared the select committee’s desire for a “speedy response to the historic challenges” however the pace with which it could work to rebalance funding levels “is in part dependent on the income levels we receive”.

It added: “We must be careful not to act in a way that damages what is already working well, including the thriving cultural life of our capital city.”

Meanwhile, the government said it was concerned about the committee’s suggestion that local authorities should include a “statutory requirement” for arts and culture, saying it “would not be helpful”.

“The introduction of such a requirement, as exists for libraries, would create a ‘tick box’ culture that may not represent a genuine commitment by local authorities,” it said.

Elsewhere, responses from both ACE and the government addressed the issue of philanthropy, which the committee’s report warned was becoming increasingly difficult to secure.

The government said it had always been clear that “any move to increase philanthropy and charitable giving will take time”, adding: “There is capacity for private giving out there, we just have to get better at asking for it.”

ACE said that encouraging philanthropic support for the arts, especially outside London, was an important goal for the body, adding that it was investing in the development of a new cadre of fundraisers to “begin a cultural shift in organisations’ awareness of, and approach to, seeking philanthropic donations”.

Other issues raised in the 2014 report, which followed a select committee inquiry, included urging ACE to take a “more robust stance” with local authorities, such as Westminster, which make drastic cuts to its arts funding.

ACE said that while it wanted to support councils that continue to prioritise funding the arts, it was not in a position to take a tougher stance with those that decide to withdraw or reduce their arts funding commitments.

The committee also recommended that large institutions in London perform more of a “genuinely national role”, a notion supported by ACE.

It said: “All organisations we fund, particularly the largest, must ensure that they have robust delivery plans for their activity and we work with them to ensure their plans focus on their role as leaders and partners.”

ACE added that it welcomed the report’s recommendation that it would be unwise to cut ACE’s grant in aid levels and said that should its funding levels increase, any further provision “should be prioritised to bolster the national arts ecology outside the M25”.

It concluded: “We will continue to balance our investment intelligently – to built capacity outside London as quickly as possible, but without damaging the infrastructure in the capital.

“Local authorities and other partners in place across the country are crucial and we will build partnerships with all of them to ensure that arts and culture continue to thrive nationwide.”

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