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Theatre leaders welcome Osborne’s arts budget, but warn of local cuts

Samuel West Samuel West
by -

Industry leaders have given Chancellor George Osborne’s arts council settlement a cautious welcome, but warned that “the battleground now shifts” as local authorities brace themselves for cuts.

In the comprehensive spending review last week, Arts Council England was awarded an extra £10 million annually over the next four years, equating to a 5% real terms cut (after inflation is taken into account) in government funding.

The deal was described as an “astonishing settlement for arts and culture” by ACE chair Peter Bazalgette, with other industry figures, including National Theatre director Rufus Norris, welcoming Osborne’s comments that it would be a “false economy” to cut the arts.

However, concerns have been raised about the impact that a £6.1 billion cut to local authority spending will have on the funding of venues and arts organisations in the regions.

National Campaign for the Arts chair Samuel West said he was “relieved” that ACE would only suffer a 5% cut in real terms, but warned that this “small cut will almost certainly be compounded by further cuts from increasingly hard-pressed local authorities”.

“The battleground now shifts. We must continue to shout loudly for local authority investment in arts and culture, particularly outside London,” he said.

Norris described ACE’s settlement as a “huge tribute to the entire arts sector”, but added that there “are still challenges ahead”.

“Let’s not forget the cuts already inflicted, particularly for regional theatres and companies who may suffer further reductions in local government funding,” he said.

UK Theatre president Rachel Tackley also expressed concerns about “cash-strapped local authorities”, while Equity warned that “there could still be substantial threats to local arts funding”.

Curve chief executive Chris Stafford urged the sector not to “rest on its laurels” and said: “There is so much more we have to do. It’s only the first part of that picture and obviously the second part is that we need to look at local authorities and the many arts organisations that are supported by them.”

Labour shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher also spoke about the threat facing the arts at local level, and said it was “unclear where the axe will fall”.

“With these ministers, the devil is always in the detail,” he claimed.

Last week, it emerged that arts organisations in Coventry are at risk of losing funding, as the council deals with the consequence of less money from central government.

Newcastle City Council has also threatened to remove its entire arts funding in the past.

A spokesman for the local authority told The Stage it welcomed the announcement about the arts council’s settlement, but added that it remained “very concerned about the overall impact of cuts to local authority services”.

Meanwhile, umbrella organisation the Creative Industries Federation said that Osborne’s plans to invest £1.3 billion in training new teachers could damage the number of people training to teach arts subjects. This is because the funding drive will have a particular focus on science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects.

“STEM subjects are crucial to the success of the creative industries but not in isolation. We will redouble our efforts to convince ministers of the importance of arts subjects,” CIF chief executive John Kampfner said.

His concerns were echoed by Deborah Annetts, who heads the Bacc for the Future campaign, which aims to get arts subjects included in the English Baccalaureate.

She said she was “troubled” by the government’s plans to continue with its EBacc proposals, which currently excludes creative subjects, despite its pledge to protect the arts in the spending review.

“These mixed messages must be sorted out, and creative subjects given equal value in our schools,” she said.

Young Vic artistic director David Lan on the “mysterious” comprehensive spending review


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