Councils ‘choosing’ to make arts cuts, claims culture minister

Matt Hancock MP. Photo: UK government
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Culture minister Matt Hancock has claimed councils are making “politically motivated decisions” to cut arts and culture.

The MP told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that councillors cutting arts budgets “could make the savings elsewhere” by running their councils “more efficiently”.

Hancock was called in by the select committee as part of the Countries of Culture inquiry, which is examining the arts and their funding landscape across the UK.

Committee chair Christian Matheson, a Labour MP, told Hancock that many arts figures who had spoken to the inquiry shared concerns that, for local authorities, culture “seems to be the easy hit – the easy way to make savings”.

Responding, Hancock said: “There are well-run local authorities that are more strongly supporting culture activities because they understand the argument that culture is critical to growing a place and a sense of place, as well as the economic and the direct social benefits.”

“Of course, there are areas that are taking the opposite approach – I think that is wrong,” he added.

When Matheson suggested Lancashire County Council was “having to cut a large swathe” of its culture funding, Hancock hit back: “You just said Lancashire are ‘having to cut’ from their museums. They are not.”

He continued: “They are choosing to [cut]; it is an active political choice. They could make the savings elsewhere and run Lancashire County Council more efficiently.”

Hancock claimed the government wanted to work with the Arts Council to “reward local authorities that put money into culture”.

He said the government did “not want to turn up to places that cut the cultural activities and pick up the pieces” in case it incentivised other local authorities to do the same.

“Instead, we want to do more collaborative work where we say, ‘If you, local authority, fund a cultural activity, then we will come in alongside you and we will increase your firepower’, because we want to get the incentives right here.”

He went on: “Of course, I will work with places like Lancashire that make the opposite decision, but they should not expect that they will get special treatment because they have made a politically motivated decision to cut museums.”

But Labour MP Julie Elliott took issue with Hancock’s claims, revealing her local authority in Sunderland “will only have the funding to fulfil statutory obligations with the projected cuts that are coming down the line”.

When Hancock replied suggesting councils could still “choose to reform the way they operate to be more efficient and effective” to prevent arts cuts, Elliott fired back claiming Hancock was “not [being] fair”.

She said: “I do not know the position of Lancashire, I have no idea what their decision-making process was or what they did, but I do know that local government cuts are impacting very, very severely in areas like mine.”