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Labour blames Tories for £165m local arts cuts since 2010

Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Photo: Craig Holmes Birmingham Repertory Theatre has suffered cuts of 52% to its local authority grants since 2010. Photo: Craig Holmes
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Local government spending on culture and heritage in England has dropped by £165 million since 2010, according to new figures from Labour.

It comes in the wake of comments by arts minister Matt Hancock, who suggested councils were making “politically motivated decisions” to cut arts and culture, and should be trying harder to make savings elsewhere.

Research published by Labour shows that, between 2010/11 and 2015/16, the total local authority expenditure on culture and heritage fell by £165 million, a figure the party claims is a “direct result” of cuts made by central government to local government.

The figures claim to reveal a drop in culture and heritage expenditure from £614.6 million to £449.6 million since 2010, when the coalition government came to power.

Culture and heritage spend includes archives, arts development and support, heritage, museums and galleries, theatres and public entertainment.

Earlier this year, Arts Council England said that £56 million had been lost from council arts funding between 2009 and 2014. However, these figures also cover heritage, museums and galleries over a slightly different time frame.

Regionally, the West Midlands has been worst hit, losing £24 million in arts funding in the past six years. This equates to a drop of £4.17 per head.

Last year, Birmingham Repertory Theatre revealed it had suffered cuts of 52% to its local authority grants since 2010 due to city council reductions.

Elsewhere, people in the North East have had the largest per capita cut, at £5.12. The total drop in culture and heritage expenditure for the region was £13.4 million.

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson, whose office released the data, said the new figures revealed the scale of the challenges being faced by councils nationwide.

“The UK’s rich artistic and cultural heritage is the envy of the world and something everyone in this country can be proud of. But arts and culture are facing a hard time, with these new figures revealing the scale of the cuts they’ve suffered because the government has slashed local authority budgets,” he said.

Watson went on to claim that the funding environment was set to get tougher as Brexit looms.

“With little sign of local arts funding being restored, the government needs to reassure us that it’s focused on protecting the arts from further cuts and the possible negative consequences of Brexit. We’ve not had enough reassurance of that yet,” he said.

Last month, Hancock told the culture, media and sport select committee that councils could be running their authorities more efficiently and criticised them for choosing to make easy savings by cutting arts and culture budgets.

At an event in London last week, Watson reacted angrily to Hancock’s words.

“It makes me furious when I see Tory culture minister Matt Hancock saying things like, ‘councils that have cut arts budgets are choosing to cut, it is an active political choice, they could have made savings elsewhere’… It’s just unacceptable. He knows [councils] have no choice, because his government gave [them] no choice,” Watson said.

He was speaking at the launch of the Communities for Culture taskforce, an initiative he announced earlier this year, which will scrutinise how local authority cuts are affecting culture nationwide.

A DCMS spokeswoman said the government was committed to supporting the UK’s “world-class arts and culture”, citing the £1.1 billion being given to ACE between 2015 to 2018.

“We know that the arts play a vital role in shaping the UK’s image and reputation abroad. We are working closely with the arts sector to make sure we seize the exciting opportunities that will come from a new place for Britain in the world,” she said.

Local authority total culture and heritage expenditure 2015/16 vs 2010/11, by region

  • East Midlands: -£13.7 million
  • East of England: -£22.4 million
  • London: -£16.6 milion
  • North East: -£13.4 million
  • North West: -£22 million
  • South East: -£22.5 million
  • South West: -£14 million
  • West Midlands: -£24 million
  • Yorkshire and the Humber: -£16.5 million

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