Arts funding crisis: minister says government money ‘worst solution’ to plugging cuts

Matt Hancock MP. Photo: UK government
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Culture minister Matt Hancock has claimed providing central government money to alleviate local arts cuts would be “the worst thing that we can do”.

His comments follow calls made for the government to intervene in Bath, where the council cut 100% of its arts budget in February.

At the time, Equity demanded that culture secretary Karen Bradley intervene and “facilitate a settlement to stabilise local arts funding”.

The union referred to a reported deal between central government and Surrey County Council in which extra money was allegedly agreed for social care.

Speaking in London at an election event hosted by the Creative Industries Federation, Hancock said: “The worst thing that we can do is to incentivise local authorities to reduce further their arts funding by saying that we will replace it with central government money. To solve one problem, that at the moment is only in some local authority areas, we would incentivise other local authorities to do the wrong thing.”

“We absolutely will not commit to replacing any reduction in local authority funding with central funding because of the very negative impact that would have,” he added.

Following the removal of Bath’s arts grants, Bristol City Council approved £380,000 worth of cuts to its arts budget.

It has been estimated that local government spending on culture and heritage fell by £165 million between 2010 and 2016.

Hancock went on to say that, if elected, a future Conservative government would work with local authorities to champion those that do value culture.

“Artistic and cultural investment, whether that’s funded by the taxpayer, whether its funded philanthropically, or whether it’s funded commercially, begets development, improvement and a stronger future economy as well as the positive social impacts.”

“Making that argument across the country and giving examples of brilliant leadership – starting with Sir Howard [Bernstein, former Manchester City Council chief executive] in Manchester and cascading positively – is a really important task, so that even in difficult times, councils follow the example of those who have increased rather than decreased their investment in the arts,” he said.

Ahead of the election on June 8, UK Theatre, the Society of London Theatre and Equity have all called for efforts to combat cuts to local arts funding to be redoubled.