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Prepare for cuts, Arts Council tells theatres

The National Theatre. Photo: Philip Vile The National is among the UK theatres in receipt of more than £1 million that the Arts Council has warned to anticipate real-terms funding cuts. Photo: Philip Vile
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UK theatres are bracing themselves for real-terms cuts as Arts Council England warns of standstill funding in its next round of national portfolio grants.

The Arts Council confirmed to The Stage that, as it received a standstill settlement from the government in 2015, most NPOs that remain in the portfolio for the 2018-22 investment round will receive standstill funding.

It added that only in “exceptional circumstances” would organisations receive an uplift.

Those in receipt of more than £1 million have been given an indicative planning figure to base their applications on, but ACE said in all cases this was “standstill or less”.

Arts organisations fear that flat settlements will effectively mean a cut, as the costs associated with running venues and staging productions increase.

They are also concerned it will have a knock-on effect on their ability to take risks and innovate, and have claimed that the new four-year settlements will make this even harder.

The artistic director of one regional theatre, who did not want to be named, told The Stage inflation meant theatres were “always looking at things costing more in the subsequent years”. He added this was forcing companies to think more creatively.

“To give the Arts Council credit, at least it has prepared us for what we will be working with. It means everyone has to be more proactive about co-productions and talking to each other about lending equipment. This kind of funding settlement makes us all think collaboratively,” he said.

A chief executive from another major regional producing theatre added: “In real terms, and as costs go up, standstill is effectively a cut in the long term. But I don’t think there is anything more ACE can do at this stage.”

ACE has a budget of £409 million a year for its NPOs between 2018-22, representing an increase of £37 million a year on the 2015-18 period. However, the Arts Council said this rise – a result of diverting cash to its NPOs from other funding streams – would be used to increase subsidy outside London in the next NPO round.

In the 2012-15 round, 703 organisations were funded in the national portfolio, compared with 665 in the most recent. This amounts to a reduction of 5.4%.

An Arts Council spokeswoman said that, while it had received a standstill settlement from the government, it wanted to do more with that funding.

“We therefore anticipate that the majority of NPOs that remain in the portfolio for the 2018-22 investment round will receive standstill funding. Of course, some organisations may receive less than previous years. In exceptional circumstances, very few will receive uplifts, and some existing NPOs may leave the portfolio altogether,” she said.

She added that the planning figures given to organisations in receipt of more than £1 million were “advisory”.

“In their application forms, there is an opportunity for organisations to apply for more than their current award, but it is unlikely that we will award uplifts except in exceptional cases,” she added.

Organisations have until February 1 to submit applications to be a part of the 2018-22 Arts Council national portfolio. Funding decisions are expected to be announced on July 1.

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