Councils across England have reduced their culture spending by £400 million over the past eight years, new analysis has revealed.
Of this, £54 million was cut from budgets set aside for arts development and support, with local council leaders arguing they have been left “between a rock and a hard place”. They claim dwindling resources from central government have meant they have had few options but to cut services such as culture and prioritise care services.
They are now warning that cultural cutbacks could continue if the forthcoming Spending Review does not allocate enough funding to enable them to fulfil care obligations to the elderly and vulnerable.
New analysis by the County Councils Network found spending for the arts, libraries and museums across all local authorities between 2010/11 and 2017/18 fell from £1.4 billion to £1 billion.
According to the analysis, this drop was most keenly felt by residents in counties, with councils in shire counties and rural areas, which have decreased culture spending by 30% since 2011. This is higher than anywhere else in the country.
County councils include the 27 English county councils, nine county unitary councils and the 201 district councils that sit beneath them. Other types of local authority include London and other metropolitan boroughs and unitary councils.
Looking specifically at arts spending – excluding museums and libraries – county councils have reduced their culture spend by £26 million (50%) since 2011. This is nearly half that of the total £54 million arts cuts inflicted by all English councils over the same period.
Philip Atkins, Conservative vice-chairman of the County Councils Network and leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: “Increasing demand for care, at a time when councils are experiencing significant funding reductions, leaves local authorities between a rock and a hard place on these hugely important but non-care services.”
He argued that these councils still play a major role in supporting local arts and culture, and had changed the way they deliver arts services by trying to innovate while saving money. But, he said: “With the unprecedented demand for care services continuing, we have regrettably had to shift funding from other areas to fulfil our statutory duties and more importantly protect the elderly and vulnerable. This trend is happening across all local councils, but is felt more in shire areas, where the average county spends two-thirds of its budget on care services.”
Atkins also called for more resources in the spending review so councils can preserve “highly-valuable [arts] services alongside delivering care”.
“If not, we will have little choice but to continue to cut expenditure on culture; and there needs to be an honest discussion on what role councils are expected to play in their communities because the current trend, which has seen us spend more on care and less on other services, shows no signs of abating,” he said.
Notable casualties have included the West Midlands, with arts organisations in Birmingham experiencing consecutive years of cuts, including recent proposals for these to continue in 2019/20.
Earlier last year, the charity Arts Development UK closed after 35 years, blaming local authority arts cuts for a drop off in membership from local councils.