Arts Council England has won a ring-fenced 5% funding cut in the Spending Round for 2015/16, while the settlement for the Department for Culture Media and Sport is 8%.
But it appears that the arts settlement was largely negotiated separately from the culture secretary Maria Miller, by the Arts Council and national museum directors, according to indications in the response to the Treasury’s decision from Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of the Arts Council.
‘This is a good result for arts and culture in such a tough economic climate,’ he said. ‘It is hugely encouraging to see that the chancellor and the treasury have listened to the argument that the arts and culture makes such a valuable contribution to our quality of life and the economy.
‘Maria Miller has done an effective job in making the case for the value of public funding, backed with powerful arguments from the culture sector, who every day demonstrate their worth through the brilliant work they do, day in, day out.’
The Arts Council had, like other government quangos, been told to prepare for three scenarios of cuts of 5%, 10% and 15% in the review, the results of which were due to be announced at the end of June. Last month insiders were describing the 5% option if it could be achieved as ‘a result’, 10% as ‘damaging’ and 15% as ‘catastrophic’ to the arts in England.
But in briefings to National Portfolio Organisations, the Arts Council has warned that 5% could still mean as much as 30% of them losing their funding. It is hoped that creative use of lottery money could help to ameliorate the effect.
‘We’ll need now to consider our next steps carefully, thinking about how we will make those tough judgments on how the money is allocated for the maximum benefit of culture in this country,’ Bazalgette said.
However, Whitehall sources are crediting Maria Miller with making a better than expected deal for her department, at 8% when many departments had to accept at least 10%, and attributed the result to her obstinacy as well as to representations from the arts. In recent weeks arts leaders including Sir Nicholas Serota of Tate , Sir Nicholas Hytner of the National Theatre and Ruth Mackenzie, director of last year’s successful London 2012 Festival, have called for damage to the arts budget to be limited because of their economic importance to the country.
In 2010 the Arts Council was handed out a 30% cut and told to pass on no more than 15% to front line arts organisations. There was another 1% cut for DCMS announced in last year’s Autumn Statement, and another 2% over the next two years in the Budget, both passed on to the arts.
But it seems that following direct briefings from Bazalgette and other arts leaders the chancellor, George Osborne, has been persuaded of the value of the arts and culture to the British economy, and the extensive damage that would be caused by further substantial subsidy cuts.
The settlement comes at a time of rumour that the DCMS may be dismantled and its responsibilities shared out among other government departments. An irony is that since the department left its Cockspur Street offices in March it has been accommodated in the same space occupied by its predecessor, the Office of Arts and Libraries, when it was part of the education department. There has also been doubt about Miller’s cabinet future, particularly following the resignation of her permanent secretary and senior civil servant Jonathan Stephens (who was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List), but her credit may have risen with the latest settlement.