Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital: Is arts money distributed fairly across England?

- 1 November 2013

‘Some rebalancing of national resources is required’, claims a report released on 31 October which has highlighted the exceptional disparities in the distribution of cultural funds between London and the rest of England.

The independent report Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital says that Arts Council England and DCMS funding in 2012/13 was distributed in the ratio 15:1 per head of population between London and the rest of the country, in a trend which has been worsening since the formation of the Arts Council in 1946.

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This trend ran ‘contrary to stated policy between 1965 and 2010’. Then ACE’s 2010 Achieving great arts for everyone strategy (a revised verison of which was coincidentally released on 30 October) became ‘the first public policy statement on the arts since [Jennie Lee’s 1965] White Paper to fail to acknowledge the scale of the imbalance in the distribution of resources’.

DCMS and ACE Treasury funding per head of population. Source: Rebalancing our Cultural Capital

DCMS and ACE Treasury funding per head of population.
Source: Rebalancing our Cultural Capital

National Lottery funding, when it was introduced in 1995, offered a chance and obligation to mitigate the nationwide imbalance (‘the poorer sections of society play the game more regularly … this feeds our belief in the need for a different ethical base for allocating funds, requiring a different policy response to distribution,’ says the report) but instead followed the same pattern.

The report also says the Arts Council was more London-centric than other Lottery awarding bodies: ‘Other Lottery distributors’ award patterns also favour the capital, but Arts Council England is exceptional in providing London with an average grant size of double the level awarded in the rest of England.’

It also draws attention to Arts & Business figures highlighting the skewed nature of private giving nationally, with 81.8% of private giving in 2011/12 going to London-based organisations.

The report does not take into consideration the £440m of annual spending on arts and culture by local councils in England.

The report’s authors were David Powell, who specialises in cultural research; Peter Stark, who was made an OBE in 1990 for his work as director of Northern Arts and is now chair of Voluntary Arts; and Christopher Gordon, a lecturer and former chief executive of the English Regional Arts Boards.

They suggest that ‘an additional 33% of arts funding per annum over five years could be responsibly and creatively invested to stabilise and then empower regional cultural production. Such an increase (broadly £120m annually) would generate a five-year requirement for £600m.’

ACE acknowledged the report as ‘a welcome contribution to the debate’.

'Yes, it’s a tough time, but actually it’s a very exciting thing to do' - Peter Bazalgette Photo: Steven Peskett

Peter Bazalgette: ‘Judge us in two years’ time’
Photo: Steven Peskett

Its chair, Sir Peter Bazalgette, appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme, saying: ‘We need to do more … I would say judge us in two years’ time. The trend is towards more spending in the regions and that’s what we’ll be doing.’

ACE’s response said that it would address the issue in its next funding decisions: ‘Our forthcoming investment round will open in January 2014 and a priority will be to ensure a balance of our investment of Grant in Aid and Lottery across the country.’

ACE also states that: ‘It can be misleading to look at London’s benefit per capita. Figures on Arts Council funding relate to where the organisation is administered from, not where its “impact” is &#8210 so funding per-head for organisations and companies that are based in London but which tour or have a regional presence will not give an accurate representation.’

It also states that London receives the lowest Arts Council subsidy per attendance, at £4.09 (compared to the Midlands, which has the highest at £11.40), though this figure is reached by excluding the Royal Opera House, Southbank Centre, National Theatre and English National Opera.

ACE’s response concludes with what appears to be a false dichotomy: ‘In the current climate, we believe it is best to strengthen capacity outside London rather than weakening investment in the capital.’

Ivan Wadeson, executive director of The Audience Agency, said that ‘high-profile success stories such as War Horse or the opening of The Hepworth are becoming common-place in the mainstream media. It would be unfortunate, if not potentially disastrous, for the arts world to engage in some intemperate in-fighting or divide along North vs South lines.

‘Stark et al provide a positive example of “rebalancing”: a National Investment Programme for cultural production outside London. Their ambition for a “polycentric” and connected ecology that “irrigates not drains” from the capital city is on the face of it one to be supported and celebrated.’

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