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Local government austerity biggest challenge to culture, warns Arts Council chair

Local government austerity biggest challenge to culture, warns Arts Council chair

🕔14.Apr 2016

The Arts Council has said it is determined to work with hard-pressed local councils to devise a joint approach to funding cultural activities in an era of austerity.

Sir Peter Bazalgette, the Arts Council chair, warned that local authorities were under unprecedented financial pressure and faced making further budget cuts in the future, with an inevitable adverse impact on museums, libraries and the arts.

Addressing councillors and officials from across the country in a speech at the New Local Government Network Hub in London, Sir Peter said:

We know you are under pressure. Let’s work together to develop new, creative and innovative solutions to sustain the vital cultural life of our communities. We’re in, if you’re in.

He welcomed the positive settlement for national arts funding in the Autumn Statement and the launch of the Government’s White Paper for culture – the first of its kind for more than 50 years, which “reaffirms the importance of local authority funding in the national arts ecology.” Sir Peter added:

We know that local authorities will be asked to find even more substantial savings in the years to come. It’s the biggest challenge arts and culture face at the moment.

His comments followed an announcement recently by Birmingham city council of an inquiry to examine new ways of securing funding for the arts. 

Partners including Aston Business School, Birmingham City Council, Culture Central, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and Arts Council England will draw on the commercial and analytical skills of the city’s business community, as well as national and international exemplars, to explore the potential for new models of investment to support the city’s arts and culture offer and deliver on future ambitions.

A new report by NLGN and the Arts Council, Funding Arts and Culture in an Age of Austerity , shows that while local authorities are still the biggest funders of arts and culture in England, investment continues to decline:

  • Local authority investment in arts and culture has fallen by £236 million, 17% since 2010.
  • While English local government still spent £1.2 billion on arts and culture in 2014-15, the cuts remain significant and are likely to continue.
  • London boroughs saw the largest cuts in arts and culture spending, 19 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

Sir Peter noted that many local authorities are already finding new ways to sustain culture.

Examples included partnerships with Higher Education institutions such as in Durham where the university is hosting an exhibition from the former Durham Light Museum’s collection.

In other instances, local authorities are seeking new funding streams. Kent County Council has recently developed an innovative approach to procurement, whereby potential applicants for multi-million pound waste contracts are encouraged to consider how they can support arts and culture to deliver social value, opening up income streams for artists and helping them find new ways to contribute to local life.

Sir Peter said that while the Arts Council cannot replace all the funding lost from local authorities, the organisation is already working in partnership with over 240 local authorities to help support them in sustaining arts and culture in their area in sharing ideas and best practice.

The Arts Council will also “continue to deploy funds in dynamic and imaginitive ways”, with examples including programmes such as Creative People and Places  which invests in places with low levels of arts engagement such as Blackpool, South Tyneside and Nottinghamshire and the Creative Local growth Fund which brings together Local Enterprise Partnerships and other strategic bodies to support small and medium-sized enterprises in the creative and cultural sectors to grow and become more resilient.

Sir Peter promised the Arts Council “will continue its drive to create a better balance of spending between London and the rest of England”. He added:

When you add up the annual, national and local government spend on arts, museums and libraries, it comes to £3 billion. This is, of course, a substantial investment. But, as we’ve seen, the bit that’s really looking challenged is the contribution of local authorities.

While the Arts Council cannot change the economics of local government or bridge the funding gaps, we can, as a national development agency, use our own relationships to broker new partnerships.

We can focus specific funding on particular areas of need; we can invest in the best ideas. We can get the message out there that there are ways forward that can make a difference.

Simon Parker, Director of New Local Government Network said:

There is no industry better placed than the arts and culture to help councils think creatively. While there are no magic bullets that can replace funding cuts, we have seen councils and arts and culture organisations investing time and energy in finding ways to keep this vital sector going at a local level. We will continue to look at how we can support them in thinking about creative ways to do so.

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