Call for arts rebalancing as report shows London takes funding

Art figure Mervyn Bragg is backing the case for a review of London funding as the North East is starved of vital arts investment

Christopher Walker Melvyn Bragg

London's arts bias is starving the North East and elsewhere of vital investment, new research today reveals.

The capital receives almost ten times per head the funding heading to the rest of the UK, with lottery cash, the Government and the Arts Councils all criticised for a London bias in the new report.

Now key arts figures such as Melvyn Bragg and producer David Puttnam have lent their support to the Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report which calls for a £600m redistribution to ensure London “irrigates rather than drains” national arts organisations outside of the capital.

Peter Stark, one of the report authors, said it was no longer acceptable that London took up around £700m a year compared to £380m in arts funding for the rest of the UK.

The latest Arts Council figures showed that some £5.59 per head goes to arts organisations in the North East compared to £21.33 per head in London

Mr Stark, a former director of Northern Arts and a professor in cultural policy and management at Northumbria University, said: “The North East did very well initially out of lottery funding, but what we see now is a double whammy as it copes with this bias and local government funding cuts which hit its arts sector while London largely avoids the same problem.”

He was backed by arts broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, who said: “This report is timely, urgent and damning of an increasingly centralised funding process.

“London is simply eating up the resources which are limited and therefore starving the rest of the country. This is wrong, short-sighted and undoubtedly unfair.

“I think it’s time that the rest of England fought back and I wholly support the contents of Rebalancing our Cultural Capital.”

The Art Fund Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead

And Chariots of Fire producer Lord Puttnam said: “Three wise and experienced men have, at their own expense, produced a well-researched report that leaves no doubt about the wholly unjustifiable scale of bias towards London in the distribution of public and lottery funding of the arts.

“To their credit, they also offer a statesmanlike proposal for beginning to redress the balance without any additional call on public funds, and at a time when there is rising anger about policies that allow London – most especially affluent Londoners - to be underwritten at the expense of the rest of the country.”

The Rebalancing our Culture report says that the built and institutional infrastructure for arts has massively improved since the 1960s.

It states: “The Arts Council has been a major partner in this achievement. What the Arts Council has not done, however, is follow through on that achievement with levels of investment in cultural production that the new infrastructure could manifestly now deliver.”

The report points out that while there are more lottery players in the North East, as a percentage of households taking part, than any other region the majority of lottery arts funding goes to London.

The authors add: “Had Londoners won a comparably disproportionate number of the National Lottery’s prizes compared to people in the rest of England, equivalent to anything like the quantity of Lottery funding awards made to the capital city, there would have been a national outcry and the swiftest action by government to stop this.”

Mr Stark says that one way to remedy this imbalance is to invest substantially in cultural production in the regions.

His report states: “We advocate the creation of a new national investment programme of £600m over the five years of a parliament, specifically charged with investment in new cultural production outside London.

“We suggest that these funds could be achieved by limiting London’s access to arts lottery funding for new activity to its proper per capita share over that period.

“London’s overall share of public funds for the arts would reduce from 65% in 2012/13 to 55% – still seven times the level of funding per head of population in the rest of England.”

Arts Council defends work

The Arts Council last night defended its work outside of London.

Sarah Maxfield, North Area Director, Arts Council England said: “Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital simplifies a complex picture but it rightly points to the need to continue to target lottery funds to places with less arts and culture investment.”

“Much has been done but there is more to do. The landscape is unrecognisable since Jennie Lee’s seminal white paper of 1965.

“We now have several world class companies who are regionally based and some of the most inspiring and challenging artistic work is made outside of the capital. Many of these have been established in the last 15 years and are part of the Arts Council’s increased investment across England.”

“Our strategy has been to respond to local demand and build up investment in partnership. This partnership has been particularly strong in the North East, leading to organisations with a national profile like Baltic and The Sage. These things take time but the statistics show that for the last three years more than 70% of our lottery investment has benefited people beyond London.”

“But these are challenging times. Arts and culture across England also face a major threat from cuts to culture that some local authorities are having to contemplate.”

“We are about to go into an investment process for the next three years where we will work closely with local authorities and other partners in the North East to target our money intelligently.

“This already includes specific lottery schemes that nurture art and culture where there is not enough.

“In the last 18 months we have targeted £24m of lottery money through our ‘Creative, People and Places’ programme in the north - including projects in South East Northumberland, Sunderland and County Durham.

“We also encourage work produced with public money to reach ever wider audiences through touring and digital distribution.

“We have to continue to build and strengthen foundations for a vibrant cultural life in the North East and for the whole country. That’s what Great Art and Culture for Everyone means.”


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