MPs warn culture minister over crisis in arts funding

The culture minister Ed Vaizey has been told to act to redistrubute National Lottery arts cash to make it more fare

Newcastle East Labour MP Nick Brown
Newcastle East Labour MP Nick Brown

Arts in the regions will face an “existential crisis” if the Government does not intervene to redirect lottery funding, MPs have warned a culture minister.

MPs from outside London queued up yesterday to make the case for change following a report into how the capital soaks up cultural cash.

The influential Rebalancing our Cultural Capital report showed that half of all Arts Council England funding budget went to London, as well as some 90% of the £450m Department for Culture, Media and Sport budget, meaning the capital gets £69 of cultural spending per head, compared with just £4.50 in the rest of England.

Alongside this, 45% of National Lottery arts cash goes to London.

In Parliament yesterday former North East regional minister Nick Brown said it was now “cleary possible to win the lottery without having to play it”.

He told MPs: “When I saw the report into Rebuilding our Cultural Capital I was not surprised. It is right and proper that particular funding goes to particular institutions of national standing, and it is logical they are in the capital.

“But that only goes so far. What genuinely surprised me is the extent to which the bias happens. London enjoys a 14 to 1 ratio in funding per head.

“The authors came up with a modest suggestion of how to fund arts outside of London. Of the different funding streams, money from the Department, money from Arts Council, and lottery money, the national lottery should at least in part be dedicated to regional arts.

“The proposal is modest and even more justified when we look at who is contributing into the lottery. 56% of households in the North East pay into lottery, in London it is 32%, so it is possible to win the lottery without playing it, all you have to do is move to London.”

He added that the Sage could see far more from world-renowned touring orchestras if the £600mlottery fund suggested in the report was set up.

Mr Brown added: “It takes money to bring orchestras of international demand to the North East, and if we had just a little more money it would go a long way to bringing the Sage back to its original intent.”

Also challenging the Government to act was Durham MP Helen Goodman.

While agreeing that the National Gallery should cost more than the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, for example, she said that it was still difficult to see why three months on from the report, the Arts Council had not shown the benefits of its spending bias.

Labour’s shadow arts minister said: “About £2bn of public money will be spent in London in the spending period from 2015. When you learn that Arts Council England supports 77 organisations in London but just seven in the North East, it is clear this is not just a handful of elite institutions taking funding.

“We need a proper audit of what is going on, taking in all the funding areas. It is concerning that the Arts Council says it cannot make up the shortfall and wants to work with local authorities.

“At first, that seems reasonable, until you take count of the unfair cuts in local authority funding in the North. Normally public subsidy goes were the market fails. This cannot be said to be the case in London, which has the most investment and the greatest number of tourists.

“The Minister cannot continue to hide behind the Arts Council’s skirt. He has totally failed to persuade the Secretary of State to take account of the arts in funding, can he now focus on convincing the Arts Council. If he does not we will see an existential crisis in the arts as young people across the country lose the stimulation provided by the arts.”

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah met yesterday with the National Portrait Gallery to discuss its partnership work with Tyne and Wear museums and galleries.

But, she said: “While it’s great to see that working together, we need strong regional institutions with continued funding to create regional talent.”

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said that there were countless examples of successful arts projects outside of London.

He said: “If you take just the statistics it looks like London gets a disproportionate share, but the national institutions based there are working with museums up and down the country, and then there is the touring which goes on. For honourable members who are concerned, their message has been heard.”

He questioned whether Labour would cancel all the funding for the big five arts organisations in London, such as the National Gallery, and redistribute it across the UK, though the minister was shouted down by Labour MPs when raising this.

Ms Goodman ruled out the suggestion.

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