North East takes arts funding battle to Westminster

Funding decisions are made in London and Manchester while North East arts organisations are neglected, MPS to be told

John Mowbray
John Mowbray

The battle to win a fairer deal for North East arts and cultural organisations will come to Parliament today when representatives from the region put their case to MPs.

They will demand an end to a funding system which means arts organisations in the North East receive just £5.59 a year for each of the region’s residents, compared to £21.33 per head in London.

The problem is partly a result of the way national funding body Arts Council England is managed - with major offices in Manchester and London but none in the North East, MPs will be told.

Leaders of the North East Culture Partnership, which represents the regions councils as well as universities, arts and heritage organisations and businesses, are to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee at a hearing in the House of Commons.

The partnership’s co-chairs, John Mowbray, former president of North East Chamber of Commerce, and Coun David Budd, Member for Culture at Middlesbrough Council, will tell MPs that they want to work with Arts Council England to help it find ways of devolving funding to regional level so that organisations with local knowledge can help determine how it is distributed.

They will also argue that it is essential the whole of England benefits from organisations which are based in London but receive high levels of funding on the basis that they are “national” bodies.

The pair are also set to argue that that there should be funding for projects which involve artistic innovation and creative risk - rather than simply funding organisations based on the size of the audience they attract.

Coun Budd said: “The North East Culture Partnership is passionate about the role that arts and heritage play in the life of the region and its economy.

“We are taking on strategic brokerage, partnership and leadership roles and believe that more regionally devolved Arts Lottery funds and decision making would create significantly more impact for communities in the North East.”

MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee are looking into the work of Arts Council England and will publish their findings later in the year.

The North East Culture Partnership was invited to give evidence in person after submitting written evidence earlier in the year, along with a range of other arts bodies.

North East Theatres and actors’ union Equity told MPs that the concentration of resources in London and the south was not only unfair but also damaged the economy.

It followed the publication last year of a report by academics including Peter Stark, professor of cultural policy and management at Northumbria University, which warned that London receives £563.9m a year in culture funding from the Government and the Arts Council while the rest of the country gets £205.1m.

The study, backed by senior arts figures including Melvyn Bragg and producer David Puttnam, also found that the North East had received £86.22 per head in arts lottery funding since 1995, while Londoners received £165.

Actors’ union Equity highlighted the economic importance of the arts in its written submission, telling MPs: “An independent Economic Impact Assessment of 10 of the North East’s leading cultural organisations showed that £4.06 of GVA is generated within the region for every pound of subsidy received.”

However, it said it would have concerns about simply cutting funding for the South to shift money North.

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