Arts Council ordered to divert cash away from London and the south

MPs insist unfair arts funding system must end following warnings that North East misses out

New Arts Council director, Jane Tarr
Arts Council director, Jane Tarr

Give us our fair share.

That is the blunt message to the Arts Council after complaints from North East arts organisations met with support from MPs who hit out about the south benefitting at our expense.

MPs were scathing about the unfairness of the funding system which sees the region lose out in the distribution of both grants from the tax-payer and lottery funding.

The area receives well under half of what the capital gets per head - and calls have been made for the Arts Council to urgently end the imbalance, suggesting £120m a year could be diverted away from London and the south east.

But in response, Jane Tarr, area director north of Arts Council England, said yesterday that while she agreed future funding priorities should help redress the balance, and it is working closely with arts organisations in the North East, “it is difficult to act urgently when the Arts Council’s income is shrinking”.

The MPs’ comments came in the wake of their eight-month inquiry which considered evidence from a range of local arts organisations as well as evidence submitted by the Arts Council itself which revealed grants for the North East in 2012-13 amounted to £9.64 per person compared with £21.90 per person in London.

While region’s funding was still higher than the national average of £8.23 per head, lottery cash for the arts compared less favourably all round, with the North East receiving £4.45 per head compared with the national average of £5.93 and £12.07 in London.

And an independent study cited by MPs found the discrepancy was even greater.

Peter Stark, former director of Northern Arts and chief adviser to Gateshead during its regeneration plans around the Baltic and the Sage, co-wrote the study Rebalancing our Cultural Capital which said that in 2012/13 taxpayers from the whole of England provided benefit to London of £68.43 per head, against £4.75 per head in the rest of the country.

Stark also co-wrote a separate study called the PLACE report which found lottery players in the North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber had contributed £1bn to arts lottery funding, while the region received £835m back - a deficit of £216m. People in London and the south east, meanwhile, contributed £1.2bn and received back £1.6 billion, a £416m surplus.

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee said there was a “clear funding imbalance in favour of London at the expense of tax payers and lottery players in other parts of the country” and it warned the Arts Council must end the unfairness “with greater urgency”.

Committee chair John Whittingdale said: “The Arts Council generally does a good job in allocating limited resources between many competing demands.

“However, there is a clear imbalance in arts funding in favour of London – which the Arts Council itself admits.

“This is unfair on tax payers and lottery players in other parts of the country, as well as limiting access to cultural opportunities and enjoyment across the country.”

Among the local arts organisations lobbying the inquiry was the North East Cultural Partnership, a body backed by 12 local councils and North East Chamber of Commerce, which suggested the Arts Council should look for ways to make funding decisions locally instead of in London as unfair funding “has led to networks of artists and organisations in some parts of England, which, for all their strengths, are smaller and less powerful than we need”.

And, The Touring Partnership Ltd, which represents nine theatres across the country including the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, said: “The gulf between the current per capita investment of the nation’s funds for culture in London compared to the rest of England is unacceptable by anybody’s reckoning.”

MPs highlighted a finding in the Rebalancing our Cultural Capital report which concluded that a fairer funding system would mean “for the regions outside London, the outcome would be an annual increase on current levels of allocation of about £120 million.”

They said: “A redistribution of funds along the lines suggested by the authors of Rebalancing our Cultural Capital would do much to redress the imbalance in funding to benefit England as a whole.

“We believe this could be achieved in a timely fashion without threatening London’s world status as a cultural centre.”

Jane Tarr said: “We have already acknowledged the funding imbalance.

“This report suggests that greater urgency is required around the re-balancing debate and we share the committee’s desire for a speedy response to the historic challenges represented by re-balancing.

“We agree that any further provision in future funding rounds should be prioritised towards the arts ecology outside London but it is difficult to act urgently when the Arts Council’s income is shrinking.”

She added: “As the report also makes clear, one of the crucial factors for the arts funding landscape is the continuing commitment of local authorities to support culture.

“We fully endorse the importance placed on regional partnership working and will continue to use our local expertise and knowledge to build connections and broker partnerships that deliver strong cultural engagement.

“In the North East, we are already working closely with the North East Culture Partnership and we also have strong partnerships with higher education institutions, such as in Teesside and Northumbria.

“We have been advocating the strength of the region’s arts and culture to local enterprise partnerships, we have a good track record of attracting international investment to the region and only very recently the international Culture Action Europe conference was hosted here in Newcastle Gateshead.”

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