Chancellor attacked for claim Northumberland has 'flourishing' arts scene after cutbacks

Gillian Hambleton, whose Northumberland Theatre Company lost 100% of its Arts Council grant, said disparity between region and London is 'ridiculous'

George Osborne visits Nifco's factory in Eaglescliffe
George Osborne

An artistic director whose theatre group lost 100% of its Government funding has hit out at George Osborne for claims his ‘Northern powerhouse’ included a “flourishing arts scene” in Northumberland.

The Chancellor used a visit to Alnwick to claim the arts are “really important” for the North East in an era when the South East economy is dominant, and that the Coalition had chosen to invest in cultural projects across the North East.

But Gillian Hambleton, of the Northumberland Theatre Company, angrily hit back by saying there remains a “huge disparity” between the funding of arts in the North and that in the South East.

She cited the independent Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report, which highlighted how for every £69 per head spent on culture in London by the Government, just £4.50 per head was spent in the North East.

The Alnwick-based Northumberland Theatre Company, lost the £337,000 it received from the Arts Council in 2011 (100% of its annual grant), at the same time the Alnwick Playhouse Trust’s £40,000 subsidy was slashed.

Gillian said: “The disparity between the North East and London is ridiculous.

“It is a spurious argument for Mr Osborne to say he has invested money in arts in the region. Investment has not been my experience of the last three years.

“Mr Osborne seems to be in denial about funding reaching other parts of the country other than London, because the North East does particularly badly in terms of Arts Council funding.

“We see money going into projects in Manchester, Leeds and York but we see none of that.

“When money does come to the North East, it is to Newcastle and Gateshead, not Northumberland. We are very much the poor relation in this rural area.

“At the moment Berwick is a crucial seat for the Conservatives and we have all of a sudden seen Ministers visit.

“David Cameron has been to Alnwick and now Mr Osborne. Obviously, we are now on the map but before now I don’t think anyone cared.”

Gillian Hambleton, artistic director of Northumberland Theatre Company
Gillian Hambleton, artistic director of Northumberland Theatre Company

Gillian, who works from community buildings in rural Northumberland, said North East culture was doubly hit during the cutbacks of the last five years. Firstly, there was a reduction in Central Government funding, which came via the Arts Council, and secondly, the grants which came from local government all but disappeared.

She sympathised with local government officers wielding cuts.

“I can understand it,” she said. “Do you fund a care home or the arts - they face impossible decisions.”

Speaking during a visit to Alnwick’s Baileys Cafe, the Chancellor placed funding the arts as vital to growth in the North East, where tourism is key.

He said: “Let me be really clear the North East and Northumberland is a really central part of that Northern powerhouse, and that is about investing in infrastructure, in roads like the A1, in science like at the National Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University, but the arts is also really important and we have a flourishing arts scene in places like Alnwick.

“We are investing in specific cultural projects across the North East of England with specific grants going in.

“It is all part of trying to create a Northern counterpart to the success of London and the South East.

“And what is very exciting at the moment is that for the first time in living memory, the North is growing faster than the South.

“We have had enormous success in growing businesses and creating jobs in the North East.”

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