MPs disturbed by councils' arts cuts

28 Mar 11
Many arts organisations will close as a result of a 'double whammy' of funding cuts by local authorities and Arts Council England, MPs have warned
By Lucy Phillips

28 March 2011

Many arts organisations will close as a result of a ‘double whammy’ of funding cuts by local authorities and Arts Council England, MPs have warned.

In a report published today, the Commons culture, media & sports committee says it is ‘disturbed’ by the number of local authorities proposing ‘very substantial cuts’ to arts organisations as they grapple with their own swingeing budget cuts.

It comes as the Arts Council has to make considerable reductions in the grants it awards arts projects, following a 30% cut in its grants-in-aid money from central government.

The ‘double-whammy’ will ‘inevitably mean the end for a number of local arts institutions and arts events’, the report warns. Regional museums and galleries are deemed particularly at risk.

The cross-party group MPs recommend that local authorities introduce ‘local honours systems’ to mitigate some of the damage. This would reward philanthropists who invest in the arts and heritage of that area.

While today’s report, Funding of the arts and heritage, warns that the impending cuts could prove ‘disastrous’ for the sector, the committee also says that the high levels of public investment in the arts over recent years were unsustainable.

Committee chair John Whittingdale said: ‘Over the past 20 years, the arts have enjoyed particularly high levels of public investment. While this has created a vibrant and successful arts scene in the UK, there has also undoubtedly been waste.

‘We realise that cuts in public spending will have a major impact on arts and heritage organisations, forcing some closures, and we regret that. However, at a time when cuts are biting across the board, it is right that all sectors share the burden.’  

Government funding to the Arts Council in England increased by more than 150% to £453m in the 12 years to 2010, the report says. But the ‘financially comfortable period’ led to the quango spending far too much on its own administration. While it has already cut its costs by half, the committee believes a further cut of 50%, as required by the government, ‘can be managed’.

The MPs criticised the Arts Council for a series of mistakes, most notably its involvement in the Public gallery in West Bromwich, which was beset by financial difficulties before it opened in 2009. Coming in millions of pounds over budget, this was the ‘worst example of a gross waste of public money by the Arts Council’, the MPs said.

An Arts Council England spokesman today responded: ‘The Public is old news, and is not representative of the Arts Council’s investments in capital projects.’ The quango also rejected the committee’s suggestions that it should sell off some of its artwork collection to help plug the current funding gap.

The government also came under fire from the committee, for the way it scrapped arts quangos such as the UK Film Council and Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. There was little dialogue with the bodies before their abolition, the MPs found, and no forethought given to what would take over their functions. The committee has urged ministers to review their decision to abolish the MLA next year, saying there was ‘no persuasive reason’ to close it down.

A spokesman from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the committee’s report was ‘a valuable contribution to a complex debate’ and it would publish a full response in due course.

Did you enjoy this article?