Thomas Bridge 05 November 2014

Cut lottery funding for councils that don’t back culture, MPs say

Funding cuts should be handed to councils that do not support local arts, MPs have warned in a damning review of Arts Council ‘imbalance’.

Members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee today pushed the Arts Council to be ‘more robust’ with local authorities that ‘show little inclination’ to back local cultural work. Yet the committee stopped short of recommending introducing statutory levels of support, similar to those surrounding libraries.

MPs highlighted the London borough of Westminster, which they claim does ‘little to support the arts’ and has cut all investment.

‘We are disappointed that a few local authorities appear to fail to recognise the value of supporting the arts and we see little point in pumping public money into areas that do not particularly want or need it. We would expect that the Government minister with responsibility for the arts should use his position to champion the arts at every opportunity, not least in conversations with local authorities,’ committee chair John Whittingdale said.

However, Cllr Robert Davis, deputy leader of Westminster City Council, said it was ‘incredibly disingenuous to say we contribute nothing’ when the borough hosts free events, is a key partner in establishing new theatres and improving cultural sites and provides free art on the streets.

‘On top of that, we have our own ward budget programme, which allocates £46,000 to each of Westminster’s 20 local areas and is spent on a wide range of projects, including culture trips for the elderly, art classes for residents, children’s art competitions, youth orchestra projects, and community choirs, to name just a few,’ Cllr Davis added.

Responding to the report, Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair, Arts Council England said a ‘crucial’ factor for the arts funding was ‘the commitment of local authorities to support culture during this period of austerity’.

‘To that end, we fully endorse the importance placed on local partnership working and will continue to use our on the ground expertise and knowledge to build connections and broker partnerships around the country that deliver strong cultural engagement,’ he added.

The Arts Council came under fire for its ‘clear funding imbalance’ in favour of London and was urged to limit the capital’s access to National Lottery support.

The committee chair 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.

‘We welcome the efforts already being made by the Arts Council to shift lottery funding outside of London but would like to see this done faster.’

Sir Peter said he agreed that ‘any further provision in future spending rounds should be prioritised to bolster the national arts ecology outside the M25’.

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