Balancing act

Sharon Heal, 05.01.2016
Two years on from Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, what has changed?
“London must stop sucking up cash from the rest of Britain.”

This radical statement came just before Christmas, not from the authors of the Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report that exposed the cultural funding discrepancy between London and the English regions, but from commentator Simon Jenkins.

Jenkins argued in his Guardian column that the government needs to take action to actively redistribute public funding away from the centre to areas of need throughout the UK. The startling investment gap between London and the rest of the UK was laid bare: according to Jenkins, infrastructure spending on each Londoner is £5,500 a year, compared with £580 per head in Yorkshire and £220 per head in the North East.

It’s been over two years since Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital was published and since then there has been a select committee inquiry and further reports from the authors of the original investigation.

But beneath the pile of words and all the accompanying hand-wringing not much seems to have changed. The latest evidence of this stasis came with the latest spending review which heralded good news for London-based nationals and Arts Council England but was cold comfort for museums funded by local authorities and those outside of England.

Jenkins wrote specifically about culture as well as infrastructure projects and had some suggestions for how the imbalance might be fixed: focussing arts investment outside the capital and sharing the density of treasures in London-based collections with the rest of the UK, to name a few.

These are great ideas and ones perhaps that a culture department looking for ideas for a white paper and an arts council thinking about its next investment plan might take note of.

Reading the papers over the Christmas lull it was clear that the campaign to preserve our regional museums is far from over as the battle to save Lancashire museums from extinction demonstrates.

Next week the Museums Association’s annual cuts survey will be published and it highlights the accumulative impact of a reduction in funding for museums over the past four years.

The next year will bring more uncertainty and change for the sector. In all the insecurity one thing is guaranteed: the MA will be making the case for all museums and the public benefit they can deliver.