Winners and losers

Alistair Brown, 27.06.2017
A first look at ACE’s National Portfolio announcement
Today saw a moment of high drama for England’s cultural organisations as Arts Council England (ACE) announced its national portfolio funding plans for the next four years – a decision that determines the future of hundreds of cultural organisations across the country.

The last time such an announcement was made, back in 2014, it only impacted directly on the 21 largest museums in England – mostly the usual suspects.

This time, by contrast, many more museum directors were awaiting 27 June with bated breath.

ACE’s decision to vastly expand the number of organisations eligible for funding has led to a huge increase in the number of museums in the national portfolio – we now know that 57 museum organisations comprising at least 200 museums will get ACE funding for the 2018-22 period, as well as a number of sector support organisations.

The annual spend on museums over this period will be £36.6m – a substantial increase on the £27.3m per year under the 2015-18 portfolio.

So this is undoubtedly a good day for museums in England. ACE has provided additional funding directly to some of the most exciting smaller and medium-sized museums, recognising that they are just as capable of delivering innovative exhibitions and programmes as their larger cousins.

ACE has also recognised the need for museums to be more present in communities across England, including those that have experienced the worst of industrial decline and austerity, with Doncaster, Wakefield, Stockton-on-Tees and Plymouth all feature on the list of new NPOs.

Inevitably there are still questions about how this new system is going to function. What role will the former MPMs play in relation to their smaller neighbours? And will the growing number of Sector Support Organisations provide value for money?

The list of SSOs has expanded from museum development providers to include a number of well-known names in the sector who have previously relied on private and charitable streams of income for their core funds.

And finally, spare a thought for those museums that have missed out on funding and will be quietly licking their wounds. They face an environment that has seen a 30% reduction in local authority spending on museums since 2010, and an increasingly tough battle for funding.

The unfortunate reality is that an increase in spending by ACE, welcome though it is, does not replace what has been lost over the last few years. So this is a good day, but there is still much to fight for.