InsideOUT, a sound and light project on the site of a former colliery at Snibston, Leicestershire, funded by Arts Council England in 2012

Select committee calls for greater urgency in rebalancing ACE funding

Patrick Steel, 05.11.2014
Arts minister and ACE should be more robust with councils over support for the arts, report finds
A report by the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee into the work of Arts Council England (ACE), published today, found that “greater urgency” is needed to address “a clear funding imbalance in favour of London at the expense of tax payers and lottery players in other parts of the country”.

The committee also called for an increased and consolidated national museum presence outside London, praising the Science Museum Group’s support for museums in Bradford, Manchester, Shildon, and York.

And the arts council should take a “far more robust stance” with local authorities that “show little inclination to support the arts”, the report finds.

The report also highlighted the lack of a comprehensive arts policy in England, calling for a “clear overall policy statement by the government” that might guide the arts council’s strategic direction.

Arts minister Ed Vaizey was criticised in the report after the committee found that conversations between the minister and local authorities “are not commonplace, if they take place at all”.

ACE needs to do more to broker partnerships with local authorities, businesses, local enterprise partnerships, and international organisations, the committee found.

And while staff at ACE were praised for their hard work and dedication, the report found that “more needs to be done” to improve the transparency of the arts council’s decision making. The committee also said it would be “disappointed” if ACE saw any further fall in its grant-in-aid.

ACE chairman, Peter Bazalgette, said: “The report suggests that greater urgency is required around the rebalancing debate and we are pleased that it has acknowledged that we are tackling this and that there is ‘much to praise in the hard work of the arts council’.

“We share the committee’s desire for a speedy response to the historic challenges to rebalancing. It is difficult to act urgently when our income is shrinking and additional resource would certainly allow for greater flexibility in supporting our ambition to achieve this.

“As the report also made clear, one of the crucial factors for the arts funding landscape is 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.

But a spokesman for GPS Culture, which authored the independent report Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital (ROCC) highlighting the funding imbalance between London and the regions, said: “Our study of the history of the arts council as an institution and our experience of interaction with it over the past twelve months, during which time it has failed to address the issues we have raised, leaves us with severe doubts as to whether it is structurally capable of addressing the recommendations for redistribution that the select committee has made at either the scale, or with the urgency, envisaged.”

Giving evidence to the committee, a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that the government “cautions against a simplistic distribution per head of population”, stating that “London’s role as a preeminent arts and cultural hub for the whole world must not be undermined”.

And London mayor Boris Johnson said today: “The report represents a lost opportunity, reigniting the overly simplistic 'London vs the regions' debate around arts funding.

“This is based upon spurious calculations and a partial consideration of how the arts are funded. ACE funding represents only one third of the public investment in the arts and more than half of the organisations it regularly funds spend 80% of their time outside the capital.”

The committee found: “A redistribution along the lines suggested by the authors of ROCC would do much to redress the imbalance in funding to benefit England as a whole. We believe this could be achieved in a timely fashion without threatening London’s world status as a cultural centre.”

Sharon Heal, Museums Association (MA) director, said: “The MA welcomes this report as a timely contribution to the discussion about arts funding in England.

“We support the call for a strategic approach to funding and would welcome this being developed as a partnership between ACE, local authorities, and all those interested in making sure that public funding is distributed in an equitable way that achieves maximum impact.”

A DCMS spokeswoman said: “We welcome the publication of this report and will respond in detail in due course. The government is committed to supporting the arts, to provide culture for all, ensuring the economic, social and intrinsic benefits are available to everyone.”


CMS select committee report into the work of Arts Council England


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MA Member
06.11.2014, 13:15
As someone who has had a long career in local authority museums in the regions, 18 months ago I moved to a small museum in London which is a registered charity. I wanted experience of fundraising in a more philanthropic environment, and to better understand the pressures faced by Trusts and charities in the current climate. I agree there needs to be balance so regional museums can access funding and pursue projects and improvements that will lead to greater access, improved standards of collections care, greater participation and partnership, and have the chance to access a greater and fairer share. However, as someone now working in London, my salary is less than it was in a regional museum in the South-East, and here in London we still experience real financial struggle. Wherever this money is going, its certainly not the case that every museum in London is benefitting. We rely on donations, philanthropy and grants as we receive no statutory funding, and our budgets and financial resources remain far less than I had available working for a south-east local authority run museum. Philanthropic giving for example from big companies, tends to be focused on larger museums and shows, where the marketing by association opportunity is greater. That isn't to say we have had some successes with donations, but this has mainly been because we are a charity and not a local authority, and not because we are based in London. Working in local authority museums, it was harder to ask for money as an immediate response was always 'well I already pay my council tax....' In some regions in the south-east as in London, competition for charitable giving, sponsorship and philanthropic support is high because of the number of hands held out seeking support. I can see from experience the need to redress the balance to support regional museums more, and think that recognition of this has been long overdue, but not every museum in London is rolling in grants or funding opportunities, and MDOs here in London are as stretched as those in the regions and are witnessing grants for preventive and interventive conservation projects dwindle for example. There is definitely a regional imbalance, but I would also say that the picture is not quite as simple as a city/London v regional divide suggests....
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Partner, Museum Consultancy
06.11.2014, 10:06
I don't agree with Boris Johnson's views, but It's his job to make the case for London. The problem is that regional museums aren't making their case properly. We need a campaign! For more about what regional museums could do see my new blog
Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
05.11.2014, 19:29
It's tasteless that the mayor and his spokeswoman should object to greater fairness. The ROCC report also demonstrated how philanthropy, which is supposed to take the place of public funding, is also hugely concentrated in London.
The argument is circular: of course more tourists and punters go to London because that's where the art and culture spending is concentrated. With talk of northern devolution this is also the time to start distributing, for example, the artworks and heritage received in lieu of capital gains tax, across the country. But don't forget the rest of the south that is not cosmopolitan.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Partner, Museum Consultancy
05.11.2014, 12:42
It's a shame the select committee ignores the main issue for museum funding: the hundreds of millions of DCMS museum money that goes straight to London. That's where the long-term rebalancing is needed if regional museum audiences are really going to benefit.