Newcastle East MP slams disproportionate cuts to culture

Criticism comes as city unveils new seed-funding model
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
Nicholas Brown, the former government minister for the North East and current Labour MP for Newcastle East, has attacked national and local governments that target culture with disproportionate cuts.

In a speech last week at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy’s conference in London, Brown said: “The culture budget might seem like an easy hit, but assaulted disproportionately and on every front, it is the wrong thing to do.”

Brown refuted the “damaging charge” that the arts are only for the cultural elite, saying: “This just isn’t true... We shouldn’t make it true. Access is important, whether we are discussing museum charges or cut-price tickets for students and young people.”

Brown said culture could act as a route to social mobility, adding: “High art and culture should be for the poor, as well as for the rich. It can inspire, energise and enthuse, broaden horizons and realise potential in a way that little else can. We should share and promote the very finest things in life alongside its necessities.”

Newcastle funding model

Brown’s comments could be interpreted as a guarded criticism of culture funding in his own constituency, coming in the wake of the controversial proposal by the Labour-run Newcastle City Council last year to cut its culture budget by 100%.

That decision was reversed following a public outcry, after which the council instead reduced the arts budget by 48%.

The council has since announced that, from 2016, it plans to allocate seed funding for culture through an independent grant fund that will help cultural institutions attract private sponsorship.

The council last month unveiled further details of the Newcastle Culture Investment Fund, which it said would “remove arts funding from the council’s annual budget pressures and make it more sustainable”.

The council plans to contribute £600,000 per year to the fund, which will be paid for by interest payments from city council investments. Local businesses and high profile personalities have also been invited to add to the pot.

From 2015, cultural organisations will be able to apply for core revenue costs of up to £100,000 from the fund, which will also provide grants of up to £10,000 for standalone projects.

Applicants must demonstrate how their proposals “improve Newcastle’s health and wellbeing” and contribute to the council’s core priorities.

The fund will be held and managed on the council’s behalf by the Community Foundation, a charitable company that promotes local philanthropy. Funding decisions will be made by an independent panel.

A council spokesman declined to comment on Brown’s speech but said the council was proud of the radical new funding model, describing it as the best option for the arts at a time when the public would not accept cuts falling on statutory services.  

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