MPs hear more evidence on regional funding imbalance

London’s deputy mayor defends arts funding policy
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
Munira Mirza, London’s deputy mayor for education and culture, has denied that the capital is getting more than its fair share of arts funding, arguing that growth in London “begets growth in the rest of the country”.

Mirza was addressing the second hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into the work of Arts Council England. The inquiry was set up in response to the Rebalancing our Cultural Capital report, which revealed a large imbalance in funding for London compared to other English regions.

Mirza said it was unfortunate that the debate had been framed as “us versus them”, saying that as a capital city, London had to compete for both a national and international audience.

She said: “I cannot imagine any other country around the world being so upset about the success of its capital.”

Mirza claimed that the report’s figures were skewed because while many arts organisations were based in London, some did the majority of their work outside the capital.

She said: “Even though I think on paper it looks like a stark difference, it looks like a deeply unfair system, what you see in the ways the arts work — and I think people who work in the arts sector recognise this — is that the funding that goes through London then benefits the rest of the country.”

Mirza added: “I am nervous about the idea that a sudden shift of lottery funding from London to the rest of the country would suddenly produce an amazing new arts infrastructure.

“I do not think that would happen and I think what you would get is a political rush to fund certain projects because they are in the right place, because they tick a box, but not because they have a compelling artistic vision or they have built an audience.”

North east

The select committee also heard evidence from representatives of the North East Culture Partnership (NECP).

NECP co-chair Peter Mowbray told the select committee that while there was a trickle-down effect from London, it was a fluid relationship, with the capital benefiting from work produced in other regions too.

Mowbray said that in addition to the funding imbalance, which is particularly pronounced in the north east, there was also a problem with the region's distance from the arts council’s centralised decision-making process.

He said more needed to be done to ensure decisions "are made by people in the region who understand the impact that [lottery funding] can have.”

Speaking after his appearance at the committee hearing, fellow co-chair David Budd told Museums Journal that local authority cuts to culture had been more severe in the north east, with budgets falling 23% since 2011/12 in the region compared to an average of 18% across England overall.

He added: “Local authority reductions have led to a wide ranging loss of arts and heritage posts, and together with the loss of staff in arts council's north east office, the region now has reduced capacity to plan, develop and deliver projects and promote arts lottery activity.”

Budd called for “a more balanced distribution of lottery funding, devolved decision-making and more local partnership working with Arts Council England”.

The select committee will sit again shortly to hear evidence from other arts sector representatives, including the arts council’s chairman Peter Bazalgette.

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