100% of ACE uplift to be spent outside London under Levelling Up agenda - Museums Association

100% of ACE uplift to be spent outside London under Levelling Up agenda

But government warned its spending plans won't be enough to meet white paper's ambitions
Visitors at the Museum of Making, Derby Museums Trust, which is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation
Visitors at the Museum of Making, Derby Museums Trust, which is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation Derby Museums Trust

All of the funding uplift received by Arts Council England (ACE) in the 2021 comprehensive spending review will be distributed outside London, under the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda to address regional inequality.

Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove unveiled the government’s long-awaited white paper this week detailing how it will deliver on its flagship policy to spread prosperity more evenly across the UK.

The paper cites “greater access to culture” as one of the factors needed to transform places and boost local growth, saying that depleted investment and capacity in civic institutions forms part of a “vicious and self-reinforcing cycle” in the decline of communities and town centres.

The paper sets out 12 missions, including pride in place, which states: “By 2030, pride in place, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.”

The paper states: “We will also ensure that great cultural institutions play their part in spreading access to excellence. As we significantly increase cultural spending outside the capital, 100% of the ACE funding uplift announced at [the spending review 2021] will be directed outside London, with support for theatre, museums and galleries, libraries and dance in towns which have been deprived of investment in the past.

“We will explore how more flagship national cultural institutions can support the strength of our historic cultural heritage in great cities such as Stoke and Manchester.”

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But sector bodies have warned that the white paper's ambitions will be difficult to achieve under the government's spending plans.

Alistair Brown, Museums Association policy manager, said: “While we welcome the recognition of culture in the Levelling Up white paper, we also note that the current government has presided over a decade of austerity that has hugely weakened museums and cultural institutions across the UK.

“The MA’s recent research into local authority investment in museums showed a real terms decline in spending of 27% between 2010-20. The government’s new plan is completely insufficient to meet its Levelling Up ambitions – instead, we need a serious, funded commitment that helps local authorities invest directly in their cultural institutions.”

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank, said, “The targets are largely in the right areas, but many look extremely ambitious – that is to say highly unlikely to be met, even with the best policies and much resource.

“There is little detail on how most of them will be met, and less detail on available funding. There is something for everyone, and hence little sense of prioritisation: ambition and resource will be spread very thin.”

Shadow Levelling Up secretary Lisa Nandy said the paper had “no ideas, no energy, no ambition”.

Research has shown that some councils are prioritising culture under the Levelling Up agenda. The government launched a UK-wide £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund in spring last year. According to data obtained by culture-led regeneration consultancy Five10Twelve from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, a significant cut of the first round of investments – more than £429m – has been designated as "cultural spend".

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The data is derived from how applicants, primarily local authorities, chose to categorise their spend when they applied to the fund.

A recent study by the Progressive Policy Thinktank found that regional divides are continuing to grow, with almost three jobs created in London and the greater south east for every job created in the north of England. The study showed that allocations in 2021 from the Levelling Up Fund added up to £32 per person in the north of England, compared to a £413 per person drop in council spending on services during the decade of austerity.

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