Arts organisations have hit out at the London bias which is starving cultural bodies outside the South East of funds – and demanded a better deal for the North East.
Theatres, local authorities and actors’ union Equity told MPs that the concentration of resources in London and the south had to stop, not only because it was unfair but because it damaged the economy.
They issued the demand in submissions to a Commons inquiry looking at the work of the Arts Council.
It follows the publication last year of a hard-hitting report backed by senior arts figures including Melvyn Bragg and producer David Puttnam which warned that London receives £563.9m a year in culture funding from the Government and the Arts Council while the rest of the country gets £205.1m.
Latest Arts Council figures showed that arts organisations in the North East received £5.59 per head a year, compared to £21.33 per head in London.
And the study also found that the North East had received £86.22 per head in arts lottery funding since 1995, while Londoners received £165.
The report’s authors included Peter Stark, professor of cultural policy and management at Northumbria University.
Speaking at Westminster, he told the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee: “We have an enormous potential out there and the resources are in the wrong place.”
He added: “There is just something wrong that Westminster is benefiting to the tune that it is while County Durham is benefiting to the extent that it is, and something must be done about it.”
In a written submission to the inquiry, the North East Cultural Partnership, a body backed by 12 local councils and North East Chamber of Commerce, warned that unfair funding “has led to networks of artists and organisations in some parts of England, which, for all their strengths, are smaller and less powerful than we need”.
Funding bodies such as the Arts Council should look for ways to make funding decisions locally instead of in London, it said.
The Touring Partnership Ltd, which represents nine theatres across the country including the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, said: “The gulf between the current per capita investment of the nation’s funds for culture in London … compared to the rest of England … is unacceptable by anybody’s reckoning.
“Even when the funding to those key national institutions is removed from the analysis, the inequity remains extreme and, in the interests of basic democratic fairness, should be redressed.”
Actors’ union Equity highlighted the economic importance of the arts, telling MPs: “An independent Economic Impact Assessment of ten of the North East’s leading cultural organisations showed that £4.06 of GVA is generated within the region for every pound of subsidy received.”
However, it said it would have concerns about simply cutting funding for the south to shift the money north.
But the Association of British Orchestras, which represents Royal Northern Sinfonia at Sage Gateshead among others, warned: “We would respectfully point out that criticisms of the perceived imbalance between Arts Council funding in London and the regions is a distraction from the more critical issue of maintaining local authority investment in arts organisations when this funding is so under threat.”
The inquiry continues and MPs will present their findings later in the year.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 26 March 2014