Tagged: Commons inquiry

Arts Council England holds out hope of fairer North East funding deal

Arts and cultural bodies across the North East could receive a fairer share of funding in future years, the people responsible for distributing cash have pledged.

Leaders of Arts Council England, which shares out lottery cash for the arts as well as funding directly from the Treasury, said they accepted there was an “imbalance” with London getting the lion’s share while the rest of the country loses out.

But they insisted the situation was improving, with more money going to regions outside London in recent years – and pledged that the trend would continue.

However, giving evidence to a Commons inquiry, the Arts Council also insisted that London organisations had to receive enough money to allow the city to maintain its position as the world’s cultural capital.

And MPs were also told by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey that the arts are “generously funded outside London”.

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee is holding an inquiry into the work of the Arts Council.

That was in part prompted by a hard-hitting report called Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital which warned that London receives £563.9m a year in culture funding from the Government and the Arts Council – or £68.98 per person – while the rest of the country gets £205.1m or just £4.57 per person.

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 inquiry previously heard evidence from leaders of the North East Culture Partnership, who warned that cash-strapped arts organisations in the North East are spending time filling in grant applications instead of actually taking part in arts and cultural activities.

Speaking to the committee, Arts Council chair Sir Peter Bazalgette said: “You are quite right point to an imbalance.”

He said it should not be surprising that London received the most funding, but added: “We are addressing years of imbalance but we are addressing it carefully.”

London used to get 51% of funding while the rest of the country got 49% – but this had changed so that London now received 49%, he said.

That trend should continue this summer.

“Those are very important parts of the work we are doing.”

One committee member, Yorkshire MP Philip Davies, accused the Arts Council of indulging “London luvvies” by spending £347.4m on opera over five years and just £1.8m on brass bands.

> Oh lord, another regional sterotype – brass bands, whippits and flat caps !

Arts Council chief executive Alan Davey told him: “I do want us to increase the amount of money we are giving to brass bands because I think it’s a wonderful pastime”.

But Mr Vaizey played down suggestions of a funding gap, saying: “I think it is nuanced. I don’t want a headline saying it is unbalanced because as I say it is a more subtle picture.

“A lot of the organisations with London postcodes have national profiles and do national work.

“The picture is by no means as bleak as some people would wish to paint it. A great deal of funding has gone to arts organisations outside London and a lot of funding that is supposedly ‘London funding’ is in fact national funding.”

Mr Vaizey praised Gateshead Council for backing the Sage Gateshead concert venue and musical education centre as well as the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, and said he wanted other councils to follow suit.

Source – Newcastle Journal,  14 June 2014

Bedroom tax is a disaster, MPs warn Ministers amid Newcastle Council complaints

A Commons inquiry has backed warnings from Newcastle City Council that cuts to housing benefit are causing hardship for families with children and disabled people – while failing to free up housing stock.

MPs are warning that cuts in benefits paid to social housing tenants who are considered to have a spare bedroom has caused “severe financial hardship and distress to vulnerable groups”.

The policy, known by critics as the “bedroom tax”, was designed to free up larger properties for families who need them most by encouraging council or housing association tenants with spare rooms to downsize.

But the Commons Work and Pensions Committee – which has Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem members – highlighted warnings from Newcastle City Council that there simply aren’t enough smaller properties for people to move into.

The Committee published its findings after hearing evidence from a range of witnesses including Coun Joyce McCarty, Newcastle Council’s deputy leader.

The Government has published figures showing that the cost of paying housing benefit in the North East had fallen by £25m as a result of the reforms.

Housing benefit rules introduced last year allow tenants to have one bedroom for a single adult or couple, for any two children under 15 of the same gender and for any two children under nine of either gender.

Housing benefit is cut by 14% of the property’s assessed rent if they have one room deemed to be a spare bedroom and 25% if they have two.

In the North East, 50,000 households had their benefit cut, or 440 households for every 10,000 in the region – a higher proportion than any other part of the country.

MPs highlighted evidence from Newcastle, which told the inquiry that 3,233 of its tenants were on the waiting list for a one-bedroom property but only around 800 one-bedroom properties were becoming available each year, including bedsits.

Referring to the policy as the social sector size criteria (SSSC), the MPs said: “Newcastle City Council questioned whether the SSSC policy was likely to succeed in encouraging better use of social housing stock. It pointed out that in Newcastle overcrowding was not a significant issue”

“Coun McCarty made the point that the SSSC had actually led to very few overcrowded families being rehoused.”

They warned: “We understand the Government’s wish to use social housing stock more efficiently and to reduce overcrowding. However, the SSSC so far seems to be a blunt instrument for achieving this. In many areas there is insufficient smaller social housing stock to which affected tenants can move, meaning that they remain in housing deemed to be too large and pay the SSSC.”

But ministers said housing benefit reforms and the welfare cap – which means no household can receive more than £26,000 in benefits – were needed to manage soaring welfare spending, which grew by 50% in Britain in just 10 years and saw the housing benefit bill exceed £1bn in the North East alone.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith said: “It was absolutely necessary that we fixed the broken system which just a year ago allowed the taxpayer to cover the £1m daily cost of spare rooms in social housing.

“We have taken action to help the hundreds of thousands of people living in cramped, overcrowded accommodation and to control the spiralling housing benefit bill, as part of the Government’s long-term economic plan.”

“And all the stress, debt, homelessness and suicide  resulting from this policy is actually good for them, they thrive on it. I’ve got figures to prove it”,  he might have added…

Source – Newcastle Journal,  02 April 2014

North East arts funding fight goes to Westminster

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