London to lose out on arts funding in latest government ‘levelling up’ move

London to lose out on arts funding in latest government ‘levelling up’ move

Cultural organisations across London could face closure after a government move to strip the capital of arts funding described by culture secretary Nadine Dorries as “putting our money where our mouth is” to prove that “levelling up isn’t just a catchy slogan”.

New Arts Council England guidance confirms Dorries’s instruction to cut some £75 million from government arts funding in the capital over the next three years and an extra £43.5 million made available to the funding body in the recent government spending review will all be directed outside London.

“Over the last few decades an overwhelming amount of money has gone to organisations based in London, while other parts of the country haven’t received their fair share,” Dorries said. “That’s about to change.”

The Arts Council warned that competition for grants in London would be “especially intense”, with organisations at risk of losing all or a portion of their current funding. Some recipients would be encouraged to relocate outside the city, and continuing support would prioritise organisations which were “more representative of London” in terms of diversity and geographic distribution.

The decision was described by Sadiq Khan as a “devastating blow” which would damage the UK’s recovery from the pandemic and deprive Londoners in less well-off areas of the capital of access to the arts.

“It fails to acknowledge that before the pandemic London’s culture and creative sectors were generating billions for the economy, attracting tourists in their millions and supporting businesses across the country. It hurts efforts to level up and simply makes no sense,” said the Mayor. “Culture is the reason that four out of five tourists visit London and the capital is a gateway to visiting the UK. London visitors go on to spend over £640 million in local economies outside of the capital.”

The move was attacked by National Theatre director Rufus Norris as “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and criticised as well by theatre bosses outside London. “Pitting one against the other doesn’t reflect the ecology that we all work in when we work in theatre in the UK,” Nottingham Playhouse boss and joint UK Theatre president Stephanie Sirr told the Stage.

The cut amounts to some 15 per cent of the £162 million Arts Council spending previously planned for London, and comes on top of a steady reduction in the proportion of funding going to London – from 46 per cent of the total in 2012 to 39.7 per cent for the 2018-22 funding period.

That total is skewed by funding for major national institutions, including £96 million for the Royal Opera House, £73 million for the South Bank and £67 million for the National Theatre in the Arts Council’s original allocations for 2018-2022. But across the city 253 organisations in all receive support.

City Hall analysis has highlighted the importance of culture in the capital, saying it was generating £58 billion for the national economy pre-pandemic and supporting one in every six London jobs.

Since 2018 the Mayor’s creative enterprise zone programme has invested £11 million in training, affordable workspace and other support for creative businesses in Croydon, Haringey, Hounslow, Lambeth and Lewisham, with a further £3 million announced last year to expand the programme to 2023.

The programme had already seen a £500,000 boost to training in Lewisham, building on 71 per cent growth in employment in creative business in the borough up to 2018, Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan said this week. “As we start to rebuild our economy, the creative industries will play a crucial role in helping to get London back on its feet,” he added.

Quizzed yesterday by LSE London’s professor Tony Travers at the Mayor’s London Recovery Board on the cuts to arts funding in the capital, minister for London Paul Scully acknowledged the benefits of the city’s cultural sector “to international trade, tourism and business investment”.

It was up to London to “paint a picture that counters some of the caricatures,” he said. “We’ve been clear that levelling up does not mean levelling down London. But we do have to find a way to get that balance so that not everywhere feels they are being starved of funding because everything is going to London, not coming across as the goose that lays the golden egg, because people in Barnsley feel that as a condescending pat on the head.”

Photograph by Vipol Sangoi of Winter Lights parade and performance, Hounslow, from Arts Council England website. 

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