Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS) (arts 52)

The British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS) is the national agency for the development and support of film societies and community cinemas in the UK. With a vision of ‘Cinema for All,’ BFFS, a registered charity, has been delivering free advice and practical support for over 60 years.

Our mission is to support, sustain and develop the community cinema movement in the UK, and to deliver public value to community cinema audiences throughout the UK. We do this via a small central office and our volunteer Regional Groups, by researching and providing key data on the sector, raising its profile, actively developing new community cinema and film society ventures, and improving access to specialised film for all communities.

The BFFS operational priorities include the support of community cinema culture, national representation and advocacy, and public education.

This document represents the response from The British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS) as submitted via email.

Executive Summary:

o BFFS is concerned that the abolition of the UK Film Council could threaten the BFFS-supported network of film societies and community cinemas that enables audiences across the UK to be inspired, educated and entertained by both British and world cinema.

o BFFS operates and efficient and low-overhead organisation, with funding of £51,500 p.a. administered via the UK Film Council.

o BFFS is committed to the arms-length body principle of funding because what it does is unique. It knows and has represented its sector for over 60 years.

o BFFS has urged DCMS to publicly commit to safeguarding the investment in film exhibition, such as the support provided by BFFS to film societies and community cinemas.

o BFFS is concerned that the decision to abolish the UK Film Council has been taken without a full consideration of what the UK Film Council actually does beyond their production remit, and that no alternative arrangements have been made for the vital activities of distribution and exhibition.

o Whilst BFFS is striving to be independent of government support, it may take time to wean an organisation of such a geographically broad, yet locally active nature onto the funding model currently being proposed by DCMS.

1. What impact recent, and future, spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the arts and heritage at a national and local level?

1.1. Spending cuts from central government threaten the very existence of BFFS, as DCMS has announced the abolition of the UK Film Council. The UK Film Council has been responsible for administering the core funding for BFFS. Small amounts of additional funding for specific projects have additionally been granted by both the devolved National and Regional Screen Agencies, and by the UK Film Council on occasion.

1.2. For over 60 years, BFFS has supported volunteer-led, grass-roots film clubs and community cinemas in the exhibition of films to both urban and rural audiences across the UK. Contrary to any claim of 'elitism', film societies open their doors to the public, screen a wide range of accessible titles and truly enable ‘Cinema for All.’

1.3. In 2008-09, 44% of film societies operated in rural areas (compared with 3% of commercial screens). Over 25% of films screened by film societies in the same period were British, and 49% were in a foreign language (compared with 21% and 36% by commercial screens).

1.4. The current UK Film Council agreement is for £ 51,500 p.a. which we feel makes BFFS excellent value for money.  (In the last BFFS survey, this investment represented 4 pence per ticket across all film societies and community cinemas, or £2.15 per screened title).

2. What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale?

2.1. BFFS has its overheads drilled as low as can be expected; indeed they are too low. We are currently fundraising to pay a managing director (budgeted at circa. £40-45,000 p.a. including all operating expenses). As an organisation we are exceptionally reliant on a nationwide network of motivated volunteers, but this needs concerted co-ordination to become more effective and self-sustaining. The BFFS office is part of a larger arts centre complex, the Sheffield Showroom & Workstation and benefits from a wide network of contacts on-site, as well as lower non-London rent and rates.

2.2. If arts organisations are expected to raise their fundraising game, they will be in competition with one another for any grants, sponsorship, donations or legacies available, much as they are already in competition with one another for a share of the public’s disposable income spent on box office revenues. However, whereas marketing mailing lists can be exchanged or traded to the advantage of all because the sums being fought over at the box office comprise many individually small expenditures as ticket prices, the additional competition for rare, major tranches of income is unlikely to encourage shared services of back-office functions for fear of conflicts of confidentiality. Additionally, the more time that is spent fundraising, the less time is allocated to ‘front line’ services.

3. What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable?

3.1. BFFS is a modern charity with current budgets focussed on one third public funding, one third private donations, sponsorship and grants from trusts, and one third self generated revenue.

3.2. BFFS is concerned with the speed of the current cuts, and their ‘across the board’ nature, implying there is no examination of the benefits BFFS returns on its investment. And that’s before we really consider the immeasurable non-economic benefit we bring to the community, arts and education sectors; very little is said of artistic merits, let alone cultural and societal cohesion, when austere fiscal policy is the order of the day.

3.3. The speed and nature of the current wave of cuts, without any change in tax regime for donors, gives cause for concern in both the short and long term for the survival of arts and heritage organisations. There has been very little time to move from one funding model to another, particularly so soon after a major financial recession. Furthermore, if additional reliance is made on corporate sponsors and donors, then come the next economic downturn, how can these organisations be expected to survive? Currently, across the board, arts administrators are clearly indicating that continued public subsidy is necessary, so a financial crash with no public funding safety net to protect core services would clearly devastate the arts sector.

4. Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one?

4.1. BFFS is committed to the arm’s length body principle of funding the arts. It operates a low-overhead organisation, devolving as much activity as possible into its Regional Groups and encouraging peer-to-peer support, by the community cinema sector, for the community cinema sector.

4.2. BFFS relies on the work of volunteers to achieve what it does, but the work of those volunteers requires co-ordination and support from a central body that knows both the nature of the community cinema sector intimately, in addition to the film industry against which the community cinema sector nestles.

4.3. If there are lessons to be learnt from any failure of the UK Film Council and its arrangements, they are that perhaps cultural bodies should be less subjugated to trade bodies; many in the arts and heritage sector were horrified at the UK Film Council salary bill, as those salaries certainly aren’t typical of arts bodies.

5. What impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds will have on arts and heritage organisations?

5.1. BFFS is concerned that the Olympic budget has temporarily diverted too much funding away from arts and heritage organisations, and that the Olympics are of sufficient international profile that they could be more reliant on sponsorship for income and less reliant on National Lottery funding.

5.2. BFFS was glad to hear the recent pledge of National Lottery funding being returned to the arts and heritage organisations for which the funding was intended when the National Lottery was established. However, the concern remains that National Lottery funding has become a ‘political football’ and that it will vary in availability, making it harder for arts and heritage organisations to plan and budget.

6. Whether the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed?

6.1. BFFS considers itself to be a good cause, and has been proud to display the version of the UK Film Council logo featuring the lottery supported branding. BFFS has positively encouraged community groups to apply for funding to enable community screenings with some notable success.

6.2. BFFS is, however, concerned that there is occasionally a conflict between where National Lottery funding has been relied on for core funding, and where it is made available on a project-by-project basis. There is a perception that arts and heritage organisations are forced to pretend to be doing something new in order to apply for funding to continue doing what they already do. If core funding via the National Lottery were to be ring-fenced then the funding would be more efficiently allocated to its end purpose. In addition, grant application processes for small organisations like BFFS are administratively cumbersome.

7. The impact of recent changes to DCMS arm’s-length bodies - in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council?

7.1. Whilst very few people will say the UK Film Council was perfect, some funding strands have been delivered effectively to where they are crucially needed. Should the closure of the UK Film Council proceed as planned, the UK will lose a vital overview body and co-ordinator of funding to UK’s exhibition and distribution as well as production sectors. This could threaten the existence of the BFFS-supported network that enables audiences across the UK to be inspired, educated and entertained by both British and world cinema.

7.2. For the past decade, the UK Film Council has been BFFS’s key funder. Community cinema and film society numbers, viewing attendances and BFFS national survey returns are currently all at record highs.

7.3. BFFS has urged DCMS to publicly commit to safeguarding the investment in film exhibition, such as the support provided by BFFS to film societies and community cinemas. Whilst this may be less glamorous than the UK Film Council’s film production remit, it is the vital component that completes the circle, adding value to communities and to the educational and cultural sectors by enabling films to be seen and appreciated by audiences across the UK.

7.4. BFFS is concerned that the decision to abolish the UK Film Council has been taken without a full consultation of what the UK Film Council actually does beyond their production remit, and that no alternative arrangements have been made for these other vital activities. It is unclear as yet as to what other body will be responsible for allocating National Lottery funding or central government funding, and whether that body will be aware of the needs of the distribution and exhibition sectors, let alone the film society / community cinema sector.

7.5. The speed at which cuts are taking place is exhausting for an organisation relying on voluntary effort. That said, the UK Film Council is ostensibly a trade body, and BFFS is a cultural charity. BFFS hopes for a suitable alternative arrangement and is currently awaiting diary confirmation for a meeting with a DCMS deputy director at time of writing.

8. Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level?

8.1. Whilst BFFS is striving to be independent of government support, sadly it may take years to wean an organisation of such a geographically broad, yet locally active, nature onto the funding model being proposed by DCMS, with sponsorship and patronage providing central support.  Advisory bodies for small, regionally dispersed community organisations are not traditionally the focus of the sponsorship departments of multinationals, although we continue to seek support from these.

8.2. There is concern that corporate sponsorship reduces art to a contractual obligation; additionally there is the potential for bad PR if the sponsor gets bad press (witness the protests aimed at BP at the National Portrait Gallery in July of this year) which could reduce both public and further private sponsorship.

8.3. Philanthropic support is perhaps most susceptible to downturns in the economy, particularly at the level for which BFFS has been seeking it. Additionally, philanthropists are perceived as wanting to supplement core funding rather than providing it. Donors do not like to think that their donation goes on the phone bill.

9. Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations?

9.1. The current UK tax regime is not as favourable for donors as some other tax regimes.  Tax breaks are not delivered in the donor’s lifetime in this country, where they are in the US, for example.

9.2. The Gift-Aid system for reclaiming tax on donations is relatively expensive to administer for a small charitable organisation.

September 2010