Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Exeter City Council (arts 62)


· Exeter City Council believes that cultural services play an important part in shaping the identity and role of the city

· Cuts to local government services, possibly branded as reductions in local bureaucracy, will reduce real services promoting grass roots participation.

· Strategic organisations such as Primary Care Trusts and Children’s Trusts should play an active role in commissioning physical activity and education services from local authority specialists.

· Lack of trust in local authorities on the part of national funding bodies has led to a deadening of innovation and initiative, substantial extra costs to micro-manage projects at each respective hierarchical level, and a loss of value from potentially good ideas.


1. Exeter City Council has been for a long time a supporter of the arts and heritage, both in a direct form, through the provision of services, and indirectly through the financial support of key cultural institutions in the city. The City Council believes that such support is an important part of making the city a pleasant and desirable place to live and work. Both forms of support benefit a much wider catchment than the residents of the city, but that is seen as an important element of what being a city, with a hinterland, means.

The Importance of Grass Roots Cultural Services

2. There has been a great deal of concern nationally at the proposed cuts in cultural funding at national level. It is important to note however that a substantial proportion of funding to the arts, the heritage and to physical activity and sport comes not from DCMS and the national agencies but from councils of every type; cuts to local government in the future, which may be branded as being cuts to bureaucracy, red tape and non-essential administration, will actually result in a severe diminution of the ability of both councils and their local voluntary sector to provide real practical support for those grass roots. It is at the grass roots where the real contributions of the cultural sector to health, to education, to social cohesion and the general quality of life are made, and by and large only councils and the voluntary sector (itself receiving funding from councils very often) are doing that work. Moreover most councils support culture and sport not mainly for their own sake, but for the positive impact participation has on the individual and the community, especially in respect to young people. It will be increasingly important therefore that as we go into a period of stringency, that the agencies responsible for health, education, and the other social priorities work with local government in a way they have failed to do hitherto, through commissioning and partnership to reach outcomes which both sides value.

3. A little money goes a long way at local level. To quote an Exeter example, the City Council is at the moment considering whether it should cut the entirety of two of its leisure-related services. These are generally considered to be of excellent quality, they are almost the only services of their kind left in Devon already and they reach thousands of young people every year, many of them on a regular basis. Removing these services altogether will save only £180,000, and yet the position is such that even a sum this small may well be required for the City Council to balance the books. The work these teams are doing however, at minimal cost, feeds directly into the desired outcomes of the Primary Care Trust and the Children’s Trust, who make little or no contribution. A small change in the attitude of these very large bodies will easily save the important work which local councils are doing in the fields of health and education.

4. If this type of locally based service which meets local needs disappears during the next two years, its loss will be obscured on the one hand by the attention generated by high profile national cuts to cultural services and on the other by universal cuts to all local services. The result however will be national in scale.

Trust, Innovation and Efficiency

4. Exeter has in the past been lucky enough to be the recipient of a great deal of capital grant and project funding from many sources, from very large Heritage Lottery grants to a wide range of revenue funding streams. All funders naturally have their own requirements in respect of detailed applications, planning the work, reporting on outcomes and demonstrating accountability. However we have noticed an accelerating tendency in recent years towards more detailed conditions, procedures and reporting. It has almost become a joke that the lottery distributors, each time they publish a new three or four year strategy, comment on the need to simplify applications and make access to lottery funds easier. Nevertheless each newly simplified application form becomes gradually more onerous, usually requiring applicant organisations to commit more of their own funding and time, before being certain of any support from the distributor. However it seems that once a lottery distributor has made a grant, it is more likely to monitor lightly and check key performance indicators only – trusting the recipient to deliver.

5. Such trust is less and less the case with treasury funding channelled through the non-departmental public bodies however. Renaissance in the Regions for example, at the beginning a shining example of how a national money could be used at local and regional level, has become more and more restricted by the need to plan projects, and then report quarterly in minute detail, to a series of regulations and rules of procedure which change frequently and at short notice. Needless to say this strangles innovation, destroys trust and sucks value out of genuinely groundbreaking projects. Museums in the South West hub have to employ staff, at Renaissance cost, and therefore reducing what is available to improve the service, just to compile figures and report to the hub, which reports to MLA, which no doubt reports to DCMS. This stranglehold on initiative has become increasingly tighter, leading some smaller museum services to wonder whether being part of the scheme is actually beneficial at all. Exeter’s museum service Renaissance operation was recently audited three times within a two month period – once by its own internal audit, once by an MLA team and once by another team which was actually auditing MLA’s performance through Renaissance.

6. It is notable in all such cases that the museum’s own, probably local authority, budget is larger than the Renaissance contribution, and yet the burdens of accounting for Renaissance income far outweigh those of the normal operation. We must question whether the auditing and monitoring requirement isn’t costing a good deal more than can possibly be saved by trying to squeeze out all risk. The costs of damping down ingenuity and initiative under oppressive bureaucratic systems can never be truly assessed, but the actual cost of staff needed to do the counting, calculating, controlling and quantifying can, and must now add up to a substantial proportion of the budget.

7. We would not argue that all controls should be abolished. There is clear need to account for public money; but most of the bodies handling these national funding streams are themselves public bodies, with rigorous accounting and auditing teams. It makes no sense to duplicate them. Likewise outcomes must be monitored, but the risk averse, anti-intuitive systems which have been imposed on what are essentially creative schemes of work do little good, and a great deal of damage. In a climate where such funding will be rare and much prized, it would add great value if funding bodies trust their partners a little more, and learn to rely on their instinct for what works locally and how a service should be delivered.

September 2010