Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Martin Thomas (arts 130)

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 The Government’s proposed cuts are likely to have a disproportionately large impact on one of the unique selling points (USP) of ‘UK plc’ – the cultural sector (arts and heritage) and creative industries. These areas have blossomed over the past fifteen years. However it is defined – whether performing arts, built and environmental heritage, film, media, museums, galleries, libraries and archives – the diversity of what the United Kingdom’s arts and heritage offer has contributed enormously to the national economy and to the social, cultural and educational life of the UK’s citizens. The value of arts and heritage to communities is very considerable. At the height of the credit crunch and recession, heritage organisations (including those independent of Government) noted increased interest from the public. Statistics on this are available from the National Trust and English Heritage, amongst others.

1.2 This nation’s arts and heritage have thrived throughout the recession. The arts and heritage have often been stabilised by public investment and have used that funding as a platform on which to develop and encourage commercial investment, philanthropic support and new enterprise. By reducing that public support, one of the undisputed successes of this country is jeopardised and the chances for increasing philanthropic giving reduced.

1.3 There is a desire in many people to seek out positive experiences through heritage and the arts when times are tough. This is nothing new, and evidence can be produced to support this. A Government Department that ‘squeezes’ the positive experiences out of people’s lives, by cutting budgets in order ‘to be seen’ to be fiscally responsible by HM Treasury and Number 10, loses the public support when that Government needs it most.

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 More collaboration is always to be welcomed. Partnerships across the cultural sector should be encouraged and there has been a lot of good practice in this area already, especially working with children and young people (e.g. Partnerships between museums, arts organisations, heritage, film and new media with the Cultural Hubs programme in Bournemouth & Poole, Durham and Telford; DAISI / Devon Arts In Schools Initiative working in rural communities across Devon; Arts and Health South West working across south west England).

2.2 What organisations often want are seed funding, or coordinating support, to get the partnership moving and then recognition from national Government that this collaborative approach is going to be supported and recognised. What discourages partnership work is when Government departments seem to issue conflicting guidance, and when one Department seems to use ‘partnership’ as an opportunity to remove support by piggybacking on another Department’s budget.

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

3.1 This is a very complex and involved question. It will probably be answered best by organisations and individuals with a record of accomplishment of funding and investing in the arts and heritage. Government is right to set an aim of smart economics in the cultural sector. Making economies in some areas in order to ease pressure on budgets is understandable. However, Government should also trust those professionals who have worked to ensure best value for the public purse in the arts and heritage sector.

3.2 A minor observation, but one I feel is important. If Government and Parliament see funding of the arts and heritage as a ‘subsidy’, then that is a negative, with all the connotations of ‘preventing decline’ and ‘protectionism’ associated with definitions of the term subsidy. The arts and heritage, for reasons stated elsewhere, add immensely to the quality of life and the national economy, so this funding should be regarded as an investment, or a national contribution to maintaining ‘the USP of UK plc’.

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

4.1 The current system is not perfect. There can always be improvements. From my experience, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) or quasi non-governmental organisations (quangos) – whichever you prefer – have been cutting hard and streamlining. Many (like the Arts Council and MLA) have been making year-on-year savings to meet the commitments to save money as per the Gershon and Lyons reviews. Government should reflect on the impacts of these cuts before further cuts. Otherwise, Government could find itself having a cumulative range of cuts (from the last Labour administration and this Coalition one) which result in such a reduced infrastructure that taxpayers’ money has to be wasted on re-recruiting a few months later.

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

5.1 Government’s proposals to redistribute Lottery funding (essentially shifting some from Big Lottery to the Arts Council, Heritage Lottery Fund and Sport Council/s) is welcome as it re-sets the imbalance; and is a return to the spirit of the Lottery established under John Major’s administration. However, what must be borne in mind is that, for example, Arts Council England has - in meeting its obligations to the previous Government - cut their staffing and resources drastically. This means that decision making on grants is harder (i.e. fewer people to do this). In addition, for money to be well used it needs good, balanced, analytical consideration of grant requests. Just allocating ‘a bit more to arts and heritage’ is not an end in itself. Ensure the distributors of the funding are at least able to make decisions in the regions/local areas and that this process is not a centralised decision made with no knowledge of the applicant, the public / audience that may benefit or the local context.

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

6.1 This question is related to 4 and 5, in that a fully considered range of options should be explored. Returning to the basic guiding principles of the Lottery is one option, but if that is done, then some system of protecting those arts/heritage/sports good causes needs to be enshrined. Otherwise, ‘bad habits’ come back and the Lottery coffers get raided when another big bill comes up.

6.2 Political independence of the Lottery distributors must be maintained and this can be checked and balanced by ensuring the partner agencies or advisory bodies have very clear terms of reference that are recognised by Parliament.

7. The impact of recent changes to DCMS arms-length bodies - in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA)

7.1 Other people have spoken very articulately about the abolition of the UKFC. The evidence that Government has presented about cutting it was based largely on ‘executive pay’, which seems a weak basis on which to remove an organisation that has demonstrated positive impact for the national film industry. If that was the perceived issue with UKFC then it should have been raised via the Board of Trustees and addressed as an issue of governance of the UKFC, not a total abolition.

7.2 The loss of MLA raises many questions about how and whether this will really save any money. The core functions of MLA, relating to national standards for museums (through Museums Accreditation); the portable antiquities scheme, security advice; Government Indemnity scheme etc, will all still need to be administered. Does DCMS propose to manage these directly, in London, recruiting and training more Civil Service personnel to do this job?

7.3 The greatest single success of MLA, the delivery of the Renaissance Museums programme in local museums across England is now put in jeopardy by the action of the Coalition Government. This public investment has seen museums and galleries actively taking the lead in partnerships in local areas, meeting strict performance indicators and contributing to a wide range of non-heritage services (helping Local councils meet obligations school education, positive activities for people with disabilities, and health and well-being agendas and the Local Authority Children’s Plans).

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


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

8/9.1 For philanthropy to work, as advocated by the DCMS Secretary of State, there has to be a better understanding within Government (and the UK Civil Service) of what this means. Comparisons keep being made with the ‘American system’, but this is too simplistic and ignores the American heritage of patronage that the UK does not have. There are opportunities to learn from other nations how they fund culture, but this should be more imaginative than just looking at the US system, which for all its merits does take a metropolitan / urban view.

8/9.2 To compare funding of the UK’s arts and heritage sector with the US, is like comparing the taste of a mango with a kipper. The UK and US have very different economies of scale, legal systems, tax incentives, demographics and administrative processes. Has the UK Coalition Government considered looking at how the UK arts and heritage sector has been viewed by other nations (i.e. Singapore) as a model of good practice; or how the UK can learn not only from the USA, but also from Norway (community arts), Germany (comparing the different States’ funding provision), Spain (the cultural infrastructure of the autonomous regions). These nations are closer in size, scale and cultural identity to the UK. We may not share a common language, but our geographical size, populations, educational aspirations and political systems are closer than that of the USA and UK.

In closing, I would ask the Committee to look closely at the accumulated benefits that the arts and heritage bring to the nation. Many aspects of everyday life improved because of the arts and heritage. More tangibly, the economic impacts of heritage and the arts are well documented. At a time of cuts, culture is perceived as the ‘soft underbelly’ of public expenditure, the excess that can be trimmed. I would implore the Committee to consider the case that what makes the public feel more positive and constructive in a time of austerity, is culture. Maintaining funding for the arts and heritage will actually enable the UK to navigate tough fiscal times. Cutting will damage confidence in the Government, public morale and reduce economic output in the creative industries.

Thank you for receiving and considering this written submission to the Committee. I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this.

September 2010