Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Netribution Ltd (arts 138)

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;

While I would instinctively assume that cuts will have a negative effect on the cultural industries I cannot rule out the possibility that well focused cuts that target genuine inefficiency, bureaucracy, duplication while removing the 'cushion of laziness' that prevent some of the wealthiest institutions from reaching out to new audiences and renewing themselves to stay relevant could - well applied - have a neutral or even positive effect. But if applied uniformly without due care, as I am concerned the current plan is, the effects could be catastrophic, both economically and culturally.

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

The simplest area - besides data sharing (mailing lists, press contacts, internal databases of suppliers, venues or artists) is in IT. All organisations struggle with IT costs and the creative sector is hugely dependent on efficient systems that work - such as for ticketing, revenue tracking, distribution or production support. Limited sources of funding are available for infrastructure projects - and what is spent with public money should come with the requirement that work must be produced under an open source license - and hence sharable with all other relevant agencies and bodies - a considerable amount of costs could be saved.

For instance, many screen agencies have invested large sums in websites (£3m by the UKFC on that share video created by people in their region. Sharing the technology on an open source basis would have several effects:

- ensure the initial capital investment in original IP from one agency was available to all agencies and other organisations.

- provide greater future proofing, as a more widely adopted system is more likely to be upgraded and developed further by its user community.

- potentially create an ecosystem around the software that can fuel further economic development - for example for consultants, training organisations and developers who specialise in that software, many of whom are likely to be local to the original development team.

- Support other British small businesses and micro-businesses who may find the software useful in their own projects.

With open source software companies such as Red Hat making billions for added-value services, and Mozilla's Firefox being far ahead of Google or Apple in taking on the might of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the economic potential of 'copyleft' software cannot be avoided, and already countries such as South America have a big head start.

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

Like everything, there could always be more. And of course in a time of cuts, no-one could argue that arts spending is more important than a hospital bed or mental health nurse. Some could argue that it should be left to the market, and that it isn't a vital service. But it's part of our cultural dignity as a nation to have culture available outside of the market - be it the BBC, public libraries or free museums. Its impact on everything from tourism to education is worth far more than its cost and in a world where the UK is becoming ever smaller and less signifiant against the new economic giants, our incredibly rich cultural heritage is a vital part of our national 'brand' and identity.

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

CNC in France - which distributes more film finance than any other organisation in Europe - gives a significant proportion of its income in 'automatic finance'. Unlike 'selective finance', where a funding board will assess a collection of proposals, automatic finance ensures that - for example, - a director whose first film has either won awards or had a great box office run, is entitled to automatic development finance on their next project. It's idiot-proof, and saves significant bureaucratic costs.

Furthermore, in the digital age, where all national and regional cultural agencies are seeking new talent to support and develop, automatic finance could apply to - for example - YouTube views or levels of crowd-sourced finance already raised. Imagine I have made a short film on no budget, got it seen by a million people on YouTube, and raised £50,000 towards the production of my next film through a site such as OneFatCigar or Kickstarter - then I could be automatically eligible for certain levels of recoupable investment for my next project (provided that I met certain basic quality and responsibility standards, such as environmental and social practice). Or perhaps my film picked up a top film festival award and was then supported with a cinema release or Oscar awards campaign.

Such a system would remove the perceived 'elite' nature of much public funding, where it is seen that the same people get funding again and again. The system would need to be carefully designed in order to avoid inequalities and to be truly accessible by all, but it would remove the super-power status of the UKFC fund heads, and could stimulate innovation.

At the same time 100% funded microbudget feature and short investments from talented and experienced executive producers (of which the UK screen agencies have a surfeit) into new talent, unproven but full of promise should be allowed to expand from successful 'pilots' at Film London, South West Screen and NorthWest Vision.

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

Really impossible to say without further analysis.

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

A review is rarely a bad thing.

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;

The BFI cannot take on the role of British screen trade body without weakening its highly successful and internationally recognised cultural offerings. Given the BFI's involvement with both a leading critical magazine and an A-list film festival, their autonomy would be threatened if the strategic, marketing and trade aspects of the UKFC were consumed within it, most of all film finance. The London Film Festival would be looked down upon as a showcase for the work they'd financed and being a giant British film PR jolly, while Sight and Sound's editorial judgement would be questioned after the next Shane Meadows front cover. It would be a disaster.

So a screen quango is needed if this market sector - highly vulnerable to global market fluctuations and currency shifts - is to thrive. Few would disagree that it should be lighter, smaller and less control-freaky than the UKFC. At the same time I would like to see it expand to all screen media. While the BFI can remain the cultural flagship for cinema as an art form, the evolution and expansion of screen media in all its forms - from YouTube to Training Videos, Pop Promos to Documentary, TV formats to Video Games, Community video to Interactive Media. Britain's creative high tech economy depends on these areas of screen media, so getting quasi-governmental support, promotion, investment and skills development is essential. Furthermore - in an environment where almost everyone working in British film supplements their income with work in TV, corporate video, web virals and so forth it is naive and slightly old-fashioned to carve off feature films as the sole focus of activity. As the moving image industry moves online and finds new ways of communication thru mobile and interactive, the UKFC's lack of focus in this area is a significant shortfall. The web provides a level playing field - it cannot therefore be denied that government investment will give the sector an advantage.

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

Absolutely. I worked at the National Theatre during a Paul Hamlyn Week and it seemed a vibrant and socially beneficial initative - as with the Travelex low price tickets.

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

As I understand it, development departments at arts organisations work incredibly hard trying to raise corporate and private funding. I cannot see how their effort can significantly be increased.

I imagine that a PR campaign to high earners, greater tax incentives or a public awareness campaign of philanthropists may have impact - but overall, I don't believe this area has sufficient growth potential to offset the cuts that are being threatened.

Note - I regret the short notice for this consultation and would appreciate the chance to back up my points with examples, evidence and full reasoning. However in the time constraints I will just present my arguments, and hope that if further explanation is needed, I will be able to provide this.

September 2010