Session 2010-11
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Written evidence submitted by the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme (arts 239)

Cuts in Arts Council funding will do real long-term damage and undo much of the advance made by the New Vic over the past 10 years.

Serving an area with little cultural provision and with pockets of severe deprivation, the New Vic’s Arts Council funding has enabled us to develop a wide audience, of whom 26% are under 26s, and to create award-winning outreach programs which enhance community cohesion and raise aspirations.  Every aspect of our work will be adversely affected by funding cuts.

Reductions in local authorities’ budgets are likely to result in further damage to the arts across the country.

The introduction of Arts Council Portfolio Funding gives an opportunity to address the historic imbalance in arts funding in favour of metropolitan centres, in particular London – currently just over 50% of regular arts funding goes to London, where only 14.6% of the population lives.

Encouraging philanthropic giving as a major source of income for arts organisations outside London, and the most affluent centres of population, is unrealistic. As a minimum, the tax regime would need to be adjusted to provide increased incentives, A modified honours system could be part of increased incentives for philanthropy in terms of status and recognition.

The New Vic Theatre

The New Vic theatre is based on the border of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent is the regional producing theatre for Staffordshire, drawing large audiences from South Cheshire, Shropshire and Derbyshire, too.

Established in North Staffordshire in 1962, the Victoria Theatre Company was the first professional company in Britain to perform permanently in the round - that is, with the audience on all sides of the stage.

The company moved from a converted cinema in Stoke-on-Trent, to the purpose-built New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme, in 1986.  Over one third of the £3 million cost was raised by local people.

Since its beginnings the company has had strong links with the communities it serves.  Under its founding director, Peter Cheeseman, the company became internationally known for its Drama Documentaries that used local voices to tell local stories (Fight For Shelton Bar, Nice Girls, The Knotty).  Today, the New Vic is known both for its professional productions and for its award-winning work in the community.
Our ten major productions each year are designed, built, directed, promoted and presented at our unique theatre-in-the-round.  Seasons of our own productions, visits by associate companies Northern Broadsides and The Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough, and a concert programme are seen by over 100,000 people a year.
As well as its professional performance work, the New Vic has an extensive community involvement through an Education Department and the award-winning New Vic Borderlines programme, which concentrates on work that promotes social inclusion, community cohesion and neighbourhood renewal. Since their inception ten years ago, these departments have involved over 100,000 young people in all.
The New Vic’s work is built on an outward looking and collaborative approach which is reflected in a commitment to developing to the full its potential as a cultural force, in the arts and for the local community, promoting education and driving aspiration.

In all, including concerts, exhibitions and other productions, we were responsible for over 450 performances last year, with 175,000 visitors - including 50,000 involved in our education and outreach activities.

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;

The New Vic has a turnover of just over £3.25 million and, using the Sheffield University methodology, we return upwards of £5 million of economic activity annually into the regional economy.

The New Vic has increased its earned income over the past 10 years – by about 20% in real terms – a result that was made possible by the additional funding we received following the Regional Theatre Review in 2002/03.

Further investment since has enabled us to expand and enhance our programme, the positive impact of which has been felt in all areas of the theatre’s work.

The increase in quality and scale of our work has been recognised regionally and nationally and has also fed back into increased attendances, meaning that public funding has fallen as a proportion of our overall income, from 44% to 40%. 

Our financial balance (2009/10) was:

o 60% earned

o 31% Arts Council England funding 

o 9% Local Authority funding

All our outside funding is delivered within Funding Agreement or Service Level Agreement frameworks with agreed outputs and indicators, ensuring that we support the wider objectives - cultural, economic, social and educational - of our stakeholders.

The New Vic is the only producing theatre serving a population in excess of one and a half million - and an area, at the heart of which is North Staffordshire, that has among the worst indicators in terms of economic , social and educational deprivation.

Our Arts Council funding for next year means , in real terms, a cut of around 10%, which equates to the loss of 5 jobs at the New Vic.  We have very little, if any, fat, having consistently held down, and in fact reduced, our "back-office" (administration, marketing finance and support staff) costs over the past 10 years. 

A cut of that size therefore can only be covered by reducing what we spend directly on our participatory work and stage productions (actors, musicians, designers, education practitioners) – therefore reducing our scale / ambition and / or doing fewer projects/productions and therefore reaching fewer people. 

If we receive a further cut, and even if the cut in 2011/12 is not at least partially reinstated in future years, we will suffer significant harm. The larger the cut, the greater the damage and the greater the likelihood that it will be irreparable.

Our position is in line with the Arts Council’s view that 15% cuts to its portfolio of regularly funded organisations represents a tipping point. The Arts Council’s ability to meet the Secretary of State’s requirement, therefore, that this figure is not exceeded is critical.  The only way the Arts Council will be able to hit that target, however, is for many organisations to lose their funding altogether.

We are of course concerned that, in an area where public sector jobs are a significant proportion of the workforce, our ability to sustain our earned income may be undermined by the impact of public sector job losses. In the already depressed, traditional industrial economy of North Staffordshire, these are unlikely to be readily or quickly replaced by additional private sector jobs.

Our salaries are already so low that recruitment is a real issue. We have failed recently to fill two key positions where the salaries we offer are not competitive in comparison to other sectors – our average salary is just over £19,000 and over 80% of our staff are graduates.  But for the uncertainty of the funding position, salary increases would be high on the Theatre Trust’s agenda (not for senior staff or maybe for people at the beginning of their careers, but for the "engine room" jobs in the middle). 

We have built a very strong team, who have made the success of the company over the past 10 years possible, and it would be a tragedy, and a great loss for North Staffordshire, if we were unable to prevent that being dismantled.

We have very good relationships with both Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council, and we are developing relationships with new officers and members at Stoke on Trent City Council.  But we fear that the local authorities will not be able to meet their own cost- cutting targets without reducing their funding to us.  We do not know yet, though, what the scale or timetable for that may be. 

The ‘London Funding Focus’

Arts funding has, since its inception, focused disproportionately on London and other metropolitan areas.

Arts Council England’s recent list of regularly funded organisations and the breakdown of funding received demonstrated, from their own figures, that (when the National Companies are included) then over half of that funding goes to London (£168 million of £325 million).

Even when the National Companies and their funding are removed from the calculation, 32.6% of the funding goes to London. Project-funded companies (whose funding is not included in these figures) are also more likely to be London-based.

The 2001 census indicates that London represents 14.6% of the population. The per capita funding of the arts in London is, therefore, way out of kilter with any reasonably equitable distribution of funds, even if the fact that some London-based organisations tour outside the capital is taken into account.

In addition to this funding, it is also comparatively easier to raise money from the private sector in London, where the majority of head offices are found, than outside where regional offices are less in control and have smaller budgets. In addition, a larger proportion of wealthy individuals are London- or South East-based.

One of the things the open application nature of ‘Portfolio Funding’ could make possible is a move away from the domination of "historic funding" as the main criterion in make funding decisions, to one where quality, impact and, in particular, geographic distribution are able to play more central roles, possible.

Arts Council England’s new Portfolio Funding system is a once in a generation opportunity to ensure that arts funding is distributed fairly and evenly across the country.

This won’t be achievable in one step; the London-centric infrastructure, built up over decades, cannot be dismantled or relocated over night. But it is essential that the decisions made in early 2011 make a significant first step in the process of national funding equalization.

New Vic’s impact beyond the ‘arts constituency’ – our community programmes

Our visionary and award-winning community programmes are among the most successful in the country. Last year alone, more than 2 0,000 people were involved in over 100 projects, everything from reading clubs in primary schools to tackling crime in North Staffordshire.

The New Vic Education and New Vic Borderlines programmes were established in 1998/99. Since then, they have worked with tens of thousands of local people.

New Vic Education was set up with the support of the Staffordshire County Council Learning Service and New Vic Borderlines received Arts Council England Lottery funding (Arts for Everyone) from 1999-2003 and Single regeneration Budget 5 funding from 2002-2005.

The company remained committed to these initiatives when the start-up funding ceased, and has continued this work through our own resources and a range of partnerships.

Many of these agencies and organizations, however, are themselves looking at substantial cuts – including schools and colleges, Social Services, the police and fire services, and the criminal justice system. 

If they are unable to commission the projects that have had such a positive impact on the social agenda in the region, then it is very unlikely that work will be able to continue.

This work addresses a range of social issues that generate significant cost to the police, Social Services and the criminal justice system. The relatively small investment in our work and our welcoming environment saves significantly more expenditure elsewhere.

Through our core arts funding we have the capacity and infrastructure to enable us to use theatre skills to deliver projects that support a wide range of social and educational challenges

These projects, because they are drama-based, can achieve results that would be more expensive and less effective by other means. The partnerships between public sector, private and ‘third sector’ organisations that make these projects possible represent extraordinary value for money.

Examples include:

All Our Daughters - working with the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Forced Marriage Unit, and Refuge (the Domestic Abuse Charity) to raise awareness of forced marriage and offer advice on where support can be sought. "This project is saving lives," according to the Director of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Yizkor - A drama based on the lives of Holocaust survivors, created in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, has been encouraging young people across the region to tackle racism and prejudice during Remembrance month. Following the lives of two Jewish teenagers during the Second World War, Yizkor has been touring schools and communities across Staffordshire, Manchester, Leeds and the West Midlands, with a special performance at the National Memorial Arboretum.

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

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

If the idea of increasing input from sponsorship is to have significant traction, two things need to happen – the United States are often held up as the model to which we should aspire – for that to be feasible (and it would, even with all the necessary changes in place, in any case take a long time to achieve):

o As is often said, tax incentives need to be introduced to provide incentives for both businesses and individuals, over and above Gift Aid;

o In the US if you want to be seen as a success or a substantial pillar of the community, you contribute philanthropically by building something or joining the board of something, very often in the Arts.  In the UK, however, the honours system in its present form plays a role in weakening that incentive. 

Replacing public funding with private sector/philanthropic giving in any significant way will, in any event, be extremely hard to achieve in areas like North Staffordshire, where there are very few "headquarters businesses" and where rich individuals are thin on the ground.

That is not because we do not try. Our Building Futures Appeal, for example – with a target of £2 million, launched in 2007, aimed at enabling us to expand our facilities for work with young people - has reached £1.25 million. Only £185,000 of that has come from individual sponsorship and donations, however, with the bulk coming from Local Authorities, Arts Council England and Trusts and Foundations.