The £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund is the largest single award of funding to the arts and culture sector during 2020–21. Administered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, its purpose is to save up to 75% of organisations in the arts, culture and heritage sectors at risk of financial ruin following the national lockdown. While we acknowledge the Department’s efforts to aid the sector’s survival through COVID-19 and get funds to over 5,000 organisations, it has not been all smooth sailing. Our scrutiny has uncovered issues regarding the experience of applicants, with some reporting difficulties in accessing funds and others receiving no feedback whatsoever following unsuccessful applications, placing some organisations in perilous financial situations.
The Department recognises the ongoing difficulties faced by organisations in the sector, even when they have received funding but its knowledge about the impact of the funding on parts of the sector appears incomplete. For example, some subsectors, such as supply chain businesses that, for instance, provide lighting for events, may have missed out on funding. This year there is also a survival threat to festivals without a government-backed insurance indemnity package against the risk of cancellation. Although the Department expresses confidence that the Culture Recovery Fund provides value for money, it is vague about how it knows this to be the case. Its evaluation of the programme during 2021 gives it an opportunity to learn and apply the lessons to its future oversight of the sector, including a fresh look at the challenges the sector faces and how best the Department can support the sector’s creative and economic potential in the future.