Private Viewing: The time has come for the regions to get their share of the arts cake

Marjorie Yates, Clare Burt and Evelyn Hoskins in This is My Family by Tim Firth which attracted larg

Marjorie Yates, Clare Burt and Evelyn Hoskins in This is My Family by Tim Firth which attracted large audiences at New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. An example of high quality new work which starts outside London and needs arts council support in development. - Credit: Archant

Arts editor Andrew Clarke applauds the government’s desire to rebalance arts funding allocated to London and the regions

Former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major says that the creative industry nee

Former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major says that the creative industry needs to remind the Treasury of the positive cultural economic benefits created by the arts - Credit: PA

We’ve always known it but now it has been confirmed. Londoners get more spent on their arts provision than we do in the shires. The Commons culture, media and sport select committee has issued its long-awaited first report on arts funding and has come to the conclusion that London gets a disproportionate amount of arts money spent within its boundaries.

It is something we all knew but never had the figures to back up our anecdotal evidence. This new investigation reveals that not only does London get more Arts Council money but it also receives the lion’s share of the heritage lottery money as well.

The report reveals that the Arts Council alone spends £68.99 per head of population in London compared with just £4.58 in the rest of England. As far as lottery spending on the arts is concerned, between 1995 and 2013 the figure was £165 per head in London and £46.77 in the regions.

These figures come as no real surprise but what has taken us all slightly aback is the desire by both the government and the Arts Council to do something about it.

Following hot on the heels of the Parliamentary report came a response by Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair, Arts Council England, who said: “We understand that in challenging economic times, we must continue to demonstrate the value and impact of arts and culture investment across England and we will continue to rebalance our investment intelligently – to build capacity outside of London, whilst not damaging the infrastructure in the capital.” John Whittingdale, who chairs the Commons committee, said: “There is a clear imbalance in arts funding in favour of London – which the Arts Council itself admits.”

Importantly, the committee acknowledged the importance of the arts in the nation’s wellbeing and the vital role it plays in the economy and made a strongly worded plea to the chancellor that the money allocated to the Arts Council should not be reduced any further.

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This is something which Bazalgette acknowledged, along with the need to be given the tools to do the job: “We welcome the recommendation that the Arts Council’s grant in aid should not be reduced. We share the committee’s desire for a speedy response to the historic challenges to rebalancing. It is difficult to act urgently when our income is shrinking and it is not our job to damage what is good out there – including the thriving cultural life of our capital city. Additional resource would certainly allow for greater flexibility in supporting our ambition to achieve this.”

The need for a vibrant arts economy, both in London and the regions, has also been the focus of a new arts publication, Create, which was launched this week. Artists, theatremakers and even a former prime minister have gone on record saying how important a thriving arts scene is to the health and stability of our society.

In his introduction Bazalgette tackles the funding issue head-on: “Why should there be public funding for arts and culture? This is a question perhaps only asked by those wild-eyed folk who don’t like taxes in any form. A more common question in today’s climate is: can we afford such support? And the simple answer is, we can’t afford not to.”

Surprisingly, he receives support from former prime minister John Major who writes that “the arts have long been recognised as an ‘integral’ part of life.

“The arts and culture sector should tell the Treasury that the arts are not an add-on to people’s lives; not an optional extra. Art is integral to life. It enhances it. It civilises and helps build a rounded personality.”

This view is echoed by economist Howard Davies but argues that “vague and emotional pleas” for government arts funding are not strong enough, and the sector needs to find a better way of measuring and demonstrating its impact.

He argues the best way of persuading the Treasury to cough up the necessary funds to keep the arts alive and well is the fact the majority of foreign tourists bringing money into the country are coming to the UK to sample our cultural attractions and to access our stunning history.

As with everything it’s a question of balance. London is important, many of our leading companies are based there but there is also a lot of quality work being created outside the capital, which enriches us all, and which can then provide fresh nourishment to the West End.