London bias in arts funding must be tackled, says Culture Committee report

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05 Nov 2014
The capital is getting an unfair slice of funding for the arts, subsidised unacceptably by taxpayers and lottery-players from the rest of the country, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has concluded in its latest report, published today.

Though the Arts Council - the main funding body – is now belatedly trying to shift the balance, so glaring is the disparity that it needs to move with much greater urgency, MPs found.

‘None of this will come as a great shock to people in the arts and culture locally,’ said Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly, who sits on the Committee. ‘But the actual figures, about how wide the gap is, might do. They’re totally unacceptable.’

‘After years of cuts in grants to local groups, in the whole county Staffordshire has just one main Arts Council funded body – the New Vic Theatre in Basford.’

‘Of course, London will always get more, as it’s got lots of the national museums, theatres, operas and orchestras. On the whole, the Arts Council does a good job under difficult circumstances, given that its funding has been slashed. But the imbalance is awful and needs to be urgently addressed, not least in the way it allocates National Lottery monies.’

Evidence seen by the Committee showed that Arts Council and direct government funding amounted to around £70 per head for London, against just over £4.50 on average for the rest of the country.

Even more shocking, the hard-hitting report found, were statistics for National Lottery arts funding doled out by the Council: since 1995, of £3.5 billion in total, London had received £1.35 billion, around 40%, or £165 per head of population against £47 per head elsewhere.

Rebalancing, though, would be made more difficult if the Arts Council suffered any further cuts, the Committee warned. Local authorities, including Westminster – which has scrapped funding, but gets lots of grants - should also be held more to account. 

The report suggests several ways forward, including limiting London’s access to National Lottery funding and earmarking any future increase in arts funding for use outside the M25. 

John Whittingdale, the Committee’s Conservative Chair, said: ‘We welcome the efforts already being made by the Arts Council to shift lottery funding outside of London but would like to see this done faster.’

‘We are disappointed that a few local authorities appear to fail to recognise the value of supporting the arts and we see little point in pumping public money into areas that do not particularly want or need it.’

To read the report in full, click here.