Monday, 12 January 2015

Funding the Arts in the North

Palace Theatre, Manchester
Photo Wikipedia

You may have heard a lot of talk from politicians about a "Northern Powerhouse". That may be because there is an election is the offing and the politicians who have had most to sat about the idea - namely the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Deputy Prime Minister - hold Northern seats. But there is a case for growing the North as a counterweight to London in order to rebalance the British economy.

In its report on The Work of Arts Council England of 28 Oct 2014 The Culture, Media and Sport Committee found that:
"London has long received a disproportionate share of arts funding, something which even the Arts Council acknowledges. To a limited extent this reflects London’s position as the capital city and a world cultural centre. However, there remains a clear funding imbalance in favour of London at the expense of tax payers and lottery players in other parts of the country. The Arts Council is well-placed to restore some balance. It must do so with greater urgency if it is to realise its declared ambition to engineer the provision of great art and culture for everyone."
In a response to that report an organization that represents Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield known as "the Core Cities group" acknowledged "the important role played by London as the national cultural capital and the central role of the cultural economy in London’s attractiveness as a place to live, visit and invest" but contended that:
"the Core Cities have a unique role to play as regional cultural capitals and a similar argument in terms of the critical mass of larger-scale venues and producing companies. The substantial cultural offer of the Core Cities plays a lead role in driving economic growth and supporting competitiveness as well as providing a rich cultural environment. This role extends beyond the Core Cities themselves, to the wider city region, the region and surrounding economies. The term ‘Cultural Capital’ is therefore used here in that sense of delivering benefits to a much wider area, not in an exclusive sense."
Alleging that they contributed 28% to national output which was more than London the Core Cities continued as follows:
"[7] The cultural and creative sectors are key drivers of success (including economic diversity, human capital, innovation, quality of place), and growing competition for public and private funds will limit their growth. Sustainable development of the cultural and creative sector in the Core Cities is therefore vital to balanced growth in the wider economy.
[8] For this to be fully realised, it is important that decisions on Government spending recognise this contribution in terms of the economic impacts of cultural spend and how this relates to the wider re-balancing agenda in order to maximise growth dividends for the UK as a whole.
[9] This requires not only mechanisms which fairly reflect the activities of cultural organisations operating in the regions, but new ways of relating spending priorities to growth to take full advantage of culture’s economic contribution.
[10] Whilst the culture and creative sector contribute directly to economic growth, it should also be noted that they have a wider role to play in the Core Cities in strengthening economic competitiveness. A strong cultural economy attracts visitors and investors as well as being a significant provider of broader skills development."
They concluded "that, without a new policy direction agreed between the Core Cities and central government, it is likely that in the short to medium term, the national cultural infrastructure based in the cities and serving their regional economies, is not sustainable and its loss will have wide-ranging impact on the competitiveness of the country."

On the very day that the Core Cities' response to the Committee's report was published, Opera North announced "a new membership scheme for inspired business leaders who recognise and value the role the company plays in making the region an attractive place to live, study, work and invest" (see Business Partners scheme hits the right note ahead of its launch 12 Jan 2015 Yorkshire Business News). It appears that Opera North 25 founding business partners include AQL, Arup, Bartlett Group, Blacks Solicitors, Brewin Dolphin, The Business Desk, Dermalogica, DLA Piper, Evans Property Group, EY, Hainsworth, Hammerson plc, James Hare Ltd, KPMG, Land Securities, Leeds Building Society, Leeds City Council, MAC, Maestro! Tour Management, NJ Geddes Private Jewellery Concierge, One Medical Group, Taste Cuisine, Town Centre Securities, Yorkshire Building Society and Yorkshire Water.

To my mind raising money locally from business and the community is a better way of sponsoring the arts in the North than diverting public funds from artists in London. First, we are a very small country and London is easy to reach from any part of the UK. Nowhere is more than a couple of flying time by air and all the core cities are connected to the capital by motorway and intercity rail services. Secondly, institutions like the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera serve us all. I would much rather see a well funded performance at Covent Garden than more experimental theatre at the local civic. Thirdly, we have excellence in the North and the Midlands (see any my reviews of Northern Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet). Also in Scotland (see  Like meeting an old friend after so many years 4 Jan 2015), Wales (see An Explosion of Joy 21 Sep 2014) and indeed Grantham (see The Happy Prince in Halifax 21 Nov 2014) and Hinckley (The Bedouin of Ballet 12 Dec 2014). Fourthly, we want devolution in skills, transport and economic development and all sorts of other areas so why not in culture?

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