Ed Vaizey, Conservative culture minister, in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row
Grant-in-aid, the annual budget that Arts Council England receives from Department of Culture Media and Sport, has decreased from £453m in 2009-10 to £350m in 2014-15, according to the Culture Select Committee. The Arts Council quantifies this as a real terms reduction of 36%.
In his radio interview on BBC 4’s Front Row last week, Ed Vaizey claimed all of these cuts have been offset by increases in National Lottery funding to the arts. In fact, as the graph below shows, the peak of the former Labour government’s arts funding in 2009-10 was £625m, and by 2014-15 this had fallen to £617m, representing an overall cut of £8m (not accounting for inflation, so a real terms cut of over £9m).
The politics of arts funding
From 2015, even more Lottery funding will be used to support the arts in England. The use of Lottery funding to compensate for cuts in core funding is highly controversial as it appears to contravene the so-called “additionality principle”, which holds that government funding decisions shouldn’t be influenced by lottery contributions. Section 12 of the Lottery Act (2006) states that: "Proceeds of the National Lottery should be used to fund projects … for which funds would be unlikely to made available by a government department [or its equivalent]."
Lottery funding of the arts has also been accused of acting as a regressive form of taxation, whereby working class northerners subsidise the cultural hobbies of middle-class southerners.
When the coalition government came into power, there were 854 regularly funded arts organisations. There are now only 664, which represents a decrease of 22% over the past five years. However, any voters placing their hope in Labour to reverse the coalition’s cuts spending are likely to be disappointed, following the party’s denial in January of Conservative claims that Labour would spend an additional £83m cancelling previous cuts to culture.
On top of DCMS’s cuts to funding, what Vaizey failed to mention is the increasingly negative and disproportionate impact of local government cuts to culture. Shadow Minister for Culture, Helen Goodman, pointed out last May that the most deprived of England’s local authority areas have faced an average funding cut of 18%, which has translated to a cut to arts, libraries and heritage of 22%.
So, it is important to remember, as highlighted in the recent Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report, that arts funding is not distributed proportionately around the country. Indeed claims of regional imbalances in funding led to a recent parliamentary inquiry, which ultimately determined that London receives a share of arts funding which is “out of all proportion to its population” and that this “clear funding imbalance … must be urgently rectified”.
ACE reports that in 2009-10, local authorities invested £102m in their regularly funded arts organisations and that central government funding to local authorities has been cut by 28% over the four years between 2011-15. In the course of this parliament, some councils (like Somerset) have imposed 100% cuts on their arts budgets, which means that 13 local authorities, including Gloucestershire, Selby, Wigan, Westminster and Wandsworth, now allocate no funding whatsoever to culture and heritage.
The veracity of Ed Vaizey’s claim hinges on his qualifier “roughly”: the figures show that more than £9m less is now being spent on the arts than at the peak of the last Labour government, and £103m less government or public money.
Recent history teaches us that Labour governments fund the arts more generously than their Conservative counterparts – under the last Labour government, grant-in-aid almost trebled from £179m to £453m. Regardless of who wins on May 7, the figures illustrate that the future of arts funding seems increasingly reliant on the spin of a national wheel of fortune.