Exclusive: How arts funding disadvantages the north

Opera North general director Richard Mantle: There will always be a funding imbalance between London and the regions
Opera North general director Richard Mantle: There will always be a funding imbalance between London and the regions
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CALLS have been made for a radical re-think on the distribution of public arts funding after investigations by The Yorkshire Post revealed a continued imbalance towards the capital.

Figures obtained by the The Yorkshire Post revealed that, in 2014/2015, a total of £282,347,995 in public funding was awarded to arts organisations and programmes in London. In the same year, £60,759,774 was spread across Yorkshire and the Humber,

The amount of cash awarded by Arts Council England (ACE) in the capital equates to approximately £32.77 per head of the population, almost treble the £11.46 distributed per person in this region. Of the 519 applications submitted to the ACE from Yorkshire, 42 per cent were rejected in the last financial year.

Earlier this year ACE chief executive Darren Henley promised to increase the proportion of Arts Lottery spend outside London from 70 to 75 per cent.

But critics argue that both the ACE and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have not done enough to end the ‘London-centric approach’, as organisations also struggle to cope with the impact of local authority cuts.

Leeds-based Northern Ballet has welcomed the idea of arts provision being included in the powers devolved to regions as part of the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse.

A spokeswoman for the company told this newspaper: “There is a lot of discussion around a Northern Powerhouse, it may well be that our location will be the key to the future success of the company when it comes to securing funding. We look to the future positively and with hope.”

The largest funders of the arts outside of London have historically been local authorities, where significant budget cuts in recent years have impacted on arts provision at all levels.

Executive director and joint chief executive of West Yorkshire Playhouse, Robin Hawkes, said: “We welcome ACE’s commitment to redress the national funding balance through strategic deployment of its Lottery funds, and new schemes such as Ambition for Excellence. However, at a time when arts organisations up and down the country are really struggling due to continued reductions in public funding over the last five years, we would ask the government to consider the return on investment which the Arts provides from its small share of government spending, rather than have the North and South compete for shares of an ever-diminishing pot.”

Last year, a DCMS inquiry into the work of the ACE concluded there is a clear arts funding imbalance in favour of London ‘at the ‘expense of taxpayers and lottery players in other parts of the country’, a situation which ‘must be urgently rectified’.

Sarah Maxfield, the ACE’s director for the north, said: “We’ve always been clear that shifting the balance of investment to increase funds outside London will take time in order to respond to the best opportunities and to avoid destabilising the cultural ecology of London.

“In the past few months we’ve announced major investments in Yorkshire including £3 million to support Hull as City of Culture and £1 million for the Yorkshire Festival in 2016. “

A spokeswoman for the DCMS said: “The Government strongly supports the fair distribution of arts and culture funding across the country. We will continue to discuss this with the Arts Council.”

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