Arts funding: My plan to end North-South divide so culture can drive levelling up agenda – Nadine Dorries
I’d like to say I was surprised by what I saw. But unfortunately some of the stats told an all-too-familiar story. Over the last few decades, an overwhelming amount of money has gone to organisations based in London, while other regions haven’t received their fair share.
In parts of London, there are dozens upon dozens of cultural institutions, known as “national portfolio organisations”, that benefit from Arts Council funding.
Yet a town like Grimsby doesn’t have a single one. In fact, London has more such organisations than Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the North West combined.
This is national funding, and it should benefit the entire nation. Instead, there’s been a huge historic imbalance. But that’s about to change.
Any reader of The Yorkshire Post who’s switched on their TV over the last few months has probably heard a strange new political term that’s taken over Westminster: “levelling up”.
It’s this Government’s central mission to tackle regional inequality once and for all. As someone who grew up on a council estate in Liverpool, it’s an issue very close to my heart. I’ve seen with my own eyes that too often, a person’s postcode can determine how far they’ll go in life.
That’s deeply unfair. Poorer communities are just as full of creative talent – but while people in wealthy parts of the UK are swimming in opportunity, other places have been overlooked and undervalued for decades.
Until now. Today, I’m unveiling the biggest shake-up in arts funding for a generation. It starts with an overall increase in investment. In October, I successfully argued for an extra £43.5m from the Treasury for the arts. Every single penny of that extra money will be going to organisations outside of London.
At the same time, we’ve identified over 100 places that historically have had low cultural engagement and spending. They include Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and other Yorkshire towns.
I’ve asked Arts Council England to redistribute another £24m per year from their existing budget to these neglected places by 2025.
We’ll also be supporting our biggest and most internationally renowned cultural organisations – which, right now, include icons like the Royal Opera House and the National Theatre – to build on their already-valuable work outside of London. And I’ll be encouraging and helping other cultural organisations that receive national portfolio funding to relocate or expand beyond the capital, where they can.
Together, these decisions represent one of the biggest ever redistributions of arts funding in our history. They’re proof that levelling up isn’t just a catchy slogan. We’re putting our money where our mouth is, to deliver real change.
What does this mean for The Yorkshire Post’s readers? It means more good arts jobs and a deeper pool of artistic talent outside of London. It means that people won’t have to spend hours on the motorway or on the train to experience our world-class arts institutions.
Access to culture matters. I know how much our theatres, museums, performance venues and other arts institutions enrich people’s lives – and it’s why this Government announced an unprecedented £2bn, the biggest ever emergency culture package in the UK, to make sure the sector was still standing after Covid.
In Yorkshire and the Humber alone, we’ve allocated around £120m in grants and loans through our historic Culture Recovery Fund. That money has protected beloved organisations like the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House, Sheffield Theatres, Artlink Hull and Rural Arts North Yorkshire.
Why did we spend billions of hard-working taxpayer money to protect these institutions? First, so that we could protect jobs. But also because we know that arts and culture are central to levelling up. They help make people proud of their home towns and cities, and can transform communities up and down the country.
That should be true wherever people live. And with today’s changes, it will be.
Nadine Dorries is the Culture Secretary and a Tory MP.
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