Call for end to North-South divide over arts funding

paul blomfieldpaul blomfield
paul blomfield
LEADING figures from across the region have called for an end to London-centric arts funding after an investigation by The Yorkshire Post revealed the shocking scale of the disparity of grant allocation.

Famous stars, theatres, dance companies and politicians have demanded the Government “redress the imbalance” after requests made under Freedom of Information Act revealed huge disparity in Arts Council England (ACE) cash awarded to local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber compared to London.

Figures for 2012/2013 show a total of £336,468,686.90 of taxpayers’ cash was awarded to 32 councils in the capital, while just £72,825,736 was spread across 21 councils in this region.

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Using population figures from the 2011 census this equates to around £41.03 per head for people in London and £13.74 for Yorkshire and the Humber.

Leeds-born screenwriter Kay Mellor and Michael Palin, Sheffield-born star of Monty Python, are among those who have thrown their weight behind the campaign to give the region a fairer deal. In his comments, Palin accused the Government of neglecting arts in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, who recently made the case for fairer funding in the House of Commons, said: “Yorkshire is not getting a fair deal on arts funding. The Government has failed to redress the funding imbalance between London and the regions and their unfair cuts in local government have made the situation worse.

“Local authorities who are a big source of arts funding have borne a disproportionate burden of the cuts, particularly in our big cities.

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“It’s not just the cultural benefits. The arts are a big part of the economy and important to future growth. The arts provide nearly one million jobs in the UK economy, and cultural businesses contribute £28bn a year. A vibrant cultural offer is a big factor when people are choosing where to invest, start businesses or study.”

Last year in Mr Blomfield’s constituency of Sheffield, £5,996,428 was shared among its 551,800 residents.

Yet in the London borough of Hackney, which has less than half the population size, more than £13m in ACE funding was awarded to the local authority.

The investigation sheds further light on the disproportion of public funding highlighted in the independent Rebalancing our Cultural Capital report released earlier this year.

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Data lifted the lid on bias towards London, which scrutinised where ACE funding, including National Lottery grants, 
combined with money from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Arts 
Council was being spent across the UK.

Mr Blomfield added: “So the Government should act to make sure arts funding is distributed more equally.”

The Government has defended the disparity in a statement which said that many of the organisations awarded cash from the public purse choose to based in the capital and tour to promote the arts nationwide.

And, as statistics show, the gap in funding allocation looks set to further the North-South divide even more this year – between April last year and this February, £229,650,513 was paid out across London compared with £56,171,168 in this area.

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Campaigners say this is not enough to encourage emerging talent and support local projects.

Northern Ballet and Sheffield Theatres – which relies on ACE funding for a large proportion of their income – have also welcomed a change in the way funds are allocated.

A spokesman for ACE said: “Our role is to direct our investment strategically, to support organisations and artists to develop and evolve their work, to the 
benefit of the whole arts and cultural ecology across the entire country.

“The importance of ensuring the widest access and reach of arts and culture is a key part of our work and plays a prominent role.

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“The arts sector in this country has evolved over time. Where organisations and artists are based is the result of personal preference, history, and the initiative and ambition of local partners.

“Organisations and artists make positive connections nationally, with activity benefitting the whole country.

“Our strategic funds are playing a vital role in building capacity and demand as part of our strategy towards funding outside London.

“Touring allows us to ensure people can access the best work around the country.

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“London has a higher 
number of these companies than any other region, 53 per cent of 
its portfolio, of which 78 per cent of activity happens outside London.

“The ACE brings an expert national overview and local reach; local government has the depth of understanding of the communities it serves.

“Local government’s commitment to arts and culture remains vital to the sector and pressure on their funds in the single greatest threat to a sustainable future for art and culture provision across England.

“We will continue to work with councils and are determined to find creative ways to underpin ambition outside in the regions but given the scale of the funding challenge ahead we will not be able to replace all lost funding.”