MPs say Arts Council England must rectify funding imbalance that favours London

A report from the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee says the council must urgently restore some balance 'if it is to realise its declared ambition to engineer the provision of great art and culture for everyone'

Arts Council England must urgently rectify a "clear funding imbalance" for the arts that currently favours London, according to a cross-bench committee of MPs.

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today published a report of its inquiry into the work of the Arts Council, which receives the bulk of its funds from the taxpayer or through the National Lottery.

It says: "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 taxpayers and lottery players in other parts of the country."

The report says that the Arts Council is well placed to restore some balance and "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".

The report refers to a suggestion in a 2013 report, Rebalancing our Cultural Capital, written independently by Peter Stark, Christopher Gordon and David Powell, three figures from the arts world. They put forward the idea of limiting London’s access to National Lottery funding for the arts to a per capita share equal to that for the rest of England.

The committee’s new report says that the Arts Council’s funding from the Department for Culture Media and Sport has fallen by a third since 2010 to £447m in 2012/13. It says that the committee would be disappointed if there were further cuts to the Arts Council’s funding from central government.

The funder should also consider whether it should award grants in areas where the local authority is not also providing support, the report says.

"The Arts Council should also take a far more robust stance than it already does with local authorities, such as Westminster, who show little inclination to support the arts," it says. "There is little point in pumping public money into areas that do not particularly want or need it, or do little themselves to support the arts."

It says the Arts Council should "redouble its already significant efforts at brokering cultural partnerships involving businesses, local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, universities and international organisations, particularly within the EU, which might provide additional funding sources".

The report says there is "much to praise in the hard work and dedication" of the staff of the Arts Council.

"It takes measured risks to develop the arts and is showing clear signs of improving the transparency of its decision-making," the report says.

It adds: "More needs to be done here, though, to explain the criteria on which it apportions funds to different art forms."

In a statement, Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of Arts Council England, said: "The report suggests that greater urgency is required around the rebalancing debate, and we are pleased that it has acknowledged that we are tackling this.

"We share the committee’s desire for a speedy response to the historic challenges to rebalancing. It is difficult to act urgently when our income is shrinking, and additional resource would certainly allow for greater flexibility in supporting our ambition to achieve this."

Bazalgette said the Arts Council fully endorsed the importance placed on local partnership working and would continue to use its "on-the-ground expertise and knowledge to build connections and broker partnerships around the country that deliver strong cultural engagement".

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