The Budget - where do the arts fit in?
The arts and culture – and arts education - got a share of the “splash-out Budget” yesterday, although its first target was to project businesses from the coronavirus fall-out.
The £250m Cultural Investment Fund promised in the Conservative manifesto for culture, heritage, local museums and libraries has been set up by the Budget, with £90m of it available as soon as April for “art programmes and extra-curricular activities” outside London, but much of it expencted to be allocated to repairing damage done by austerity policies which, for instance, led to the closure of 130 libraries in 2018 alone.
There is also to be a one-off grant of £25,000 available to every secondary school in the country to invest in “arts activities”, and creative ambitions are also expected to be served by a new £2.5bn National Skills Fund.
National museums’ long crie de cœur over crumbling real estate have been heard, and the Chancellor has allocated £27m for critical maintenance work. Similarly, Natural History Museum director Michael Dixon has long been pleading for research funding, and he has got £180m over six years to build a new science and digitisation research centre at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus near Oxford. “The centre will allow our 300 scientists to further their research into the biggest challenges facing the planet and humanity – from global and national biodiversity loss and sustainable land use to food security, disease transmission and ensuring we have the right natural resources available for transition to a zero-carbon economy” Dixon said in response to the news.
There is to be a 100% business rate relief for a year extended to music venues, small theatres, cinemas, museums and heritage spaces, and VAT on ebooks and digital publications has been axed.
But the majority of the creative industries in small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), and coronavirus special measures will be extended to them with statutory sick pay refunds, £3,000 cash grants and easier access to loans available.
The measures were welcomed by the Creative Industries Federation’s CEO Caroline Norbury. “However, given that creative businesses typically access finance in a number of different ways, government must ensure that these loans are truly accessible to our sector” she said. “As the situation develops it is imperative that government offers support to those creative organisations reliant on audiences, visitors and participation, including museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres, cultural organisations and live music events. Freelancers working with these sectors will also face significant disruption to their livelihoods. It is vital they are supported".