‘Devolve arts funding to local councils to help Covid recovery’ – report

The government should devolve arts funding to local authorities to help England recover from Covid-19.

The recommendation comes in a new report, Cultured Communities: The crisis in local funding for arts and culture from the Labour-affiliated think tank the Fabian Society which also calls for a five-year funding settlement for local government to help counter the effects of underfunding and sets out a seven point plan. https://fabians.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Fabians-Cultured-Communities-Report-D4-1.pdf

Local authorities are still the largest funders of the arts in England, but between 2009 and 2019  their spending was cut by £860m a year, or 38.5% (worth almost £1.4bn).

“Arts and culture must be at the heart of a post-Covid-19 recovery plan to ‘build back better’ and level up the country, as the government has pledged” says the report, written by Ben Cooper, a Fabian Society researcher. “The government must enable councils to repair the damage caused by a decade of spending cuts, damage which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Local authorities, supported by Arts Council England, could help rebuild the arts and culture ecosystem across England, with a commitment to inclusion, diversity and participation, by focusing on grassroots arts organisations, freelancers, and small creative businesses.”

The government’s £1.57m Culture Recovery Fund has £880m earmarked for arts and culture grants, and £258m has been pledged for a second round of funding late this year. The report calls for:

  1. The £258m should be devolved to local government working with Arts Council England, prioritised for smaller organisations and freelancers.
  2. There should be a five-year funding settlement for local government including a £500m arts future resilience fund to match local spending
  3. Local councils should buy empty high street premises to be rented to arts and culture organisations.
  4. ACE should distribute National Lottery funding on a more equal basis across the country
  5. The government and ACE should reform the UK City of Culture scheme to include funding that enables cash-strapped local authorities to bid for the title, encourage bidders to prioritise the development of community arts organisations, and add cultural impact awards supporting schemes that use the arts to tackle social challenges, as the London Borough of Culture scheme does (the first London Borough of Culture’s opening in Waltham Forest is pictured here).
  6. Councils should use resources to make local arts sectors more resilient, inclusive and sustainable, building on local identity.
  7. Local authorities should change their commissioning processes to enable arts organisations to be involved in solving long-standing local problems, focussing “on outcomes, rather than on delivering specific services, so that the sector can innovate on solutions”.

Although ACE responded quickly to the crisis with a £160m rescue packed in March, the government’s £1.57bn package for arts, culture and heritage in July was welcome the distribution has been slow, with no role for local government, the report says.

The centralised response has had some strengths. In March 2020 Arts Council England immediately responded to the crisis with £160m emergency funding package. The government’s additional support package for the sector in July was necessary and welcome: ministers have stepped in with a short-term £1.6bn fund- ing package for arts, culture and heritage.

“Significant gaps remain, especially for freelancers, thereby threatening the sector’s long- term viability and diversity. And while the package postpones the reckoning for parts of the arts and culture sector, it does not eliminate it. For some, it is already too late.

“We now need a real plan, with local government at its heart, to put the sector on a sustainable footing. In doing so, arts and culture can be used as a powerful tool to improve wellbeing, social mobility, the high street, and the economy. The impact of Covid-19 is severe, but that makes arts and culture more important than ever.”


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