Government should take lead to save local arts and heritage – report

The government should encourage new sources of income to save community arts in the regions, says a report by the Commons culture select committee, published today.

In response to the crisis in local arts funding, the report – Countries of Culture: Funding and support for the arts outside London – calls for the Treasury, Department for Communities and Local Government and DCMS to delve into the whole area of tax incentives, business rate, tax breaks VAT regulation and Gift Aid rules charity status to make organisation “less dependent on public financing in the future”. The report also wants the government to make charity status, which can give access to funding, to be made more easily attainable for arts and heritage organisations.

The report also criticises the Arts Council for continuing to give grants disproportionately to London organisations, even though many of them tour and lend to the regions,. and says ACE should do more to encourage the development of revenue generation and fundraising skills in arts and heritage organisations.

The committee says that major funding for National Portfolio Organisations should be conditional on sharing best practice in revenue generation skills with local cultural organisations.

And it wants partnerships to be incentivised, including with educational establishments well as businesses, charity foundations and philanthropic individuals, and with tourism organisations.

The Creative Industries Federation (CIF) welcomed the report. "It is not good enough for the Department for Communities and Local Government simply to devolve greater financial autonomy to local authorities” its spokeswoman said. “There needs to be support and advice on how to protect culture in the face of the huge challenges councils are facing."

John Kampfner, the CIF’s chief executive, told AI that the risk of further local cuts was very real. "This is worrying not only in itself but because undermining culture in the regions jeopardises the potential for growth and jobs more widely. The creative industries have been the fastest growing sector of the British economy, but evidence suggests that creative businesses flourish when there is an existing cultural base.

"Investment in culture can have widespread benefits as has been seen in towns and cities from Margate to Liverpool and Glasgow but the government could take the lead in sharing best practice and advising other local authorities on how to make such investment work. There should be a cleverer view of what culture includes - in some parts of the country, the local historic house or country park might be the focal point, rather than a theatre or museum.”

Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council England, welcomed the report and the recognition of ACE’s efforts to shift investment outside London."We also welcome the committee's acknowledgment of the important role that art and culture can play in supporting health, education, and economic development across the country” he said. "We agree that more needs to be done on increasing the proportion of our funding outside the capital, which is why by 2018 75% of National Lottery funding for culture will be committed outside London, an increase on the historic average of 60%, and we recently announced £37m in our 2018-22 National Portfolio to help achieve a shift of 4% points outside of London.

"The coming year will see continued pressure on Local Authority funding for culture and it is good to see these challenges acknowledged. We will continue to work closely with local partners to forge new relationships and ways of delivering arts and culture across the country."

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