Punk Rock author Simon Stephens has denounced the coalition government as "clinical" and "brutish" in its attitude to arts funding and called on other playwrights to answer an "urgent" call to dramatise the country's changing political landscape.

Stephens was speaking at the launch of the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, for which he is this year’s chair of judges, held earlier today (31 January 2011) at Manchester’s Royal Exchange.

Stephens said: “The Bruntwood Prize is a clarion call to all playwrights throughout the country. It is open to more playwrights than any other award. It allows more freedom of subject and form than any other award.

“This year there is a real urgency to it. It's the first time the award has been given under this new government and conditions of work for playwrights have changed. No government in my memory has taken such a sudden, clinical, brutish attitude towards art funding. I can't remember any government having such an attitude towards financial restrictions across the economy.”

Launched in 2005, and now in its third cycle, the Bruntwood Prize is the biggest national competition of its kind. The winner of the 2011 prize will receive £16,000, the largest single award to date, and there will also be three Judges’ Awards of £8,000 each.

All four award winners will have the chance to develop their play with the Royal Exchange, with a view to production. The 2008 joint winner, Vivienne Franzmann’s Mogadishu, premiered at the Royal Exchange after today’s launch and will transfer to the Lyric Hammersmith on 3 March 2011.

Winterlong by Andrew Sheridan, another of the 2008 Bruntwood Prize winners, will premiere at the Royal Exchange on 2 February 2011 and will then run at the Soho Theatre from 23 February to 12 March 2011.

Stephens, whose fellow judges include writer Jackie Kay, Royal Exchange joint artistic director Sarah Frankcom and actors Sue Johnston and Maxine Peake, added: “This is an opportunity for more playwrights than any other competition allows to write exactly the play that they most want to write at a time when that confidence becomes increasingly difficult to support.”

Arts organisations had to get their applications for Arts Council funding in by last Monday (24 January), and will hear the outcome on 30 March 2011. Arts Council England chief executive Alan Davey has estimated that as many as 100 regularly funded organisations will lose core funding by 2015.

For an extended transcript of Simon Stephens' speech, see our special feature.