Just days after Arts Council England (ACE) published its conservative spending plans for the next three years (See News, 18 Mar 2005) - during which standstill funding from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) combined with a 2.7% rate of inflation has equated to a more than £30 million cut in subsidy – MPs called for an end to “stop-go-stop” arts funding.

In a report, released today by the House of Commons Select Committee tasked with examining various theatre-related issues, MPs said: “It seems invidious for the DCMS to press ACE for efficiency savings to free money for the arts only to reduce real terms baseline funding a couple of years later.”

“The case for substantial public investment in theatre in this country is overwhelming”. In order to protect the investment made since 2002 – which, says the report, has resulted in a “virtuous circle of better productions and bigger audiences” – the Government should take a long-term view, re-evaluate its allocation of resources and find the £34 million shortfall for ACE.

The MPs also call for improved financial support for actors and other theatre practitioners (it’s a “scandal” that “one of the nation’s key cultural activities must rely…on professionals to pay such a high price by earning such low wages”), closer working relationships between the commercial and subsidised sectors and further consideration of public investment in the upkeep of the West End (though, on the last, they note, that theatre owners have not backed up their case for heritage funding with satisfactory “commitments to accountability nor a return for the wider public”).

The Select Committee also lent its support for recent recommendations from the Office of Fair Trading about clearer advertising of prices and booking fees on theatre tickets. “A complaisant theatregoing public has for too long accepted this blatant rip-off and it is time it was brought to an end,” the report concludes.

- by Terri Paddock