Arts Council England (ACE) has today (30 March 2011) announced how it is “strategically” doling out its four years’ worth of government money, which was reduced by 29.6% as part of the Coalition Government’s widespread public spending cuts, announced in November (See Also Our Live Tweeting story throughout the day).

Just under 15% of ACE’s reduction is being passed on to arts organisations, effective from April 2012. This is on top of the 6.9% cut imposed across the board to all funded organisations last year.

Record applications

In response to the slashing of its budget from £449 million to £314 million a year by 2014, ACE unveiled its new ten-year arts strategy in November. Moving away from the previous system which saw 849 Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) receive annual grants, all companies were required to reapply via the first-ever open application process in ACE’s 65-year history.

During the application window up to 24 January, ACE received 1,333 submissions bidding for £1.4 billion (against an available budget of only £950 million for the period), of which only just over half were successful, leaving ACE with a portfolio reduced in total by 20% to 695 organisations. The new National Portfolio Organisations (NPO replacing the term RFO) comprise 585 previously funded bodies and 110 new ones.

High-profile losses

A total of 206 organisations – more than double the number previously anticipated by ACE – lost funding completely, including London’s Riverside Studios (which currently receives £476,000 per annum) and renowned touring company Shared Experience (£367,000).

There was pain elsewhere too. Whereas most of ACE’s largest scale recipients - including the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and Southbank Centre - must only shoulder 6.6% cuts in cash terms (15% in real terms after taking into account inflation), and a large swathe of second tier organisations – including the Donmar Warehouse, Hampstead Theatre and Headlong - sustain 2.3% cash cuts (11% in real terms), much deeper cuts were sustained by their peers.

The Almeida Theatre receives a 33% cash slash (40% in real terms), down from £979,000 currently to £879,000 in 2012/13, eventually dwindling to £704,000 by the end of the settlement in 2014/15. Max Stafford-Clark’s esteemed touring company Out of Joint, meanwhile, gets a 21% cash reduction to £434,000.

While there is no official appeals process, ACE has structured the spending re-allocation so that all previous RFOs retain funding for 2011/12, so have a year’s grace to find alternative finance by the beginning of the next financial year in April 2012.

A resilient future

Speaking today, ACE chair Liz Forgan said: "This is about a resilient future for the arts in England. We have taken the brave path of strategic choices not salami slices which has meant some painful decisions, and it is with great regret that we have had to cease funding some good organisations.”

ACE chief executive Alan Davey added: "There have been some really hard choices as we had so many good applications – more than we were able to fund. In advance of the Spending Review, we said ‘cut us, don't kill us’. Well, with the help of Lottery income, for which we are grateful, we're alive and kicking. But we do regret that we have been unable to fund perfectly good organisations, and I know this will be taken hard by those affected.

"After a thorough process, we believe we have achieved a balance of continuity and change, and of local and national. And we've enabled artists and arts organisations to continue to create the great art from which so much springs. This is a collection of decisions that will mean the arts will not retreat from the important part they play in our national life.”

Big winners

There was good news for many. Amongst the theatre companies receiving regular funding for the first time ever were: Edward Hall’s all-male Shakespeare ensemble Propeller (£265,000 per annum) and, another bard-centred group, the Tobacco Factory in Bristol (£60,000), as well as Clod Ensemble, dreamthinkspeak, Slung Low, Wildworks, Gecko and Nofit State circus troupe.

Two fast-rising annual arts festivals, HighTide (£200,000) in Suffolk and the Manchester International Festival (£500,000) also join ACE’s book. And, also for the first time, ACE will be regularly funding the development of musical theatre – which has traditionally been dismissed as commercial and thus not eligible for subsidy – with both Mercury Musical Development (£124,000) and the Whatsonstage.com-sponsored showcase Perfect Pitch (£106,000) named as NPOs.

The biggest uplift by far – an astonishing 619% in cash terms – goes to Stratford Circus, the contemporary performing arts venue managed by Newham Sixth Form College in east London, taking them £41,000 to £300,000 a year. Also being recognised for their work in east London, beyond the Square Mile of the City, the Barbican Centre gets a 129% cash increase to £570,000, and the Arcola Theatre, in its new home, has a 100% cash increase to £300,000.

There was also a major uplift of 165% for award-winning site-specific specialists Punchdrunk, taking them from £83,000 to £225,000 next year, and big increases too for Told by an Idiot (39.4% up to £167,000) and Oxford Playhouse (32.2% up to £372,000).

With a balanced geographical spread being a key goal, Davey said today that ACE consciously sought to protect the country’s “backbone of 34 regional producing theatres”, many of which are also being hit hard for local authority spending cuts. All of their applications were successful and attracted a 1.3% cash increase.

Two exceptions were Derby and Exeter – whose primary producing houses (Derby Playhouse, now called Derby Live, and Exeter Northcott) have had a rocky few years and did not submit applications. Davey said money has been set aside for those cities in future.

Lottery good causes restored

With the Government’s decision to return Lottery funding to the original “good causes”, ACE’s portion of National Lottery monies is estimated to rise from an estimated £149 million in 2010/11 to £223 million in 2014/15. This money cannot be used as a substitute for regular funding but will instead be allocated against three targeted areas, identified as “strategic”, “capital” projects and ongoing one-off “Grants for the arts”.

In particular, Lottery funding will be used to support touring and work with children and young people - £18 million a year has been earmarked for the former, £10.5 million a year for the latter. Much of this money will go to filling the gap left by audience development agencies such as Creativity, Culture and Education which, as previously announced, is being wound up this year.

Precious money, public duty

Speaking at today’s press briefing, Alan Davey defended ACE’s decision to avoid “salami slicing” its diminished pot of money and not to have “full misery for all”. Liz Forgan agreed, saying that funding shouldn’t be about fairness but about the “quality and nature of art and the right everyone in the country to have it within their reach”.

According to Forgan: “The role of subsidy is not to punish or reward, it is to support and nurture. We could have done a 15% cut across the board and watch everyone fail to meet their potential or simply fail altogether.” They chose instead to invest in those organisations with the best chance of thriving and fulfilling the goals set out in their applications. She urged those who were successful to recognise that this is “precious money” and they must take their public duty to spend it well very seriously.


A list of all organisations receiving funding as part of the National Portfolio is available below. The full spreadsheet can also be accessed on Google Docs here.

Also visit our dedicated Cuts Watch page, which we’ll continue to update as we gather responses from theatres, industry leaders and arts organisations. Publicists can email contributions for publication to [email protected]. Please also add your views to User Comments at the bottom of stories.