Following Government efficiency savings announced in today’s Budget, Arts Council England (ACE) has had its funding for the 2010/11 financial year cut by £4 million. Though the reduction is much lower than the feared worst-case scenario of £14 million (See News, 7 Apr 2009), arts leaders have warned that it will still cause significant damage to culture.

ACE had prepared for three possible likely scenarios today: of 1.5, 2.5 and 3 percent cuts, equalling losses of £7 million, £9.4 million and £14 million, respectively, to the £467 million already allocated for next year.

ACE is the highest funded organisation that falls within the remit of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which had a total of £20 million clawed back from its original 2010/11 budget of £1.7 billion budget. DCMS also cut £3 million today from Welsh-language broadcaster S4C and must still decide where to find the remaining £13 million savings.

Commenting on the Budget cuts, an ACE spokesperson said: "It is a shame that the Government has found it necessary to cut funding to culture, but we will do our best to protect the interests of audiences who deserve the best art there is. That is why, in implementing these cuts, we will not reduce our planned investment in the arts organisations we fund on a regular basis - many of whom have already planned against expected income in 2010/11. Instead, we will reconsider our existing and planned new projects and look to find savings there.

"This is a short-term solution but not without its implications as these projects are our investment in the development of the arts. The arts are far more than a luxury add-on – they are quality of life and, with sufficient public investment, they can be central to economic recovery."

In the current back-loaded three-year cycle (covering the period from 2008/9 to 2010/11), ACE has already paid out £431 million in Year 1 (2008/9) and £445 million in the current Year 2 (2009/10). Today’s £4 million reduction marks the first time that ACE budgets have been altered mid-way through an allocation period. It is in addition to an already enforced 15 percent, £6.5 million reduction in ACE’s annual running costs, which was announced as part of the original settlement and has already resulted in 139 redundancies to the organisation’s body of 622 staff (See News, 25 Feb 2009).

According to the National Campaign for the Arts, today’s new cuts will impede the arts sector’s ability to contribute to recovery in the wider recession-hit economy. NCA director Louise de Winter said: “We understand why the Chancellor has had to make significant cuts to the public purse, and while we are grateful that cuts to the arts budget were not as great as some had speculated, we would like to stress why it is important to retain levels of investment in parts of our economy.

“In times of recession, the one thing that businesses and governments must do is to invest in research and development and prepare the ground for when the greenshoots start to appear. Our arts and culture are the R&D for our creative industries, which is also the fastest growing sector of our economy. It would be a damaging move to starve the laboratory of comparatively few funds, causing more grief than gain in the long run. Now is the time to be bold and to invest in our arts and culture.

“The NCA firmly believes that our arts and cultural industries offer real solutions to our current predicament: whether it is providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to lay some new foundations for business and employment or providing a much needed release and outlet for people in times of stress. Our arts and culture help us to understand who we are and our place in the world; they are also an incredibly powerful magnet for visitors to the UK and our tourism industry.”

Separate to the Budget, ACE is hosting a one-day conference, Maximising the Importance of Arts and Culture Throughout the Economic Downturn, this Friday (24 April 2009) at the Brewery in London and is planning to announce several new recession-proofing initiatives later this week to coincide with the event.

- by Terri Paddock