The Arts Council of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales has announced a flexible new approach to the funding of performing arts tours across the UK. The strategy is intended to give British audiences access to higher quality events, and offer artists a greater range of venues when touring the UK.

The new agreements will see a relaxation of rules regarding organisations touring to small and mid scale venues, with additional funding expected for those groups touring to larger scale sites. Previously, most funded performing arts organisations have been restricted in the extent to which they could tour the UK, with the four Arts Councils funding work only within their own borders.

For the 2001/2002 schedule, the Arts Councils of England and Scotland have allocated £600,000 and £120,000 respectively towards a joint fund for large scale touring between England and Scotland. This would essentially concern companies such as the Royal National Theatre, Welsh National Opera or Royal Shakespeare Company. Although proposals concerning the exact allocation of funds are still being discussed, the plans may well incorporate drama, opera and dance.

Furthermore, the four UK Arts Councils have agreed that tours to small or mid scale venues, by funded organisations, can use up to 15% of their touring budget for work in other UK countries. In a nutshell, theatre companies touring medium size sites can now direct this proportion of Arts Council funds towards productions outside their home base. Peter Hewitt, the Arts Council of England's Chief Executive said: "These new measures will give audiences access to some of the cream of UK performing arts, banishing the previous constraints in cross border touring."

Trevor Nunn, the current Artistic Director of the Royal National Theatre, has commented: "As a national theatre, our brief has always been to perform in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are delighted that now there is a proper funding mechanism which allows audiences throughout the UK to have direct access to our work. As an immediate result, in this financial year we will be bringing Bill Bryden's production of The Good Hope to Glasgow and Edinburgh in February 2002."

Providing the Scottish perspective, Christopher Barron (Chief Executive of Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet) said: "Cross Border Touring is an important new initiative to serve audiences throughout the UK. Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet very much look forward to rebuilding their touring circuits outside Scotland and extending their repertoire to a substantially greater audience." Scottish theatres set to benefit over the life of the scheme include Aberdeen His Majesty’s, Glasgow Theatre Royal and Inverness Eden Court.

- by Gareth Thompson