Friday, January 07, 2005

Arts Council funding cuts (update)

The Guild has received a reply to its letter accusing Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell of accepting a “cut in real terms” in funding for the arts.

Jowell didn’t reply in person, but asked civil servant Phil Clapp to write instead. Clapp writes: “it is true that the latest spending round was undoubtedly tough, but we believe that there is considerable flexibility . . . to maintain funding for arts organisations and artists in real terms.” He concedes: “As Tessa Jowell has publicly stated, the challenging settlement for the Department has not allowed us to put as much into the arts sector as we would like.”

Clapp says that Arts Council of England funding will increase in April 2005 by £45 million to £412 million per year. But it will stand still for the next two years, meaning a £30 million cut in real terms because inflation “will have to be absorbed”. He makes it clear that it is up to ACE how it slices up the limited funds available.

The Guild’s criticism focused on theatre funding, which sees no increase at all. The Guild has predicted closures of theatres and touring companies, fewer commissions of new work, more restrictions on cast numbers and production values.

Phil Clapp’s letter does not deal with this issue. He falls back on “further efficiency savings”; “re-shaping arts education spending to release funds” and “flexibility in existing budgets to make resources available”. The Writers’ Guild does not believe any of these phrases will translate into a single penny for theatre funding.

Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett has written to the Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Peter Hewitt, enclosing a copy of Clapp’s letter and asking whether theatre funding will go up, or down, or remain the same both in cash terms and in real terms. Hewitt is also asked to explain whether new funding for large projects such as the South Bank Centre and Liverpool Capital of Culture will drawe funds away from existing theatres and companies all over the country.

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