The effect of the coalition’s spending review on subsidised arts and culture was overshadowed by bizarre last-minute horse-trading between the Government and the BBC, resulting in a six-year licence-fee freeze and a real-terms cut of 16% in the BBC’s budget.
The BBC will take over funding the World Service, the Welsh language channel S4C and BBC Monitoring, which logs and translates many overseas radio stations. £300 million of licence-fee money will also be used to pay for high-speed broadband in remote areas.
Although the BBC said it was 'happy' with the outcome, that has to be seen in the context of the alternative, which was funding the £556 million-a-year cost of free TV licences for people over 75.
Writers’ Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: 'For two years the BBC has taken a tough and principled stand against licence-fee 'top-slicing' but in less than two days it has caved in and accepted responsibility for funding a range of services that most licence-fee payers never use.
'A settlement that would normally be subject to exhaustive public consultation and debate has been stitched up behind closed doors in a matter of hours. I suspect the BBC – and the British public – will repent at leisure.'
Meanwhile Arts Council England has been left to struggle with immediate cuts of 14% to grant-funded organisations – the dreaded 'front-loading' that could put a fatal strain on many subsidised theatres and other organisations. More cuts will follow in later years. ACE chief executive Alan Davey put a brave face on things but had to admit: 'These cuts will inevitably have a significant impact on the cultural life of the country.'
There is a 15% cut for the Public Lending Right scheme, which will inevitably mean a reduction in the 6p per loan paid to the authors of library books, but it is not yet clear how the scheme will be administered as the PLR agency is to be abolished.
It is also unclear so far whether ACE will take on responsibility for government funding of the film insustry following abolition of the UK Film Council. Further details about the impact of the spending review are expected to emerge tomorrow and in the next few days.