Digesting the cuts

I think it’s only fair I follow everyone else’s lead and comment on the effect the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will have on theatre and the arts – and now Arts Council England (ACE) have announced their latest Regularly Funded Organisation (RFO) grant figures, we can see exactly what this means to arts organisations.

Despite the attempts by various people within the arts (and outsiders who appreciate them), campaigns such as I Value the Arts have ultimately been ineffective in convincing George Osborne and co. to not slash away at arts budgets. Firstly, let’s be clear here – there have been a number of cuts to core services which will have a massive impact on vast numbers of people in the UK, and thousands of people’s lives will be seriously damaged by what has come out of this review. The cuts are ideological, which is made perfectly clear by the Government’s decision to ignore predictions and projections by a number of economists and to push ahead with cuts on an unprecedented scale. With Vodafone and Osborne himself (amongst others) being let off or avoiding paying large tax bills which could be reinvested into the economy, it rather worryingly seems like the idea is that those with money are being trusted to rescue the economy – at the detriment of those who are not from high-income households.

Anyway, what does this all mean to the theatre industry in particular? Well, the figure everyone in the arts seemed to be waiting for during the CSR was the level of cuts to ACE – and 29.6% is a terrifying figure, albeit effectively the 30% most people feared and expected. For 2011/12 RFOs will see their funding cut by 6.9% in cash terms (8.7% in real terms) – the announcement of these figures lay bare the reality of how companies will be affected. In all fairness to ACE, being given the responsibility of dealing with these cuts is an unenviable ask – so whatever decision they made was going to leave them in the firing line.

However, there is one case where the cut goes far beyond the 6.9% previously mentioned; Arts & Business have seen their funding cut by a shocking 50%. With all of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s proclamations regarding how philanthropy represents the future of arts funding, ACE cutting A&B’s funding so drastically means the leading facilitator of this model of funding will have to make serious decisions about how they can go about doing their job at a time when their services will be increasingly in demand.

It’s not just the cuts to ACE’s budget which will have an effect; one of my biggest concerns is the 7.25% cut to local authority budgets. Factoring this into the equation, it’s a worrying reality that many regional theatres will suffer, as councils make cuts to their arts budgets instead of to other core services. With many venues relying heavily on these local subsidies – not forgetting the various venues that may have matching funding agreements between city/county councils and other funders – a number of regional venues may find it incredibly hard to continue at their current level of output. Somerset County Council have already announced that they are considering withdrawing ALL arts funding – a terrifying prospect for all companies within the region – and the recent cases of the Exeter Northcott and Hackney Empire show just how easy it can be for even some more established venues to face uncertain futures in the face of financial hardship. If regional theatre is in danger, then so too is the development of future artists – without the buildings and support to aid their development, we are in danger of arts becoming centralised and potentially even more exclusive than they already can appear to be. Art should be driven by those with talent and vision – not by those with the means to have access to them. Social inclusion is vital to the arts, which themselves play a part in sustaining the economy of a number of towns, cities and regions.

So, what happens next? It will be interesting to see how people in the industry respond to these cuts, and where cutbacks are made within organisations. There appear to be a number of Development departments getting bigger in anticipation of the increased competition to get private and corporate donations/sponsorship – but will they be effective in making up the shortfall in income companies currently face? And what of those companies without the means to do this? Over the coming months, expect companies and artists to respond in public by announcing their plans – see the excellent blog by Slung Low’s Alan Lane as an example. Only over time will the damage caused by these cuts become clear.

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