by Michelle Lefevre
This month sees the coalition government put forward another of their, now infamous, spending reviews when they tell the people of the UK how much they are going to hurt them in the pursuit of completely fictional financial stability.
The review will put forward budgets and cuts for the 2015/2016 financial year and possibly beyond.
Recent briefings given by Arts Council England to their clients have seen the funding monolith play out fictional cuts scenarios, the worst of which shows the number of National Portfolio Organisations (those funded on a regular basis) reduced from 695 to as few as 120.
The harsher the anticipated cuts to the funding, the worse it is for the NPOs.
To counter this wholesale slaughter of the arts infrastructure ACE is proposing that the money it receives via the National Lottery could be used to provide regular funding to arts organisations.
Currently, lottery money can only be used for one off grants like Grants for the Arts. The regular funding given to NPOs comes from, so-called, grant-in-aid money that, in turn, comes from tax payers.
That grant-in-aid budget is somewhere around £349Million for 2013/2014.
If ACE wants to change the way they use lottery money then they need permission from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). Arts Professional magazine is reporting that the DCMS and ACE are being especially difficult when it comes to revealing the content about discussions between the two concerning changes to those rules;
"The nature of the clarification given by the DCMS to ACE about the extent to which it can decide how to apply its Lottery and Grant-in-Aid budgets remains a closely guarded secret. For 12 months AP has been pursuing a Freedom of Information request to reveal the guidance given by then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to ACE on this, but the request has so far only elicited an incomplete and heavily redacted set of correspondence between the parties, and only then after intervention by the Information Commissioner's Office."
In theory what ACE would do is replace the money it loses from grant-in-aid funding with lottery money and then use that money to provide ongoing funding for the NPOs.
How much would that cost? Well dear readers, let's look at some numbers.
First of all we have to take out the sacred cows of the dance world. Those companies that might take a minor funding hit but will almost certainly never be de-funded completely because, as far as the powers that be are concerned, that would never do.
Let us not pretend that all arts organisations are created equal and their funding applications are looked at with equal scrutiny.
This means all of the big ballet companies, Rambert Dance Company and The Place (home of Richard Alston Dance Company) would probably retain their regular funding from the grant-in-aid money.
If we take all of the NPO dance companies that are left (the ones that create and tour work) that leaves 28 companies. Those 28 companies cost ACE £6.95Million per year to fund for the 2014/2015 financial year*
For the fact fans among you that's actually £600,000 less than the amount of money provided to Birmingham Royal Ballet, one of the sacred cows.
As for the dance agencies. If we take the 11 largest agencies, the ones more than likely to be included in our fictional NPO lottery funding, then we have a further outlay of £4.9Million for the 2014/2015 financial year.
The arithmetic wizards among you will have already calculated the total for the two groups is £11.9Million. Again, that's about the same amount of money used to fund The Royal Ballet.
As for the remaining small agencies and organisations, they could switch to normal GFA grants, at least in theory. It's not an ideal situation but it's better than nothing at all.
ACE told us that for 2015/2016 they will receive £265Million from the National Lottery. The more tickets that are sold though, the more that number is likely to go up.
The National Lottery operator, Camelot, is set to change one of the main lottery games in September, increasing ticket prices from £1 to £2. Camelot are anticipating a sharp rise in lottery income as a result of the change.
Again, quick arithmetic tells you that ACE should be able to easily cover the loss of grant-in-aid money and protect the vast majority of the companies that might get cut completely. Subject to the rules being changed.
Of course, ACE doesn't just fund dance organisations and the lottery funding they receive also has to pay for Grants for the Arts and new buildings for Rambert Dance Company (sarcasm much? Ed!), among many other things.
In this circumstance however dance might actually benefit from being the poor cousin in the arts funding pool because it basically doesn't cost too much money, relatively speaking, to protect the core organisations.
NPO status, as before, is coming up for renewal with all organisations having to re-submit applications to remain in the pool. So the dance landscape might change a little with new NPO's coming and in and old ones going, to put it one way, in a new direction.
Given that the Heritage Lottery Fund handed over £15.5Million to help the Tate buy a single painting just a few weeks ago it's not a massive stretch to imagine ACE using £12Million per year to plug a hole in their dance funding budget.
There are of course several downsides to what ACE might be planning. If they are pumping millions into regular funding for NPOs then Grants for the Arts is going to take a hit, no doubt about it.
GFA is used to fund all sorts of small projects by groups and individuals and a loss of funding will jeopardise a lot of very localised arts delivery that larger organisations often don't bother with.
Using lottery money to replace tax money from the Treasury also sets a worrying precedent. Future governments may start diverting more public funds away from ACE claiming they can just fill the cracks with lottery money, effectively moving further and further away from guaranteed public funding altogether for the arts.
Lottery funding will not be able to cover the cuts to local authorities that are also causing massive problems for local theatres and local arts groups. In some ways this plan is like putting a shield around a city while the rest of the country burns down.
No matter what gets decided with the spending review nothing is set in stone. 2015 is an election year so the current government, according to the latest polling, will not be in charge of the country to implement their plans.
At the time of writing the opposition party is talking tough on spending because they have the political chops of a cactus and the courage of a hamster. As we all know, what politicians say out of government bares littles resemblance to what they do when they are in government.
The situation is still dire, but not yet fatal.
*We have used the numbers we published after the NPOs were announced in 2011. Those numbers have dropped slightly thanks to further in year cuts but for the purposes of this analysis they provide a theoretical, below inflation rise in funding for the NPOs.