On Friday last week the announcement was made by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) that Arts Council England (ACE) would, in all probability, receive a 5% cut to their funding for the year 2015/2016.
The announcement was a prelude to the government's "spending review" that will be announced in full on June 26.
ACE's chairman, Peter Bazalgette, was quick to release a statement, via the funding monoliths press office, saying;
"This is a good result for arts and culture in such a tough economic climate. It is hugely encouraging to see that the Chancellor and the Treasury have listened to the argument that the arts and culture makes such a valuable contribution to our quality of life and the economy. Maria Miller has done an effective job in making the case for the value of public funding, backed with powerful arguments from the culture sector, who every day demonstrate their worth through the brilliant work they do, day in, day out."
No so fast with buttering up your friends in government Baz!
Numbers Don't Lie, Sort Of
For months now ACE, and a lot of other people, have been making a very simple economic case for the arts. "Every £1 invested returns £6 to the economy", ACE even made some nice graphics to illustrate the point.
Here in TheLab™ we have no idea if that's true or if that number can be reliably quantified but if it is true, and the Treasury really were listening to ACE's arguments, then they just poured £102Million down the drain.
A 5% cut to ACE's budget means they will lose about £17Million in 2015 so the arithmetic is not hard to do. This would appear to be antithetical behaviour for a government allegedly trying to encourage growth in the economy.
Since the coalition came to power ACE has lost almost 37% of their budget. Again, if ACE's numbers are to be believed this has actually cost the economy over £600Million per year alongside doing a huge amount of damage to the arts.
ACE was making exactly the same economic arguments in 2010 prior to a previous spending review that saw a budget cut of 30%.
Without even factoring in local authority cuts, that have seen some arts funding budgets completely obliterated, the DCMS and the Treasury don't deserve one ounce of thanks for their behaviour.
The 5% cut was a bait and switch exercise, one which ACE itself has used in the past. The DCMS ramps up the rhetoric, ACE complies and scares the crap out of the NPOs saying almost 600 of them may be de-funded. Eventually the DCMS makes the 5% announcement and everybody is grateful that arts still has a few teeth left after getting mugged for millions in funding.
ACE Chairman Peter Bazalgette - Photo by Media Parents Blog
A lot of details were revealed from National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) briefings given by ACE over the last few weeks. One such detail was, as stated above, that hundreds of them would lose their funding entirely if ACE received a 15% cut.
The dance world at large didn't raise too much of a fuss about the fact that, evidently, 85% of ACE's NPO budget goes to so few organisations and that their own funding was, once again, at risk.
When the cut announcement came through on Friday the NPO dance companies reacted by saying, absolutely nothing. Akram Khan Company did manage to send out a dozen re-tweets of feint praise for their previous evenings performance though.
Motionhouse Dance Theatre re-tweeted, on Saturday, more than a dozen congratulatory messages for company AD Kevin Finnan who was awarded an MBE in the UK honours list.
One of those messages was from Conservative MP Chris White (the MP for the region where Motionhouse is based).
Congratulations to Kevin Finnan MBE @MotionhouseDT - services to dance & Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games - Queen's Birthday Honours— Chris White MP (@ChrisWhite_MP) June 15, 2013
Mr White is part of the very government responsible for beating the arts with a baseball bat which they had just done, again, the day before.
You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.
In his press statement Mr Bazalgette also spoke of the tough decisions ahead for the funding monolith. What this usually means is that a lot of NPOs at the bottom of the food chain are going to lose their NPO status (and their funding). Decisions all made behind closed doors.
Last week we reported that ACE was pushing for lottery rules to be changed by the DCMS so that some of that money (over £250Million per annum) could be used to plug the hole made in the cuts to ACE's regular, tax funded, grant-in-aid.
Later this year all of the NPOs will have to reapply to maintain their regularly funded status. ACE should continue to push for lottery rule changes absent a return to previous state funding levels from any new government.
The Big Bad should also make the entire funding and decision making process completely transparent so that the public knows who applied for NPO status, why they were turned down or why they were accepted and why existing NPOs were turned down or maintained their position on that list.
At present, ACE's funding strategy is top heavy, all the money goes to protect the very large salaries of the staff at large scale organisations.
Just 80 employees at the Royal Opera House cost more than £7.3Million a year with one staff member, Music Director Antonio Poppano, earning more than £740,000 according to their 2011 accounts, the most recent ones available.
Such numbers are indicative of a broken funding system that allows small groups and venues to shutter while the large scale thrives simply because they are given the resources to do so.