The Commons Culture Media and Sports Committee on which I sit is currently doing an inquiry into the balance of arts funding in England. This was prompted by a number of recent independent reports showing that both Government and lottery support for the arts and culture is skewed massively in favour of London and that regions like the South West lose out.
At a recent hearing of the Committee, the Chairman of the Arts Council agreed that the current situation was unfair. In fact, every witness who has given evidence has accepted that – except the Arts Minister himself, Ed Vaizey.
So in questions in the Commons today I asked Mr Vaizey why he alone refused to accept the unfairness. I invited him to study the evidence, join the consensus and do something about it.
The South West is one of three English regions that does worst. There’s a massive imbalance in terms of Arts Council funding per head of population in our region compared with London. But there’s also a big imbalance in Lottery funding. In short, we spend much more on lottery tickets than we get back in grants. In London, the opposite is the case. Of course London, with its national and world class cultural institutions is always going to receive more per head of population than other places, but everyone, except, it seems, the Minister, now accepts the gap is indefensibly large.
It is also far easier to raise philanthropic giving in the capital where you have so many big companies and financial institutions that want to associate themselves with some of our great national cultural institutions. That’s why, under this Government, arts bodies in London have managed to keep going while in the English regions many have cut back or closed completely.
In places like Exeter active and supportive local authorities, like Exeter City Council, have also done their best to keep our arts and cultural scene going. But in Somerset, for example, they have cut all support for the arts with devastating consequences.
I hope when our Select Committee publishes our report in the next few weeks the Government will finally listen, accept there’s a gross imbalance in funding and act.