Peter Bazalgette on the ‘single biggest challenge for our sector’ 5/5/2016

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England, has given a speech to the New Local Government Network about the ‘single biggest challenge for our sector’ - the pressure on local authority budgets. Local authorities remain the biggest funders of culture in the UK. Northern councils alone spent around a third of a billion on culture in 2015, but this is a decrease of £70m – equivalent to the whole Arts Council England spend on National Portfolio Organisations nationwide last year – meaning that increasingly difficult choices have to be made.

  • Peter Bazalgette said that the Chancellor’s national settlement for arts and museums had been very positive. However, local museums depended on local councils for £184m in 2014/15 and ‘museums are at the sharp end’ of the cuts leading to reduced education services, reduced opening hours and a growing trend for museum closures  – including in Lancashire and Nottinghamshire as well as Orpington Priory and Haig Colliery Mining Museum. There have been 14 closures in last 5 years, a period in which local authorities have cut £33m.
  • Local government understands the benefits of culture and the 17% or £236m cuts to culture are proportionately less than cuts to council funding as a whole. However, the costs of social care are growing as funds decline further. Through alternative income streams, diversification and tax credits the cultural sector has ‘managed pretty well’ up until now. NPOs have managed to create a 17% increase in income despite 27% local authority cuts. Bazalgette said ‘our real concern is the next four years.

However, he also highlighted a number of good ideas councils have used to continue to make funds available for culture. These include:

  • Saving money through shared services – such as a Manchester scheme were cultural centres and library services share space.
  • Collaborations with higher education – for instance between the University of the West of England and the city of Bristol, or Durham University displaying material from the former Light Infantry Museum.
  • Imaginative new sources of local revenue – Kent County Council has asked firms making bids for large waste contracts to consider how they can contribute to arts and culture as part of their offer.  Liverpool is piloting a voluntary tourism levy on businesses which benefit from city visitors and a hotel bed tax. 
  • Preventive health: NHS Gloucester and the local council are working on a scheme where the arts are used to deliver evidence based clinical outcomes in conditions from cancer to dementia.
  • Durham Council has ring fenced funding to allow the Bowes Museum to host the Yves Saint Laurent show which it could not usually afford.  Once it puts on the show any profits will be divided between Bowes and the Council. The Council will put the profits into a ring fenced pot for cultural initiatives.
  • Elsewhere there are schemes to redirect money from car parks to museums. Seed money from ACE allowed Yorkshire Sculpture Park to make several hundred thousand each year in car parking fees.
  • More collaborative tourism plans: Cornwall 365 aims to attract tourists to the county throughout the year, and Lincoln’s citywide offer around the Magna Carta sought to attract visitors during the 800th anniversary.

Bazalgette concluded by saying that ACE talks to 240 councils each year bringing its experience and expertise – and urging councils to enter talks and take up the offer of workshops.  “The alternative is really bleak – the loss of irreplaceable cultural assets, the loss of a sense of place.” ACE, YouTube (film of complete speech) SWFed (Gloucester NHS collaboration), Arts Professional