Dire con­se­quences of im­mi­nent cuts in the arts in­dus­try

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE - Ian Brown is artis­tic di­rec­tor and joint chief ex­ec­u­tive of the West York­shire Play­house, Leeds. IAN BROWN

Over the past two years we have watched pri­vate in­dus­tries tak­ing a beat­ing; we have seen busi­nesses clos­ing and peo­ple los­ing their jobs. Now it seems, in the words of our new Chan­cel­lor, it is the turn of the pub­lic sec­tor to “face a sim­i­lar trade-off ”. In other words, it is our turn to bear the brunt of the forth­com­ing bud­get cuts, and for the arts that is a truly ter­ri­fy­ing thought.

As a sec­tor we al­ready op­er­ate on ex­tremely tight bud­gets, the Arts Coun­cil Eng­land’s (ACE) to­tal bud­get for the year is less than one tenth of one per cent of over­all pub­lic spend­ing. Thus, it seems to me, that cuts to the arts in­dus­try’s al­ready minis­cule bud­gets would prove to be an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity. The im­pact these “sav­ings” will have on the coun­try’s deficit would be a drop in the ocean, but they have the po­ten­tial to close the­atres, shut tour­ing com­pa­nies, re­duce funds for new com­mis­sions, halt ed­u­ca­tion and com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives and stop the nur­tur­ing and devel­op­ment of new work and tal­ent.

It is this cre­ativ­ity that is of­ten the pul­sat­ing heart of a city. Take Leeds for ex­am­ple, the Play­house, the Grand, City Va­ri­eties, the Henry Moore In­sti­tute, the Car­riageworks, Leeds City Art Gallery, Leeds City Mu­seum and so on are the very things that make the city vi­brant and ex­cit­ing. In the UK we are for­tu­nate to have an arts in­dus­try with an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion, so let’s not lose it. We just need to take a look at the Tony Awards and the suc­cess of Bri­tish ac­tors, pro­duc­tions, tech­ni­cal teams and the­atres to see the im­pact our cul­tural in­dus­tries have on the global stage. VAT alone from Eng­land’s the­atres gen­er­ates more than three times ACE’s an­nual in­vest­ment in the sec­tor. The West End has re­ported rock­et­ing prof­its and here at West York­shire Play­house we have wel­comed 18,000 new peo­ple to the build­ing over the last year and have seen our box of­fice in­come in­crease by seven per cent. It seems that bud­get cuts are in­evitable, and on Tues­day Ge­orge Os­borne an­nounced that govern­ment de­part­ments not in­clud­ing health, ed­u­ca­tion and de­fence would be ex­pected to find sav­ings of 25 per cent over the next four years. If these cuts are to be made from ACE, then I hope that they are han­dled wisely and with due con­sid­er­a­tion.

ACE has al­ready suf­fered a dis­pro­por­tion­ate cut of four per cent from the Depart­ment of Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport last month, with most other or­gan­i­sa­tions (such as The UK Film Coun­cil and na­tional mu­se­ums) los­ing only three per cent of their bud­gets. This four per cent equates to £19m of sav­ings which in turn has been a re­duc­tion to all reg­u­larly funded org ani­sa­tions of 0.5 per cent, of which West York­shire Play­house is one. In ad­di­tion to this we have al­ready been sub­ject to a cut in our fund­ing from Leeds City Coun­cil of five per cent equat­ing to about £45 000. This is huge and as of yet we have no idea what is to come. All that we and our coun­ter­parts across the UK can do is plan for the worst, hope for the best and be as cre­ative as we pos­si­bly can.

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