London vs. The Regions


Junior Member
Because of the link between theatre and film production, with playwrights who are also screenwriters and directors and theatre companies making films, I'm posting the following. This opinion page sums up the massive difference between funding which goes to ONE city (almost 2/3) and the rest of the country (1/3). This same discriminatory policy also applies to film funding,and funding of writers. Although this article is over a year ago - it still applies and there has been no change;

National v regional theatre cuts: why all roads should lead to fair funding

Posted by

Lyn Gardner

Tuesday 15 March 2011 16.49 GMT

On 30 March the Arts Council will announce the outcome of national portfolio funding applications. The hope is that this time around the Arts Council has really grasped the nettle that it ignored in 2001 – when it had £25m extra to give away – and which it bungled so badly in 2007/8.

We have lived too long in a world where some organisations and buildings are seen as too big, too recently refurbished, too expensively built, or too strategically positioned to be allowed to fail. The days should be long gone when funding, either core or through emergency-style schemes with fancy names, is simply a King Canute-style exercise in trying to hold back the erosions of time. The future must be about funding brilliant work and ensuring sustainability, and that requires theatres led by people who have the will and vision to reinvent and find new ways of working both artistically, collaboratively and commercially.

There is a real feeling that change is in the air, but the new portfolio of ACE-funded theatre organisations will only serve the wider needs of the theatre ecology and audiences if it addresses the often quite irrational and inequitable levels of funding of different organisations in different parts of the country that have built up over many years, and been allowed to flourish for too long. It will only have the support of theatre-makers if its decisions offer a vision of a future where creativity and innovation can flourish all across the country.

Some of these inequities exist within the regions themselves – many dating back to the different patterns of investment applied by the old regional arts boards. We see some organisations continuing to be rewarded with more money than others even when they do less – and less good – work. But the real inequality is between the funding that pours into London, and that which goes to the rest of the country. Out of £325m distributed by ACE, £168m goes to London.

Put simply, the founding vision of JM Keynes for the Arts Council "to decentralise and disperse the dramatic and musical and artistic life of this country" has not materialised.

Indeed, since the 1980s the gap has widened rather than closed. As the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee inquiry into the funding of the arts and heritage recently observed: "After 30 years of steadily increasing public and lottery funding and rhetoric of regional development, the situation is actually worse." In 1980/81 Arts Council expenditure in London was £3.37 per head of population against £0.66 per head of population in the rest of England, or 19.6% of London levels. For 2011/12 the estimated figures are £21.92 per head of population against £3.44 for the rest of England, which represents just 15.7% of London levels. In other words: the gap has actually widened, not shrunk.

What's more, it is the regions who will be hit harder by cuts, because many organisations in the regions are facing a double whammy: cuts both from the Arts Council and local authority funding which – unlike major London-based organisations, some of whom undoubtedly have a national remit and reach – they are expected to raise money alongside, as partnership funding. These local authority cuts will test the viability of some regional organisations – and viability is one of the tests against which NPO applications are being judged. Rising unemployment and cuts to the public sector will further test the financial mettle of regional theatres, many of which make a major contribution to regional economies. Furthermore, as Nicholas Hytner has observed, when it comes to philanthropy, "the money is in London". Very few regional theatres have good prospects of replacing lost funding by private sponsorship because their towns and cities have fewer head offices of large corporations. Philanthropists tend to want a bit of metropolitan cool in return for their dosh.

Dire though it seems, I'd argue that the current situation allows a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address some of these imbalances. ACE head Alan Davey may claim that he wants to "move away from the false polarities of national versus regional", but if you are a theatre-maker or theatre-goer living outside London, the polarities are an everyday fact of life.

It's not a question of asking whether the National Theatre is worth 20 times more than Sheffield Theatres, which on any night has pretty well the same numbers of seats to fill, but of thinking how these theatres 200 miles apart can both benefit each other and the wider ecology. For ACE to dither or do nothing is unthinkable. It will lead to the slow attrition of regional theatre, and the creation of cultural deserts across great swaths of the country.