Contributing to the national cultural policy debate

Key principles

Five key principles to guide the design of the new policy and new structures to achieve a more equitable settlement across England quickly and effectively.

  • Subsidiarity – taking decisions on the disposition of public funding at the right level
  • Sustainability and diversity – economic, environmental, social and cultural
  • Intrinsic and instrumental – celebrating these complementary not competing purposes for the public funding of arts and culture
  • Transparency – clear and accountable data on the sources of Lottery income and on visitors to and audience for major publicly funded cultural institutions
  • The distinctiveness of funds derived from the National Lottery – ethically different, distinct from and not to be used as a substitute for Treasury funding

Welcome & update February 2019

Early in 2016, GPS Culture made what we thought might be our final contribution to the national cultural debate with A Policy for the Arts in England: The Next Steps. This was published as an advance challenge to the Conservative Government’s 2016 Culture White Paper which turned out on publication to be a complacent, uninspiring and metropolitan document, unworthy of its boast as successor to Jennie Lee’s/Labour’s seminal 1965 White Paper A Policy for the Arts: The First Steps.

GPS’ The Next Steps was the conclusion of three years’ work analysing the structural imbalances in the social and geographical distribution of the funding for the arts in England routed through the Treasury and Arts Council England. We further identified abuses of the spirit and the letter of Government’s directions issued to Arts Council England for the distribution of Lottery funding. Our findings were endorsed by Parliament’s Select Committee on Culture in the Inquiry our findings had provoked (Work of Arts Council England, published November 2014).

Our evidence and analysis, which remain essentially unchallenged, have been widely adopted as a critique of a centralised funding system that rewards the largest and already best resourced companies and the already privileged at the expense of some of England’s poorest and least well-resourced communities. With local authorities set to have lost 60% in the value of their central government grants between 2010 and 2020, their capacity to support culture locally is severely constrained. Arts Council England, thereby, now has a near monopoly of public funding for the arts via its control of both Treasury and Lottery allocations with no balancing local accountability.

Now, in early 2019, these issues have not gone away. They still need challenge and resolution. Many of the propositions in The Next Steps are being included in current discussions by younger artists and activists, and by local authorities throughout England and the UK.

We remain hopeful that – whenever the next election comes – the cultural commitments offered to the public will include a radical reappraisal of current policies, structures and practices. The existing arrangements are socially and economically regressive in their impacts. They are incapable of responding to the needs and demands of local communities, local voluntary cultural groups, local authorities and the extensive and growing body of socially committed arts practice. They are hopelessly outdated and have over 50 years proved incapable of self-reform.

In any event, and whatever happens with Brexit, local and national public funding for the arts will remain under huge pressure. In this context, GPS is turning its attention again to the role which a properly directed, distributed and audited Lottery might play in supporting culture and the arts in England’s least advantaged communities. We wish to share widely our understanding of how and why Britain’s poorest communities contribute so much to national Lottery funds, yet in almost all cases receive so little back from the arts good cause.

GPS Culture is an independent and unfunded research collective.

Christopher Gordon brings 25 years of work in the cultural policies and structures of Europe, East and West, North and South. David Powell adds a lifetime’s commitment to the arts in London and the experience of Docklands, coastal and urban renewal across the UK. Peter Stark brings the experience of the regeneration of Tyneside and the perspective of 12 years’ work with the arts and culture in the inner city of Johannesburg and in the rural areas of South Africa. Steve Trow adds his long experience in cultural research and policy development and brings particular expertise in analysis of Lottery distribution and in local government as a serving elected councillor and cabinet member for culture.

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