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Poetic Licence: Poetry on entrance to Scottish Parliament

The final player in the UK’s national cultural purseholders showed its hand last week as the Northern Ireland Assembly published its draft budget which includes a reduction to the Department of Arts and Culture of 9.4% over four years at the same time as increasing funds to the film industry. Each of the UK nations and administration has published their budget figures using different time frames and levels of detail. And in making their points about the significance of these figures, each cultural agency and government has described the cuts from particular angles using selected statistics. The choice of statistics illustrates the arguments but don’t necessarily chime with the published facts.  

Each of the administrations and governments in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Stormont have a different way of describing, organising and managing the arts, culture, heritage and the creative industries and none of the countries’ cultural budgets contains the same elements as another.  For example, the Welsh and Gaelic languages are within the two nations’ cultural budget, in Wales culture is grouped under heritage, in England its under Culture Media and Sport which also has a major UK remit as well as the particularly English Arts Council, and so on.

Some of the governments have flexed their biceps in a muscular illustration of the arms’ length principle, notably in Wales and brutally in England, where the Arts Council as well as DCMS and others have been put on a crash diet to drastically reduce its corpulent body.

Some have eliminated capital spending while others have ringfenced flagship projects like the V & A in Dundee. Some talk about cuts in real terms while some describe them in nominal terms.  Hence ACE describes its cuts as close to 30% in real terms over the next four years while the Welsh Heritage Minister compares them in the nominal term of 20% – both to make a particular point.

There are elections next May in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland but its only in Scotland, where we have a minority SNP administration, that a budget has been set for one year only. Therefore the only figures which can be compared across the four administrations is that of the one year budget for 2011 – 2012  and for the arts councils only in England, Wales and Scotland as the Northern Ireland Arts Council draft budget has not yet been announced.

According to the published figures for the budgets, the arts budget in Scotland is down by 10% but has been presented by both Culture Minister and the new body Creative Scotland as a standstill budget. Creative Scotland having already achieved efficiency savings and having taken on a role across the creative industries, has held on to its ‘core’ budget of £35m but the overall arts budget is down some 10%.

Welsh Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones, stated “The relative priority accorded to arts funding recognises the important contribution which arts bodies can make .. the reduction of 4.6% in arts funding in Wales over the next three years compares favourably with the UK Government’s announced cash reduction to the Arts Council of England of approximately 20% over four years”.

The published figures for 2011 -2012 show ACE down 14% and Welsh arts down 4%.

The published statistics bear only a limited comparison. But what can be compared is the way in which governments and administrations and arts councils and all describe the value of the arts and the significance of the cuts.