Arts spending by local authorities in England and Wales fell by an average of 16% in 2010/11, and now stands at less than two-thirds of 2008 levels, according to the Local Authority Budget Settlement Review 2011 conducted in March this year by Arts Development UK (formerly nalgao). The average arts budget across all authorities is now just over £380,000 and many arts services are facing further reductions: this year, 41% have a standstill budget without inflation; 44% describe themselves as facing severe service reductions; and almost 10% are under threat of closure. 31% reported that their arts service is now being staffed by a single officer. The latest casualties of the cuts are Northampton Borough Council and Borough of Wellingborough Council, which have closed their arts services and made arts officers redundant, and leisure in Hyndburn Trust no longer has a dedicated arts officer. Somerset County Council will be closing its arts services in 2011/12, a loss of £170,000, and Darlington Borough Council is currently reviewing its arts and cultural services with a view to closure. In total, 45 authorities have closed their arts services or made arts officers redundant in the past 9 years – almost 13% of all authorities in England and Wales. It is a situation that is predicted to get worse. Ninety-three per cent of those surveyed forecasted a decrease in funding for arts services in their authority in 2012/13. These gloomy findings chime with figures published in ‘Council Budgets, Spending and Saving Survey 2011’, conducted by the Local Government Association among local authority finance directors in March this year. 16% of respondents indicated that libraries, cultural services and community learning will be targeted for proportionally larger savings than other services they provide, and only 2% indicated that they would be trying to protect these services proportionally more than others.
While the immediate priorities of arts services vary, depending primarily on their current funding status, many still view retaining and supporting local projects and organisations as being the key focus of their activities this year. However the overall financial value of this support is diminishing: although average spend per authority on small project grants and direct spend on service delivery increased marginally, the average value of direct grants to regularly funded organisations fell to £282,000, a decrease of around 25% on the previous year. As a result of the squeeze on cash, income generation activites, seeking external funding and partnership working are also now high priorities for many arts services, potentially putting them into competition with the communities that they serve. Offsetting some of the impact of funding cuts has led to partnership working in local arts delivery, with arts services often now supporting health, crime prevention, education, social care, regeneration and children’s services. Two-thirds of arts services report that they have been or will soon be subject to restructuring, often to merge with other departments, and many see this as making them less vulnerable to cuts. External partnerships, particularly those with other public sector bodies such as the NHS and the police, are also generating a contribution towards arts spend. For every pound spent by local authorities on the arts, it is estimated that £6.32 of finance and support is now levered from other sources, including grants awarded, partnership funding and sponsorship / donations.