With talk of hospitals going on hold and new schools being cancelled, the question of cuts to the arts may seem like a timid concern.

But it’s a question that bears as much consideration to us here in Liverpool as the question of what is going to happen to our frontline services. After all, we live in a city that since Capital of Culture has dedicated itself to becoming a creative economy.

The arts sector is hugely important because of the contribution it makes in bringing tourists to the city, as well as providing entertainment and education for us, the citizens. If the sector is undermined by cuts, Liverpool must suffer too.

The news that the coalition wanted to restructure England’s Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) must have been a shock to arts administrators across the land, not least here. The Northwest Development Agency (NWDA) has contributed to countless projects in Liverpool in the past: the King’s Dock redevelopment to name one.

It has promised money to the new Open Eye gallery, due to open on Mann Island in early 2011. It has also pledged money to the unfinished Museum of Liverpool, and to plans to build a new Everyman theatre on the present site. Pledges, with RDAs having to make £270m of cuts in 2010-11, that may now be reduced.

Combined with this is the news that the Arts Council England (ACE) has been told to make cuts of £19m to it’s 2010-11 budget. ACE is bearing the brunt of the cuts by dipping into its reserves, meaning most of the organisations it supports will only see a reduction in funding of 0.5 per cent this year.

Still, the list of Liverpool businesses losing that half a per cent makes for lengthy reading: Africa Oye, the Bluecoat Display Centre, Deaf & Disability Arts (DaDa), FACT, Liverpool Biennial, the Everyman & Playhouse, Metal, Open Eye Gallery, the Unity Theatre and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, to name but two handfuls.

Find Your Talent, a scheme that encourages young people to participate in cultural activities being piloted in Merseyside, has also been hit. Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE), charged by the last government with delivering Find Your Talent, is one of the organisations ACE decided not to shield in its cuts: ACE funding is being reined in by four per cent this year.

The result is that, after existing commitments have been honoured, Find Your Talent will be wound up. It is a blow to working relationships struck up between schools and children’s centres in Kensington, Kirkby and St Helens; and the likes of Tate, the Bluecoat and National Museums Liverpool.

CCE also delivers Creative Partnerships in England, money from which helps National Museums Liverpool work with schools and children in the area. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has said that CCE will ‘absorb the cut’ to protect Creative Partnerships. It’s good news and bad: de-spun, ‘absorb the cuts’ may mean redundancies for CCE staff, but there is some comfort in knowing that Creative Partnerships is safe — for now.

To understand what will happen in the longer term, we have to look again at changes to ACE and NWDA funding. The Arts Council England’s budget for 2011-14 will be decided in the government’s spending review, details of which will be announced in autumn. Cuts are again likely, and it seems ACE will be unable to shield the arts as well as it has done this year. Africa Oye and the rest will undoubtedly see their ACE funding cut again.

Meanwhile, NWDA and the rest of RDAs are to be replaced by local enterprise partnerships. Exactly how these will work, and how that will affect the amount of money available, will be decided in a White Paper due later in 2010.

Arts organisations in Liverpool will undoubtedly rally by using other funding options already in their arsenal — sponsorship and membership schemes, for example. National Lottery money for arts & heritage looks set to increase, with an extra £100m being added to the existing pot if parliament gives new legislation an easy ride in September.

The kindness of strangers may take up some of the burden, or so the government has the audacity to hope, having proposed a national day to encourage volunteering and charitable giving. A ‘range of measures’ to encourage philanthropy is another of Downing Street’s bright but vague ideas; although Arts & Business, set up to promote that very thing across the UK, has seen its budget slashed.

Together with the expected change in local authority budgets also set to come out of the spending review — Liverpool City Council part-funds many of the businesses listed above — the future is uncertain.

It would be rash to suggest that flagship projects such as the rebuilding of the Everyman or the opening of the Museum of Liverpool won’t go ahead. But such projects may be delayed or scaled back. It would also be unfair to start placing bets on which of our favourite venues will have shut up shop, for good, by 2015.

Between now and then it’s reasonable to predict a lot of pain, however, particularly for the arts workers in the form of pay freezes and redundancies. As a result, the pool of talent we rely on to make these artistic endeavours viable can only diminish.

9 Responses to “The first cut?”

  1. David Lloyd

    Leisure and tourism is one of the few industries that Liverpool is actively growing, so fears of scale backs and cuts have a real, tangible worry attached here.
    All the more reason why every penny should count – and why it’s shameful that Downing insisted on £750,000 compensation from NML after building its Museum of Liverpool – because it contravened its sight lines (even though it will bring much needed cash to the waterfront and, you’d think, more attention to the Port of Liverpool Building too).That said, the museum’s used to splashing out public cash on fines – having to pay £500,000 to settle a dispute with its architects. In straitened times, spending nearly £1.5m of dwindling recourses on compensation would really sting. If Open Eye doesn’t move, that would be a disgrace, as its funding for the refit of a new gallery is less than the fine NML had to pay its architects…

  2. Well said David. I personally think that to ruin the world heritage site is putting us back decades and pushed the council, NML, and the planning committee passing the new museum to consider the Littlewoods Building in Edge Lane. This was ready to be demolished by the NWDA at the time we made an application to have it listed. It would have lent itself with its open vaulting to be a fantastic space for a museum. Saving a brilliant Art Deco Building and the wasted millions by NML. This would have brought life to Edge Lane that, will now, have a load more B&Q style sheds on it instead.

  3. This is a country that has a history of neglecting its greatest art and artists. Anyone who voted Lib-Dem has only got themselves to blame now. Hard times.

  4. Amy Trego

    @AL Actually the Lib Dems had the most culture-friendly policies of all the main parties. It’s Tory policy that is to blame for these funding decisions.

  5. Fooled, I believe you call it, David.
    Amy, that maybe true, but they didn’t really mean it, did they? The second a glimpse (and just a glimpse we might add) of power appeared on the horizon, good policies like the culture-friendly ones you allude to were forgotten. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp… and Clegg’s didn’t. Ideals only really matter when they are tested… and the Lib-Dem leader has revealed himself. That’s why I brought (party) politics into it.

  6. Amy Trego

    I don’t understand the logic in saying the buck stops with Lib Dem voters; I’d hazard a guess that nobody who voted Lib Dem had this in mind when they were in the polling booth. I understand what you’re saying about ideals only mattering when they are tested, and whilst I agree this is true, I don’t think lamenting over Nick Clegg’s transition to the dark side is any use; the Conservatives should be given a hard time over this.

  7. Wayne, whether the new museum is ‘ruining the world heritage site’ is a matter of opinon. Some of us like the buildings, and don’t like the fact that you seem to spend much of your life vitriollically attacking any new development in the city and claiming to represent some sort of public preservation body when you represent only your own extremist views. I’m sure you genuinely care about the city, but your nasty personal attacks on some of the individuals involved and arrogant egotistical belief in your own rightness does you no favours.

    Chair, Director and CEO
    Preseve Liverpool from Wayne Colquhoun Trust.

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