Sunday, 20 June 2010

Cuts and other c-words

I meant to post something about arts funding last week, to signpost you, loyal readers, to the Arts Funding ning that Marcus Romer set up. It's grown really quickly, although there's still a slight sense of waiting intently about it in general. The tone has been collaborative and what you might call solutions-orientated, though with a tangible air of what the dvd warning would probably describe as 'peril'.

On Thursday DCMS came out with their contributions to the cuts: £73M including Find Your Talent, A Night Less Ordinary, library modernisation and the BFI digital archive project and new centre on the South Bank. Then on Friday Arts Council England laid out their approach to finding the in-year savings DCMS set them. This was an across-the-board 0.5% for all RFOs barring CCE and Arts & Business, plus some other savings including the postponement of a major public engagement programme and some other audience development work. Added to this every news bulletin contains more sign that the Cutting Coalition has the smell of blood in its wealthy nostrils. From free school dinners to Free Schools seems to sum up the whole approach. Be prepared to pay. And if you can't pay (for education, health, culture, insurance), just be prepared.

So lots happening, but I found it hard to say anything useful about it, oddly enough. (As might be apparent above.) For the first time since I left a small part of me wished I was arguing around the ACE exec board table, trying to balance the budget. It's a unenviable task though, and I wish my friends good luck - what's been done seems broadly sensible. (Hears former colleagues muttering 'cheers, Mark'. Hears Messrs Collard and O'Hara of CCE saying, 'really, Mark?') As I read it, it is a strategic decision to maintain things until we have much greater clarity about quite how indiscriminately the government is going to cut back on its own role in investing in society. As Dame Liz Forgan said, some of the things not being done - the public engagement, the partnerships with local authorities and private sector - are key to long-term sustainability. It will be important not to tack the same tack next year, when more reform can be introduced, whatever the financial setting. Using the reserves to pay the annual bills - which is basically what's been done - can only be done once.

We'll know more next week about the extent of future cuts, though will still be waiting intently for the Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn. We will know then quite how much of a fight the public sector has on its hands. Patience is going to be required, as well as cunning, collaboration and campaigning, just to mention three things beginning with c. Like Will Hutton, I am beginning to fear for the sanity of how the necessary savings will be made.

But actually, arts funding is not my only worry in that - or even my main one, putting self-interest aside. This leads me to the one thought I want to throw in right now. There needs to be the mother of all campaigns against the worst of these cuts and their disproportionate impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, one that shows Nick Clegg what most people think about the bad crowd he's got himself in with, and what proper British values are: compassion, community, creativity to use three more c-words. (We may need to get positively French about it to do so, paradoxically.)

This means putting together a proper broad coalition of interests that can campaign in imaginative and powerful ways, far beyond the usual suspects, and far beyond the SWP banners and anarcho-jugglers out for a scrap. In making the case for money that can be invested in artists, arts organisations and arts activity, the sector needs to seek common cause with other progressive groups looking to protect people from the regressive instincts of the Bullingdon Club and their new friends. I'd like to see the NCA, for instance, working with the TUC as well as with A&B. The arts also have much to contribute to that campaign of course, including examples of how the private and third sectors connect to the public sector. It would be a mistake to see cuts in arts funding as separate from cuts to education, health and social capital of all sorts, or as requiring the arts to argue against hospitals or welfare.

So while the #artsfunding hashtag is a good one to follow on Twitter, so might #cuts be. And let's collaborate, using artsfunding and whatever other spaces can be found.

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