The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has told Arts Council England to move faster in correcting its "clear arts funding imbalance in favour of London". However ACE chair Sir Peter Bazalgette has argued for more money to help that process, saying that it is difficult for ACE to act urgently when its income is shrinking.
In a new report, the CMS Committee criticised ACE's funding bias as "unfair" and said measures to correct it could involve limiting London's access to National Lottery funding to its per capita share and earmarking any future increase in the ACE grant in aid to "the English regions beyond the M25 area."
John Whittingdale, chair of the committee, said: "The Arts Council generally does a good job in allocating limited resources between many competing demands. However, there is a clear imbalance in arts funding in favour of London – which the Arts Council itself admits. This is unfair on tax payers and lottery players in other parts of the country, as well as limiting access to cultural opportunities and enjoyment across the country… We welcome the efforts already being made by the Arts Council to shift lottery funding outside of London but would like to see this done faster."
In a response, ACE chair Bazalgette welcomed the "timely" report. "We welcome the recommendation that the Arts Council's grant in aid should not be reduced," he said. "Further, the report says that as we have played a part in helping to reduce the deficit, we should be considered a beneficiary in a time of recovery. We welcome this and agree that any further provision in future spending rounds should be prioritised to bolster the national arts ecology outside the M25.
"We share the committee's desire for a speedy response to the historic challenges to rebalancing. It is difficult to act urgently when our income is shrinking and additional resource would certainly allow for greater flexibility in supporting our ambition to achieve this."
The Arts Council has seen its grant in aid fall by a third since 2010, involving a restructure and staff cuts.
Over half of the literature organisations with National Portfolio status in the latest ACE funding round, announced in July, were based in London (24 out of a total of 46). Twelve of the total were listed as being located in the North, North East or North West. Manchester based writers development organisation Commonword was among those losing National Portfolio status.
Money continued to be a theme elsewhere in the CMS committee's report, which told ACE it should also be looking harder at getting extra funds from partnerships with business, local authorities, universities and international organisations, particularly in the European Union. Local authorities who don't stump up for the arts were a particular focus of ire, with Whittingdale noting: "We are disappointed that a few local authorities appear to fail to recognise the value of supporting the arts and we see little point in pumping public money into areas that do not particularly want or need it." Westminster was one of the councils singled out for criticism in this regard. Bazalgette responded that ACE "fully" endorsed the importance based on local partnership working, adding: "As we had into another election year we welcome arts and culture moving up the political agenda."
ACE's performance in supporting library development was not commented upon in the report, other than the statement: "We welcome the involvement of the Arts Council in museums and libraries. Though this is modest in funding terms, museums and libraries provide important physical spaces that enable individual and collective cultural development in the widest sense. The Arts Council should remain alert to the important role museums and libraries have in promoting education across all disciplines."