A cross-party group of London MPs has warned that “calamitous” cuts to arts funding for the capital risk damaging the UK’s soft power as well as London’s culture sector, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the issue.
Both the Conservative and Labour co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for London have expressed serious concern at Arts Council England (ACE) reducing its funding allocations in the capital by around £50 million, announced in November last year.
Sir Bob Neill MP, co-chair of the APPG for London as well as chair of the APPG for Opera, has tabled a Westminster Hall debate and will highlight ACE’s decision to stop all its funding for the English National Opera (ENO) as part of its 2023-26 Investment Programme. Sir Bob describes the recent announcement from ACE of emergency funding for ENO using National Lottery funding as “one year’s reprieve”.
The Hampstead Theatre, the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, and the Barbican Centre are among the other organisations that stand to have their funding cut completely from April. Sir Bob will point out that ACE published its plans without a significant consultation or evidence base, no recourse to appeal, and with the affected organisations given less than 24 hours’ notice before the announcement.
Organisations like the ENO already undertake a considerable amount of work outside of the capital but say they need a base in London, with its transport connections and high levels of tourism, to attract sufficient audience sizes and remain financially viable.
Although the APPG for London supports boosting investment in the arts elsewhere in the UK, it argues this should not mean levelling down London’s world-leading cultural sector, which plays a pivotal role in attracting tourists to the UK and contributing to the national economy.
The creative and cultural industries are vital to London’s economy – research suggests London's creative industries generate around £42 billion a year and support one in six London jobs, while four out of five tourists say culture is the reason they choose to visit the capital.
The APPG for London also highlights there are many areas of the capital outside the city centre that remain underserved by cultural facilities and which will not benefit from the overall reduction to London’s allocations.
Sir Bob Neill MP, Co-Chair of the APPG for London, said:
“These calamitous cuts will wreak havoc to some of London’s best-known arts organisations, but the impact will also be felt far beyond the capital.
“While the announcement that ENO will receive £11.46m in emergency National Lottery funding is welcome, it ultimately only offers audiences and ENO’s workforce one year reprieve. Coming just over ten weeks before the next financial year, it is also very last minute.
“An estimated 40,000 fewer people will see opera at the Coliseum next year as a result of this funding delay. Productions are often planned well over 18 months in advance – what is needed is certainty over the long term.
“Hundreds of highly skilled jobs are at risk, all for the sake of rigidly redistributing funding away from London at any cost. I fear these decisions will damage London’s world-leading culture sector, which in turn will harm the wider economy and the UK’s invaluable soft power. As a cross-party group of London MPs, we urge ministers to intervene.”
Florence Eshalomi MP, Co-Chair of the APPG for London, said:
“London’s arts and cultural institutions make an immense contribution to the economy, to national life, and to our global reputation.
“As much as we support the aspiration to level up the country, this cannot be achieved by levelling down London. Cutting arts funding for the capital and ending support for these irreplaceable cultural assets is a short-sighted policy that will leave us all poorer.”
The APPG for London is a forum for MPs and peers to work together on a cross-party basis to strengthen the capital's voice in Parliament. The group's secretariat is provided by London Councils.