Lee Hall has written a piece for the Guardian about the Newcastle cuts. The Arts pages reportedly found it too technical, so he asked me to post it here.
Like most people connected with the Arts, I was stunned by Newcastle Council's announcement this week to cut the entire Arts budget for the City (£1.6m). It seemed a completely unnecessary draconian gesture, but in the context of the £90m deficit trumpeted by the Council, one wonders if it's inevitable no matter how strong the cultural argument against it. However, when I looked at the report I saw a very different picture. The same document which outlines the total removal of arts funding boasts a £418m capital programme in the City for the next three years alone, £79m of which comes directly from council resources. Much of this money will be spent to regenerate run down commercial areas of the city in the hope of encouraging new businesses, ironically in the retail and 'leisure' sector. Apparently the Council find it perfectly fine to use council money to pay the admin staff of developers, builders, retailers in the commercial sector but not the admin staff, cleaners, accountants and caretakers of already thriving cultural businesses in the public sector. There's even an astonishing £1.2m ear-marked for "capital funding to enable council buildings to be incentivized to bid for asset transfer opportunities," i.e. doing them up to flog them to the private sector. Even the overall deficit starts to look problematic when you examine the detail. The actual fall in revenue from central government is £39m, but the figures pump this up to the £90m by estimating £21.7m for inflation and nearly another £30m for some other vague intangibles. The "cost of the downturn" is reckoned to be more than the entire arts budget for the whole three years. I smell sophistry.
The Council's defence will inevitably be that there is a difference in Revenue and Capital spending, but as anybody knows most of any capital spend goes on wages. Indeed the report boasts about the fact that this capital spend will help jobs in the construction industry, yet at the same time outlines the plans to lay off librarians and ordinary admin staff who work in theatres and museums. Quite clearly there is money to continue funding the libraries, museums and the Arts. Live Theatre's grant of £89,000 per year is 0.06% of this discretionary capital spend for the same period. The entire Arts budget is 0.38 % percent of this capital spend and only 0.7% of the general council budget. It directly supports hundreds of jobs but also brings business for restaurants, bars and hotels in the City. Yet the Council is happy to wage a nuclear attack and wipe out all Arts funding, not even trying to strategically protect a single institution.
This is a straightforward attack on the Arts buried underneath a load of smoke and mirrors about austerity. They can't have it both ways. It is simply fiscally dishonest and illiterate not to count the economic value of the cultural businesses in Newcastle. Whenever I have a sell-out show, the restaurants around the theatre are also full. You would think a vibrant cultural life is vitally important to attract the high-fliers the council are trying to attract to the area, let alone to provide succour to the tax payers of the City. These plans outline the transfer of an enormous amount of public money to the private sector. This is not the simple fiscal crisis the Council are claiming it to be. Something is wrong. Look at the figures. It just does not add up.
Charlotte Higgins article about the Newcastle cuts: http://bit.ly/WJgs7W
Lee Hall letter about proposed Newcastle library closures: http://bit.ly/XMRENO