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50p for Culture does it add up?

April 16, 2014

50p

The National Campaign for Arts is leading the 50p for culture campaign, lobbying local authorities to spend at least 50p per person per week on the arts.  Sounds a good idea and 50p does not sound much especially as the average council tax per household is around £4 per day and remember council tax accounts for less than a fifth of local authority income (the rest comes from business rates, grants and income).

I am not sure culture spend alone provides the entire picture for local culture.  Outcome based research, what museums and the arts do with this income, would be important as well.  That is probably harder to evidence, especially as one person’s great museum or art form is another’s dislike.  But the data does turn up some interesting points.  It helps if you know a little of the local background.

Glancing at the figures, “historic” towns and cities like Canterbury, Colchester and Exeter spend more than leafy stockbroker belt districts like the Chilterns, Hart and Sevenoaks.  Generally more urban councils tend to spend more on culture than rural or suburban authorities.  There does not seem to be link between richer areas spending more on culture and poorer places less, indeed if anything the reverse appears to be true.

Providing some context, urban places tend to have a tradition of  publicly funding and running museums and theatres.  Living in Hampshire this is very marked, Winchester and Basingstoke are the 2 biggest borough funders of museums in non metropolitan Hampshire.  Winchester operates 2 museums and Basingstoke part funds Milestones, a regional museum, and the excellent Willis Museum in the town centre both in partnership with Hampshire County Council.  Of course I am sure the figures are not infallible, and they don’t include capital spend, only revenue!  But used with caution they are helpful.  So go and lobby your council if you think they are being mean with the arts!

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