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by Tom Freeman
06 January 2015
Creative dossiers

Creative dossiers

Arts funding bodies, who tend to want to fade into the background and leave the artists they support to grab the headlines, are having a tough time of it. Creative Scotland was so mortified at being thrust into the spotlight by a letter of complaint by 100 leading artists in 2012 it replaced their Chief Executive, revamped their structure and produced a 10-year plan proving its humility.

Arts Council England must have been doubly worried this week then, when it was given star billing in the political parties’ dossier dash to the bottom.

The start of general electioneering proper saw the Conservatives using a quote by Harriet Harman - "This Government is threatening the future of our arts and creative industries through slashing the Arts Council" – as a prompt to suggest Labour would reverse the £83m cut to the Arts Council England budget in a dossier attacking what they presumed would be Labour policies.

Don’t be silly, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls told the BBC, Labour wouldn’t give any extra money to the arts. His party produced a counter dossier of their own proving their commitment to keep public spending down.

The arts is a small budget, so it is a strange one to thrust into the centre stage in the ‘budget responsibility’ drama. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is by far the smallest and least funded of Westminster’s government departments. Are Labour committing to match spending with a party who threatened to abolish the department entirely in 2012? It was only spared for the Olympics.

The DCMS’s own figures show arts and culture deliver 0.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product for 0.1 per cent of government spending, while the Gross Value Added of creative industries was estimated to account for 5.2 per cent of the UK economy in 2012.

But while Arts Council England could find itself relegated to a bit player in another government department whoever wins the General Election, Creative Scotland is attempting long-term planning and positioning itself as the champion of artists. Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop has said the arts shouldn’t just be about the economy, but about the enrichment of “quality of life and wellbeing”.

Do the Scots really value the arts more? Not at local authority level. Some Scottish councils are joining their English counterparts in cutting arts spending by between 90 and 100 per cent. While Creative Scotland’s budget may look less threatened than its English cousin, the body is facing calls to pick up shortfalls in funding from local authorities. In its recent allocation of long-term funding, the quango said it had received £212m worth of bids from 264 different applicants, for a pot of £100m.

Unless artists can secure alternative funding arrangements Creative Scotland could be back in centre stage in this election year, probably just where it doesn’t want to be.

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