Political Promise

Ju Shardlow On… Jeremy Hunt and the Inevitable Cuts

In Ju Shardlow on May 18, 2010 at 8:35 am

By Juliet Shardlow

Since the coalition agreement, media worries over Tory spending cuts have centered mainly on Jeremy Hunt’s plans for arts expenditure. The Guardian this week lamented the “putting down” of the lucrative arts cash cow- pointing to the13-year “enlightenment” of arts sector funding by Labour.

I can see the anti-Tory demonstrations now: picket-signs with “2 mil kids in UK Youth Music schemes”, “Don’t destroy our local theatre” and “Here comes the bankruptcy of ‘97”. There’ll be some jugglers and lots of youngsters from the local youth choir singing ‘Ave Maria’ whilst holding candles.

Yes, it’s understandable to fear a total back-track on the impressive record Labour has set. Many people will remember the abysmal state of the UK arts scene in the early ‘90s. I’ll say this: UK tourism  is better off now that London museum entry is largely free. It’s good to hear classical music ringing from the community centre 3 times a week. Even the low-culture zones of the 80’s such as Birmingham and Liverpool have spring up as major cultural centers. A close friend of mine is taking free circus classes in Brixton. Circus classes. Contrast this with the underground statement music of ’91, the lamentable state of regional television, and the lack of media traineeships and you’ve got a clear winner.

Jeremy Hunt on his plans to cut ballet funding

But there is so much that we can improve through a little penny-pinching. The word ‘cuts’ doesn’t have to become synonymous with ruthlessness and plebeian grey-suits. Granted, scrapping paperclip expenditure isn’t going to make much of a difference, but ridding us of galas and corporate champagne evenings certainly will. The average cost of an opening-night party is insane and unnecessary. Artists (always the last to take down the velvet drapes) who rely on public funding must start to recognize the constraints of the recession. Sigh, if only the glossy image of celebrity were somewhat tarnished by the hard-nosed grittiness of expenses- then we wouldn’t have had Jeremy Paxman and Graham Norton on million-pound contracts. It only makes it easier for the Conservatives to start lucrative privatization on public services like the BBC.

Executives from The Arts council certainly agree. They’ve seen it coming for a while, having developed business plans for the inevitable slash in core funding. Maybe the reason why you don’t hear so many arts executives wailing about the Tory plans is because they are supported by a puny percentage of government cash in the first place (roughly 66% of a theatre’s turnover comes from ticket price, the BBC explained). The institutions propped up by the Arts Councils sustain fund are largely in debt due to low sales figures or are entrenched with structural problems so bad that even the Council cant eventually revive them. It’s sad to say, but some of these that are so in the red must be cut free.

The issue is to cut salaries rather than department budgets. The BBC executive scandal exposed by the London papers last year reflected an organization that would let 6 Music and the Asian network slide into obscurity, but would protect Mr assistant-deputy-vice-lord of Personnel. It makes me sick to hear the phrase ‘saving core services’ -it suggests bosses have been faffing around the company blowing public money on sugar-coated pencils and other ‘unnecessary’ expenses.

And who but Melvyn Bragg (a close friend of Tony Blair and prominent Labour Party donor) would be at the front of the demonstration. Sure, the arts take a pathetic 0.08% of the national budget, but he’s wrong to play this as a cash cow for the government. The moment we start looking at how ‘lucrative’ the arts are and how they contribute £16.6bn to our exports etc, the government loses sight of the real value of public service media. Then we’ll get…shudder… Murdoch.

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