More than just a north-south divide

This week, cuts the coalition Government imposed on the Arts Council were passed down to the organisations it helps keep afloat. Many are putting a brave face on the news for now, but this is just the opening salvo: local councils across the country will no doubt look to slash their own funding to these ‘soft targets’ in the coming months in their attempts to balance the books.

All very depressing for those of us who see culture as a vital eye-opening, life-affirming escape from the hamster wheel of work, and of particularly importance in grim times such as these. That’s not forgetting that investing in the arts makes economic sense, too – the chief executive of Manchester’s Cornerhouse is quoted in the Manchester Evenng News as saying it puts £7 back for every £1 of Arts Council funding received. If fewer people go to theatres and galleries, then ancillary businesses like bars, restaurants and taxis will lose out too.

But the list of bodies in the North West in receipt of Arts Council funding, albeit now at reduced levels, depressed me in another way too – namely that they are so heavily skewed towards Greater Manchester and Liverpool. While the MEN article mentioned above listed 47 local organisations losing £850,000 between them, my colleague Tom Moseley had just 5 bodies and £40,000 cuts to write about for East Lancashire.

Rough figures show there are about five times more people in the MEN’s catchment area (2.5m) than the Lancashire Telegraph’s (0.5m), yet it receives more than 21 times the funding from the Arts Council. Even my journo-maths can work that out – there’s four times as much arts funding per capita for Mancunians as Lancastrians.

Of course, there are proportionally more galleries and theatres in Greater Manchester than East Lancashire, and many have higher profiles too. But, while it would be unfair to name names, there are countless examples of contemporary art galleries or youth-focused theatre groups in one area receiving sizeable funding and similar organisations in other areas nothing.

It’s widely acknowledged that the country gives the south most of the cake, and the north is left with crumbs. But within the north itself, the shiny city regions hoover up most of the big crumbs and there’s barely dust left for the rest.

Another example of this imbalance came today, when the Government rejected three separate Lancashire bids to form bodies which would compete for regional growth funding, while the rest of the North West’s plans were waved through. At its best, this decision will mean a delay in Lancashire regeneration projects being able to bid for funds from the Government’s £1.4bn pot. At its worst, it’ll mean all that cash will have already been funnelled to the usual suspects before Lancashire is even in the game.

And the brain drain out of the region will worsen; more people will flee in despair at the lack of opportunities; more terraced streets will lie empty and abandoned; and the south will continue to overheat.

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