Council funding cuts attacked

“Significant impact” on local arts and culture feared.

Culture Central, the new collective voice and development organisation for culture in the Birmingham City region, have responded strongly to Birmingham city council’s proposals to cut cultural funding.

In a statement issued on Monday, the organisation states that the public papers for Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet meeting on 13th December 2016 outline that the culture budget for the City Council is to be cut by 34%. This level of cut will have a significant impact on many of Birmingham’s major arts and cultural institutions. It represents the next chapter of year on year cuts that have required the sector to be increasingly enterprising and resilient, with organisations diversifying their income streams to balance their books.

A high quality arts and cultural sector is a key indicator of a vibrant global city and Birmingham’s cultural organisations are consistently recognised nationally and internationally for their artistic achievements. The sector’s collective work reaches millions of people each year across the city region as well as engaging with thousands of children, young people and disadvantaged communities. The cultural sector in Birmingham is also a large-scale employer and a significant inward investment tool for the city. It is estimated that each £1 invested in the sector returns £30 to the city’s economy.

Whilst Culture Central recognises that these proposed cuts are the result of extreme financial pressure on the City Council, it is now calling for a complete review of the way that the sector and the City Council work together.

Earlier in the year Culture Central helped to lead a Cultural Investment Enquiry for the city, chaired by Paul Faulkner, Chief Executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. The Enquiry identified a substantial list of potential opportunities and called for a radical new approach to funding cultural organisations and unlocking their assets. This could include the transfer of assets to cultural organisations and working closely with developers during this period of significant city-centre redevelopment.

This latest round of cuts is a clear indication of the need to accelerate the thinking from the Cultural Enquiry and to put in place both short- and long-term mechanisms for change.

Gary Topp, Director of Culture Central, said: “We have been making it clear for many months now that a radical new proposition for cultural investment in the city needs to be established and we are disappointed that the City Council has not shown more appetite for this innovative approach to-date. The many exceptional cultural organisations in the city have extended their own level of commercial and entrepreneurial activity considerably in recent years and we are asking the City Council to reciprocate.

“In effect we are seeking the full backing of the Council to create the necessary freedoms and flexibilities for the sector to thrive and to move to a more dynamic and contemporary approach. The sector has prepared itself for this approach through the creation of Culture Central as a collaborative leadership vehicle and we need to work in a radically reframed partnership with the Council to bring these opportunities to fruition.”

Paul Faulkner, Chief Executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce added: “The Cultural Investment Enquiry was an encouragingly collaborative process involving Culture Central, Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England, as well as business and higher educational institutions throughout the city, and provided a glimpse of what could be achieved within the cultural sector if all parties worked innovatively together in the immediate future.

“Sadly, despite positive words around the Enquiry’s work back in the summer, progress in terms of exploring radical new approaches to funding for the cultural sector has slowed, and the sector is now having to deal with this reality. It is imperative that we see action now, and truly begin to look beyond the norm at ideas that do not just cover these expected cuts in funding from local government, but go further and seek to implement a new model of funding culture in the city. One that ensures we don’t just protect the wonderfully rich cultural offering that Birmingham currently offers to the world, but actually seeks to be ambitious and allows culture in the city to flourish and develop further for the benefit of all.”