London and Edinburgh are vacuuming up a disproportionate amount of arts funding in England and Scotland, leaving vast areas of cultural deserts across the two countries, new analysis by NationalWorld has revealed.
Edinburgh is currently hosting the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, during which – in pre-Covid times – thousands of acts ranging from award-winning composers to street performers entertain a global audience.
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But a focus on the capitals and other big cities when it comes to funding decisions prevents residents in towns across England and Scotland accessing new cultural activities, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank.
The effect is to “exacerbate divides between towns and cities”, it said.
In England, Londoners benefit from more than twice as much funding per person compared to the average across the country, while in Edinburgh, residents enjoy three-and-a-half times more than Scotland as a whole.
People living in seven council areas in England meanwhile see less than £1.50 per head of arts funding – almost 90 times less than in London.
In Scotland four council areas have received less than £2.50 per head of funding – more than 20 times less than in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh receives a third of all Scottish funding
Creative Scotland distributes funding from two main sources, the Scottish Government and the National Lottery. Between 2018/19 and 2019/20, the arts body distributed over £86 million to more than 2,100 projects – but there are clear regional imbalances.
Projects where the applicant was registered to the City of Edinburgh received a third of the cash — nearly £29 million, the equivalent to £54.72 per resident.
The average funding per head of the population across Scotland as a whole was £15.75.
Just 20 minutes away in Edinburgh’s neighbouring local authorities, projects have received just a fraction of what the city has.
Projects registered to the East Lothian council district received just over £900,000 in funding (£8.36 per head), while projects registered to West Lothian received just over £600,000 (£3.34 per head).
And the gap is even wider in Midlothian, where projects received just over £250,000 between 2018/19 and 2019/20 — just 0.3% of the total funding distributed by Creative Scotland, or £2.70 per head.
Elsewhere in the country, local authorities situated on Scotland’s central belt generally receive far less funding than the two major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The data also reveals the success rate of applicants. In Edinburgh, more than half of applicants (53%) were successful while in Renfrewshire just 26% were granted funding.
The figures include grants made to individuals as well as regular funding projects, but does not include cultural recovery grants made during the pandemic.
London: a black hole of arts funding?
This story isn’t unique to Scotland.
Data shared with NationalWorld by Arts Council England reveals the stark differences in funding across the country, with the capital city dominating funding grants.
Applicants registered with London postcodes received just under £1.2 billion worth of funding from 2017/18 to 20/21. This equates to £133.20 per head.
Across England, the average funding was £61.56 per head, 2.2 times smaller than London’s allocation.
There are seven council areas – Hinckley and Bosworth, Breckland, Surrey Heath, North East Derbyshire, Castle Point, East Staffordshire and Staffordshire Moorlands – where funding was lower than £1.50 per head. In Staffordshire Moorlands, funding was equal to 92p.
The council area with the highest per person allocation was Westminster, at £956.96. The City of London has been excluded from this ranking, as it has a small resident population. It is included in London-wide figures.
The Arts Council data includes normal lottery funding as well as grants made under the Culture Recovery Fund to help the sector survive the pandemic.
The data for England does not show the success rate of applications.
‘It’s something everyone should have access to’
Jonathan Webb, senior research fellow at think-tank IPPR North, said that culture cannot just be for the big cities.
Mr Webb said: “National World’s data shows that overwhelmingly, investment in the arts is concentrated in London.
“Outside of the capital, it remains concentrated in cities, with towns receiving less cultural investment.
People living in seven council areas in England see just £1 per head of arts funding
“This prevents them from developing new projects to support local culture and exacerbates divides between towns and cities.
“Culture cannot just be the preserve of London and other big cities. It’s something everyone should have access to. Empowering local places with the resources and decision-making powers they need to attract new funding is vital.
“At the same time, major funding bodies need to do more to promote the growth of the cultural sector outside of major cities. This will be crucial for sharing the benefits more widely”.
What has Creative Scotland said?
A spokesperson for Creative Scotland said the home location of applicants does not always reflect where activity is delivered, as some projects may be touring the country.
The spokesperson said: “The impact and reach of the work supported by Creative Scotland extends across the whole country.
“We are however part of a much wider landscape, one where national companies, private businesses and voluntary groups, as well as other public bodies and local authorities, all make important contributions to funding arts and creativity.
“We work with many of these partners to embed creativity and culture in communities and ensure locally distinctive work is supported, valued and encouraged.”
Arts Council England say they fund organisations across the country
A spokesperson for Arts Council England said it is committed to funding organisations of all sizes right across the country, in both rural and urban areas.
“We believe that everyone has the right to experience and be inspired by art, so we want to transform the opportunities open to people in those places,” they said.
“London, and other major cities, are home to some of our largest organisations, whose reach – through touring for example – extend far beyond their immediate postcode.
“These organisations are critical to our cultural infrastructure, employing thousands of staff and freelance workers, and they help to bring culture to those parts of the country where these frameworks are still being developed.”
More than 70% of funding awarded through the Culture Recovery Fund during the pandemic has gone to organisations outside of London, they added.
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