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Arts Council England is an arms-length body of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It is the national development agency in England for creativity and culture.

In its 2020 ten-year strategy Let’s Create, the organisation stated that it wished to achieve a “better balance of investment across the country”. Similarly, one of the aims of the Government’s Levelling Up the United Kingdom Command Paper, released in February 2022, was to improve access to arts and culture across England. To achieve this the Government committed to spending all of the increased Arts Council England funding announced at the 2021 Spending Review outside of London.

On 4 November 2022, Arts Council England announced its Investment Programme for 2023-2026. This comprises organisations that receive regular funding and support over a three-year period. The provisional outcome of this was £446 million per annum in funding distributed to 990 organisations.

Stakeholder responses to the announcement were mixed. Organisations that entered the Investment Programme for the first term welcomed the decisions. Organisations that experienced reductions in funding expressed their disappointment. Broadly, stakeholder interest, across media and industry, focused on two location or sector specific components of the announcement and one specific decision:

  1. The impact upon arts and culture in London. For instance, in February 2022, the Artistic Director of National Theatre, whilst signalling his support for improving the national cultural offer, described plans to move money out of London as like “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
  2. The potential effect on the opera sector. The managing director of Glyndebourne Opera House, an organisation that received a reduction in ACE funding, described the wider funding settlement as “devasting for many in the opera sector, which was targeted with significant cuts.”
  3. The decision to remove the English National Opera from the Investment Programme and offer it funds to relocate away from the capital. English National Opera launched a petition opposing this decision that currently has around 83,000 signatures.

Government response

On 7 November 2022, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport provided the following statement on the Investment Programme:

These provisional offers fulfil the ambitious and challenging targets set for Arts Council England by my predecessor. Specifically – including National Lottery funding – these offers would see nearly an extra £45 million in each of 2023-24 and 2024-25 invested outside of London, rising to nearly £53 million extra in 2025-26. This will result in 215 new organisations being funded outside of London (a net increase of 135 organisations). This extra investment outside London is supported largely by the overall uplifts agreed by the government at the Comprehensive Spending Review, and Arts Council England decisions about its use of National Lottery funding.

DCMS worked with Arts Council England to agree on a list of 109 Levelling Up for Culture Places, which are areas identified as having historically low cultural engagement. The provisional funding offers that have been announced will increase the number of funded organisations in Levelling Up for Culture Places by 79% (from 107 to 192 organisations) and will increase the level of investment in Levelling Up for Culture Places by 95%, or £21.2 million per annum. This funding will play a vital role in fulfilling the government’s intention to tackle cultural disparities, and ensure that everyone, wherever they live, has the opportunity to enjoy the incredible benefits of culture in their lives.

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