Lottery cash to fund arts deficit

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Lottery money may be used to pay off the deficits of theatre and opera companies, in a striking reverse of government policy.

A consultative document entitled New Lottery Programmes, to be issued by the Arts Council, confirms that from next April lottery money for the arts will cease to be spent solely on buildings and equipment. In addition, it will be used to fund "commissions for new work, access to and participation in the arts and enhancing the creative abilities of young people in particular". Pilot schemes begin in September.

In the introduction to the document, Lord Gowrie, the Arts Council's chairman, describes the move to funding creative activity from the lottery as "probably the most significant change in the funding of the arts in Britain since the Arts Council was founded 50 years ago".

The changes from the autumn may be more profound still. It is understood that the Arts Council, in distributing lottery money, will also consider allowing companies to use lottery funds to pay off their deficits. In the past both the Treasury and succeeding ministers responsible for the arts have refused to countenance giving special grants to pay off deficits, as it could encourage profligacy.

But senior Arts Council officers believe companies spend inordinate amounts of time planning how to reduce their deficits; and if they were paid off in one dramatic gesture, the time could be more valuably spent planning artistic events.

In the consultative document, this scheme is described in slightly oblique terms as a "stabilisation programme".

Lottery money is also likely to be used to ensure that all new arts buildings over a certain size have integrated broadcasting facilities and money will be channelled into British films with the emphasis on creating new distribution networks.

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