Arts chiefs furious over 4.6 per cent funding cut

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The Government has reneged on its early commitment to the arts with a funding settlement which will destroy all the progress of recent years, cultural leaders said yesterday.

The Government has reneged on its early commitment to the arts with a funding settlement which will destroy all the progress of recent years, cultural leaders said yesterday.

They reacted angrily to funding that will see a 4.6 per cent cut in support for English Heritage, an allocation for museums and galleries which falls far short of previous demands and budgets frozen in the performing arts.

From heritage bodies, through theatre chiefs to museum directors, all expressed concern that the genuine progress of recent years would be stalled and potentially reversed by the deal. The arts are expected to have fared particularly badly when the settlements for sport, tourism and film are revealed in days to come.

John Sell, the chairman of a committee representing heritage bodies, said English Heritage's drop in funding showed the Government cared little for heritage. "This is a significant reduction in vital assistance to those who struggle to care for their buildings and the public benefit that brings," he said.

Michael Boyd, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said the Government had done more than most to support the arts, but had now changed its tune.

"Theatre is flourishing right across the UK, thanks in part to extra investment. But it's no good planting seedlings then depriving them of water," he said. " It's not just bad for audiences of the future. It's bad economics."

Ian McGarry, general secretary of the actors' union Equity, said it had believed the Government genuinely wanted to end "the bad old days of hand-to-mouth funding that barely kept theatre alive. Today's announcement means that they were empty promises. I am appalled at this breach of faith."

More disappointment was expressed by Christopher Frayling, chairman of the Arts Council, which had its revenue grant frozen.

This was a real-term cut of more than £30m by 2007 and would mean "stark choices" when it comes to giving funds to performing arts organisations and literature programmes in England in March. "It is extraordinary that the Government has chosen to undercut the very success it has helped to build since 1997. We're right back to stop-start funding, which we hoped we had left behind."

Regional museums expressed bitter disappointment after expectations that they would be a priority this time. They believed a programme,Renaissance in the Regions, had proved in three pilot areas what could be done with a modest investment to increase visitor numbers. But the extra cash announced yesterday - albeit a 108 per cent increase on the previous low investment - was not even enough to implement Renaissance nationwide.

Mark Taylor, director of the Museums' Association, said: "Any additional funding is obviously good news, but many people who care about museums will feel let down by this announcement. When the Government invests in museums, they deliver impressive results. So this settlement represents a real wasted opportunity."

The arts had been expecting a tough spending round but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's announcement yesterday had several measures to mitigate the disappointment.

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, announced a 200 per cent increase in capital funding for the national museums and galleries and an additional £12m funding for English Heritage capital work.

This appeared to placate the national museum directors whose leader, Robert Crawford, said the deal was a "good start to our five-year campaign to transform the UK's museums".

The national museums and galleries are to get a real increase of 1.7 per cent revenue funding by 2007, which is about a tenth of what they said they needed when they began lobbying for extra funding.

David Verey, chairman of the National Art Collections Fund charity, said the "tiny" increase in real terms for running costs would stop national museums doing anything new while the regional museums would have to 'work miracles to keep going".

The London South Bank Centre in London is to get a grant of £5m to assist its regeneration as is the city of Liverpool towards its plans for the 2008 European capital of culture.