Arts funding is going, going – and if we don't think of alternatives, it will soon be gone

Plus: No sympathy for the devil in the booking detail for The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, and how did ITV's Savile documentary not win a BAFTA?


The arts are suffering cuts, as we all know, with more probably
on the way. Public funding should not be cut, say campaigners for
the arts. Seek out more philanthropists, says the Government,
turning a blind eye to how difficult this is outside London. On
both sides there seems to be an unwillingness to look at wholly
different ways of raising money to preserve and improve the
nation's culture.

But there are other ways of raising money, radical and untried ways, and in the weeks to come before the Treasury's next announcement, they need to be considered. One that I am intrigued by is the thought of putting a tax on the auction houses, the likes of Sotheby's and Christie's, so that their profits can be ploughed back into the arts. It may not raise huge sums, but it is radical and imaginative. A conversation with leading figures in the Labour Party has indicated to me that they are indeed toying with this idea as a potential part of future Labour arts policy. Nothing official yet, but it's one piece of blue-sky thinking that could become reality.

Labour might indeed be willing to take on the auction houses. I suspect, though, that the present government would find a battle with Sotheby's and Christie's unpalatable. However, there is a measure it could take that would be more politically acceptable, one that would ease the strain on the public purse, and contain a certain amount of natural justice.

It could introduce a hotel tax, something commonplace abroad. With statistics continually showing that tourists are benefiting in huge numbers from our free museums and galleries, a hotel tax to help fund those museums and galleries seems a perfectly fair quid pro quo. Would tourists really object to supporting the culture they have come to Britain to see? We rarely raise an eyebrow when we encounter hotel taxes abroad.

Be it auction houses or be it hotels, some blue-sky thinking is needed to ensure that the debate that will intensify over the coming weeks is not focused solely, and almost certainly unproductively, on public funding and an increase in philanthropy. Yes, we want the arts to be properly funded, but on top of the essential money from the public purse, it's about time we had some imaginative thinking too.

No sympathy for the devil in the booking detail

Last week one reader nominated her local music festival for the "rip-off award" for the most grotesque use of booking fees. Inevitably, more nominations have come my way. Regular reader Hebe Gibbs tells me that she was keen to see The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park later this summer. It's well known that tickets will be a staggering £190 (ironic as the original Stones in the Park concert in the Sixties was free) but on discovering that, on top of the £190, there were the wretched additional charges, Ms Gibbs wrote to me, saying: "After the mouthwatering £380 for the two tickets, I was asked for £19 "service charge" followed by £5.50 postage at which stage I left the website in disgust." No weak puns needed about "can't get no satisfaction." This week's "rip-off award" will suffice.

So how did ITV's exposé not win the Bafta?

Congratulations, of course, to the BBC for winning a television Bafta for the best current-affairs programme with its programme on child abuse and the Catholic Church. I gather that, at the awards ceremony, faces were a little glum on the ITV table when that result was announced. They thought that they might win the prize for Exposure, the programme that revealed Jimmy Savile's predatory paedophilia to the world. I see their point. It was a documentary that led to numerous reports and inquiries, the disgrace of more than one "national treasure", shockwaves within the national broadcaster including the exit of a director-general, and other repercussions that have meant that barely a day has passed without some press and TV coverage of the people and issues involved. Exactly what more does a TV documentary have to achieve to win a prize?

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