The big loser of Gordon Brown's ninth budget will be the arts in Britain. For the next three years, the Arts Council's grant will be frozen at £412m. Since it will not even be increased at the rate of inflation, this is effectively a budget cut. Yesterday, the Arts Council announced that it will stop funding 121 arts organisations. Many local theatre groups and cultural projects, up and down the country, may now have to close. The Arts Council was wrong to earmark grass-roots organisations - which are so beneficial to local communities - to take the brunt of the cuts, but the real responsibility lies with the Government's meanness.
It is true that in recent years the arts have been adequately funded. And the results of this have been gratifying. The abolition of charging for entrance to museums has resulted in a vast increase in visitor numbers. Opera and theatre have also done well. But all that good work is now in jeopardy.
An important role of the Arts Council is to encourage creative originality and risk-taking. But this requires money. There is little chance of that now the sector is under such tight financial constraints. It is also important that the Arts Council is able to plan ahead. But how is proper planning possible when the Government appears to have reverted to the "stop-go" funding of the previous Tory administration?
Some arts leaders feel betrayed by all this. And well they might. Last year, the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, went as far as to describe the arts as one of our "fundamental human rights". But this freeze demonstrates that the arts are - in reality - low down on the Government's scale of priorities.
The Chancellor has clearly calculated that there are no votes in the arts. And no one in the Government appears to disagree. But this is a disgraceful calculation. The arts are a vital part of our national life - from opera at Covent Garden to small provincial theatre groups. Their worth cannot simply be measured in votes - or, for that matter, in how profitable they are. We take them for granted at our peril. Unless the Government acts swiftly to rectify the situation, it will be not remembered by history as a friend of the arts.Reuse content