Letter: Funding for contemporary culture

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Sir: Heritage is an essential part of the living traditions of a culture; so are the living arts, sports and charitable activities. Communicating all this, and much else, is also what contemporary culture is all about ("Goodbye heritage, hello culture", 9 July).

On the issue of direct government involvement I believe strongly in the arm's-length principle for the individual decisions made by the grant aiding and National Lottery distributors. Ministers would find it a nightmare to be drawn into the detail of month-on-month, year-on-year funding decisions. I defy anyone to come up with a cheaper way of distributing National Lottery money.

Speaking for myself, I would like the government of the day to take ownership of the National Lottery as a whole. Instead of individual bodies, about which the public knows little, major awards by all the lottery distributors might be made at the same time by ministers so that the public could see the benefits of the lottery across the board.

I resent the implication that the Arts Council does not care about cheap opera seats. Our problem is that European opera companies receive 63 percent of their costs from the state, whereas British companies receive only 37 per cent. This makes it increasingly difficult for opera companies to bring ticket prices much lower while fulfilling requirements to balance their books. The Treasury has taken nearly pounds 20m in real terms out of the grant-in-aid since 1994. There are no present indications that any redress is on the cards.

What stands in the way of achieving greater success for new talents and audiences is the split between regulations governing lottery funds and those governing grant-in-aid. The quantum of money should be sufficient to provide support for the infrastructure of the arts as well as adequate current funding. The problem is going from here to there. I am confident that ministers will try to help.



The Arts Council of England

London SW1