Letters: Using lottery money to subsidise ticket prices

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From Mr David Sawers

Sir: It is naive to imagine that increasing the revenue support to the performing arts would lead to any substantial and sustained reduction in prices - as the Arts Council appears to hope that it would ("Lottery funds 'to cut prices at theatre'", 14 August).

Experience shows that any extra support that a subsidised company receives is more likely to be spent on increasing the number and quality of productions than used to reduce prices: the management's first priority is to improve its product, not to make it cheaper. Subsidies have a built- in tendency to rise, as the Arts Council should know.

In Germany, where the arts have been subsidised for longer, the average subsidy for the public theatres rose from 27 per cent of income in 1911 to 84 per cent of income in the 1980s. The latter level is the sort of subsidy that British managers envy.

Price does not in any case seem to be a major factor in determining the audience for subsided performances: a recent survey for the Arts Council found that only 4 per cent of respondents volunteered that price kept them away from such events, and reductions in prices would have a relatively small effect on demand. A 10 per cent reduction in prices might increase the audience by 5 per cent. Most people who attend subsidised performances are well educated and not exactly poor; they may well consider price less important than quality.

The main result of increasing revenue support for the arts would be to provide more benefits for the existing audience and managers. If the Government wants to make itself more popular, it should accept that the majority wants less spent on the arts. The British Social Attitudes survey in 1994 found that only 10 per cent of respondents wanted more spent on the arts, though 44 per cent wanted this expenditure reduced. The Government would therefore reflect public opinion if it withdrew all lottery funds from the Arts Council, and redirected them to charities.

Yours faithfully,

David Sawers

Angmering-on-Sea, West Sussex

14 August