Bectu Condemns ‘Massacre Of The Arts’


ARTS technicians’ union BECTU’S submission to parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, ahead of October’s Comprehensive Spending Review, predicts ‘conflict’ over savage cuts planned for the arts.

BECTU states: ‘We note the extremely serious nature of the possible future cuts in arts funding:

• DCMS have asked the Arts Council England (ACE) and other funded bodies to model a 25-30% cut over the next four years.

• ACE is already asking regularly funded organisations to model for a minimum 10% cut in funding for 2011-12, with a warning of possible more painful cuts in 2012-13 to 2014-15.

Already in 2010-11:

• ACE has been required by DCMS to make cuts of around 4% and the ACE’s original budget has been cut by £23m to £445m.

• VAT will be raised from 17.5% to 20% in January, which could have an impact on theatre ticket prices and therefore audiences.

Other additional factors:

• £112.5m of ACE Lottery funding has already been diverted to the Olympics (representing part of an estimated total contribution of £322m from the cultural sector to the Olympics).

• Local Government, which has in the past contributed at least as much money as ACE to the arts (and currently contributes about £230m per year), is itself facing very serious proposed cuts of £1.1bn. There is no statutory requirement for local councils to fund the arts, so a disproportionate impact on this sector is anticipated.

We also note that, in the overall context of public spending, the arts sector is completely insignificant, with an arts budget of an estimated 17p per week per person.

UK public spending on the arts has historically ranked below that in comparable European economies such as Germany, France, Sweden and Holland.

The specific impact of the cuts is obviously impossible to outline in detail at this stage.

However, it is already clear that their sheer scale is likely to have severe consequences:

• ACE has estimated that a 25% cut could result in as many as 200 regularly-funded organisations losing all public subsidy (constituting almost a quarter of all such organisations).

A 30% cut could lead to a reduction of £134m per year in ACE’s budget for regularly funded organisations – small in the context of the economy as a whole but potentially devastating for the arts sector.

• This could lead to the closure or partial closure of leading theatres, galleries, museums and other arts organisations. The financial operating model of many arts organisations will simply not be able to sustain cuts on the scale proposed. For many, there is a tipping point (into non-viability) of 10-15% funding.

• Short of closure, other theatres will simply stage fewer productions; hire fewer technicians, craft people, designers and performers; and tour less.

• Broader education and community initiatives stemming from the arts sector are also likely to be seriously affected, as is the long term development of new work and talent for the future.

• The scale and urgency of the cuts required also threatens a repetition of the problems of implementation experienced in a previous ACE spending review, including inadequate notice of the cuts, decisions based on flawed information and unclear criteria – all of which compound the financial problems of the cuts themselves.’

Under The Consequences for the Workforce, the submission states: ‘The arts generally and theatre specifically is a very labour-intensive sector. The Sector essentially depends on its human resources rather than on fixed capital – despite historically unacceptable levels of low pay and casual employment.

Cuts on the scale proposed will therefore have a direct and disproportionate impact on employment in the sector – with a severe and immediate effect on jobs, increased casualisation and an insidious longer-term impact in terms of the loss of talent and skill.

As well as the serious quantitive impact on employment levels, the cuts will also have the following effects:

• The limited progress which has been made to address pay-levels in this largely low-paid sector is likely to be reversed. The “silent subsidy” (in terms of low pay even for many skilled workers) from the arts workforce will thereby increase rather than diminish.

• The investment in skills development – from training organisations such as CC Skills, from trade unions (including our own promotion of skills in collective agreements and through union learning representatives) and from some employers – could be reversed.

• The already unacceptably high levels of internships and unpaid work in the arts sector – leading in a number of cases to the exploitation of young people eager to enter the industry – could increase further. As a side effect, this leads to a structural bias towards individuals from better-off backgrounds, where families can afford to subsidise them while entering the industry in an unpaid capacity.’

Under: Philanthropy: A Bogus Alternative for the Arts, BECTU states: ‘The government has expressed the view that private funding for the arts from business and philanthropists should be encouraged as a means of compensating for severe reductions in public funding.

This is not, in our view, a remotely serious and viable alternative to public funding for the arts.

All the evidence is:

• That the amount of funding generated from business and philanthropic source has never remotely matched secure public funding levels.

• That business funding of the arts has actually decreased in the past year and that significantly increased business funding at time of economic crisis is simply an unrealistic expectation (as is born out by experience in the US).

• That such business and philanthropic funding as exists is typically tied to matched public funding rather than standing alone.

• That such private funding tends to be geared primarily to London; to larger institutions; and to artistically safer rather than innovative events and productions.’

In Conclusion, Bectu states: ‘We believe that cuts in arts funding on the scale proposed will harm economic recovery; are unjustified given the very small proportion of public funding allocated to the arts; will do long term strategic damage to the arts (and, in the case of the UK Film Council, to the indigenous film industry); will have a severe and immediate impact on the workforce in such a labour-intensive sector; and can never be balanced or compensated for by philanthropy.

We believe that the proposed cuts are ideologically – rather than simply economically – driven, which thereby compounds the problem of developing broad agreement on any future strategy for the arts.

We anticipate conflict rather than consensus in this area.’

The BECTU and (performers’ union) Equity leaders refused to defend the companies that fell victim to the 2008 Massacre of the Arts – when, under the Labour government, the Arts Council withdrew funding from 200 theatres, companies, galleries, museums etc.

The Tory-LibDems are preparing the abolition of the state funding of the arts.

It’s not enough to ‘anticipate conflict’. It’s necessary to fight every cut, defend every job, every theatre and every company.

The arts and theatre faction of the All Trades Unions Alliance, the industrial wing of the Workers Revolutionary Party, fights for the occupation of all cut and closure-threatened theatres, companies and services, and the building of Councils of Action to defend such occupations.

Equity and BECTU must take national strike action to defeat the Massacre of the Arts Mark2 and demand the TUC calls a General Strike to bring down the Tory-LibDem Coalition.

Join the WRP today to fight for these policies and for the nationalisation of the arts under workers’ control and for a socialist future.