Martin Bright

The Arts, Simon Jenkins and the slaughter of the provinces

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Congratulations to Sir Simon Jenkins for winning the top gong at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. This is a well-deserved prize for a journalist who seems to get angrier with every passing day. 

As if to prove the point, the swashbuckling journalistic knight used his Friday column in the Guardian to have an almighty tilt at the government, the Arts Council and the London cultural mafia about cuts to the arts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The piece is an exemplary piece of commentary; an exercise in raw fury.

Jenkins takes the London dinner-party elite to task for stitching up a deal that limits cuts to the Arts Council's "regularly funded organisations" to 15 per cent, while demanding cuts of nearly 30 per cent elsewhere. He argues that this will lead to  "the mass slaughter of provincial arts".

Although he is writing about culture, Jenkins has identified an uncomfortable consequence of the cuts for a government whcich talks the language of localism:

"Cameron may win plaudits for his generosity to London's gilded elite, but he is penalising the provinces three times over: by cutting direct grants, by cutting grants to councils that might make up for the first cut, and by banning councils from levying extra taxes to compensate. This is triple centralism, and most unfair."

On Newsnight last night, culture minister Ed Vaizey did well to admit that would be considerable savings in the arts budget, which would affect smaller organisations, while defending his decision to protect the cultural jewels in the crown of British culture.

There is absolutely no doubt that the cultural sector is going to have to completely rethink the way it operates. The grant gravy train is over and many small arts organisations will go to the wall. Vaizey's boss, Jeremy Hunt has called for a new spirit of philanthropy but, again, this will favour the large metropolitan organisations which can confer status on donors.

There is a problem with the thinking here. Arts and business still stand on opposite sides of a cultural chasm, where corporate sponsorship is often as sophisticated as the relationship gets.

If it is true that Britain's creative industries are the envy of the world, as Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey consisently argue, then business should invest in the arts as a matter of course. If the creative sector is about to overtake financial services within the UK economy, as we are told, then the government should be finding ways to encourage venture capital to invest in the arts, right down to those organisations now facing slaughter in the provinces.