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Why our Newcastle Culture Fund will make a difference

March 4, 2013

Today I met Sir Peter Bazalgette, the chair of the Arts Council, to talk about the final details of our Newcastle Culture Fund – a £600,000 a year initiative that arts organisations can apply to fund core activities. The fund will be put to full council for agreement this week.

Our city benefits from vibrant and popular cultural institutions, but given the scale of government cuts, it is not possible for us to play as significant a role in their funding in the future. The culture fund is a response to this new understanding and we’ve worked closely with the Arts Council and the venues themselves to make it a reality.

We have never doubted the value of the cultural sector to the social and economic life of the city, and we have listened to the arguments put forward during our budget consultation. We appreciate that the 100% reduction in our subsidy that we initially proposed would have had a negative impact, particularly if it led to other funders withdrawing.

With the Newcastle Culture Fund we’ve come up with a plan that takes us away from revenue subsidy of the arts to a sustainable investment from a variety of sources.

The new fund will have £600,000 of investment income from the council and we will encourage co-investment and financial contributions from people and organisations that have shown their support for Newcastle’s cultural and artistic development. It will be managed by The Community Foundation, who are experts in attracting extra funding.

The Arts Council has worked with us to develop this initiative, and it is designed to sit alongside its essential funding for arts and culture. We also welcome a commitment from the Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University that additional savings generated from shared services between the university and council can be re-invested in the cultural life of the city.

We will use a range of sources from outside of the council’s core revenue budget to develop a sustainable long term future for the Newcastle Culture Fund.

Sources of funding will include the following:

  • a contribution of investment income from the council’s loan note to Newcastle Airport
  • a share of growth in business rate income that the council is able to retain (in recognition of the role the cultural sector can and does play in supporting the economy)
  • ring-fenced savings generated from efficiencies resulting from a robust shared services approach between the council, Newcastle University and other partners
  • an opportunity to bid for public health funding, where arts and culture organisations can demonstrate benefits to health and wellbeing.

In addition, we will make it easy for individuals and businesses to top up the endowment fund with donations.

We will therefore continue to ensure there is investment in our cultural institutions. We will also show our backing for arts and culture by creating a £6m capital investment loan facility for cultural and heritage organisations, rising to £9m if the need is demonstrated.

This will support our theatres, cinemas and other arts venues to invest in initiatives that will help them become more financially sustainable: for example, Live Theatre’s ambitions to redevelop the building behind the theatre, securing it a sustainable future income.

No-one doubts the value of the arts to our city, but they do require public funding and in the traditional funding model will always be a lesser priority than life or death services such as children’s social care or residential care for vulnerable adults.

With the Newcastle Culture Fund we are changing that funding relationship, moving away from old-fashioned revenue subsidy to sustainable investment in a sector that we know has many economic and social benefits.

In doing so we are leading the way in finding new ways of demonstrating our commitment to funding arts and culture in a time of austerity.

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