Why I’m not convinced by the ’50p for culture’ campaign

This article is written by our Director, Vicky Prior, and is not intended to wholly reflect the views of League of Culture


This week, the National Campaign for the Arts launched their ’50p for culture’ campaign. The campaign website is an excellent tool. The NCA have painstakingly collated data from every local council in England and worked out their spend per head on culture. In doing so, they have discovered that almost every council falls short of their recommended spend of 50p per head, per week.


By accessing the website you can not only view the data as a whole but crucially, can run a postcode search on your local area to find out how well your council performs. I didn’t need to run a search for the area where League of Culture is based, Huntingdonshire has been given a special place in the list of the 10 worst councils for cultural spend.


So far so good, for the campaign if not for my local council. But here’s where I encountered a problem. The average spend on cultural activities by English councils is 16p per head per week. If you go through the list, only 3 councils hit 50p or over. Of these, 1 council (City of London) spends an astonishing £70.68, a figure so far above all the other councils that it should really be discounted from any fair study.


The NCA decided to campaign for a spend of 50p following a poll that found 63% of respondents thought local councils should spend at least this amount on culture. Well that’s lovely to read, but how realistic is it that this wish will be granted? We all know that times are tough and local authority budgets are painfully squeezed. The country is burdened by a large deficit, and however much we might hate the cuts to culture sector funding, at both national and local level, most of us have accepted that some cuts were necessary. We also know that whoever wins the next General Election, the new Chancellor won’t be flooding the culture sector with money. The tough times are here to stay.


I would suggest that if all but 3 of the entirety of England’s local councils have fallen short of this 50p target, then it is simply not achievable in the current economic climate. Would it not be far more beneficial for the culture sector if we were to concentrate on making strong arguments for the value of culture that ensured savage cuts were not inflicted on us again. I believe we should be looking at how to do more with what little money we have, rather than attempting to get more money.


If the average spend by English councils is 16p, then let’s praise those councils who are spending that and look at ways to help those councils who are not. Let’s work with other government departments to investigate how cross sector collaboration can shift burdens.


League of Culture and the NCA are in complete agreement that the value of culture goes far beyond economics. So let’s move away from money matters for a time and discover what we can do to help local councils see the true value of the art it funds. We’re creative people, the time has come for us to find creative solutions.