A row blew up three weeks ago about Shropshire Council’s decision to axe funding for arts organisations, venues and festivals through its Revenue Client Grant Scheme. Barely had the ink dried on my blog post, when the council did a partial u-turn and said it would look at the matter again. It turns out that the council was making policy on the hoof without analysis of the financial consequences of its decisions. My view is that the council should guarantee the future of the arts grant scheme immediately.
Councillor Steve Charmley, the cabinet member who oversees the arts and much else, presented a report to a council meeting two days later. This is an extract:
Arts Revenue Clients: 32 Arts Organisations and Festivals have been commissioned for 2014/15, through the Revenue Client Grant Scheme… It’s expected in 2014/15, that the investment from Shropshire Council, will support these organisations in levering in £100,000, from grants and earned income.
We now know this is seriously inaccurate. Shropshire Council’s grants to arts organisations in 2014/15 didn’t lever £100K. They levered nearly £1 million. Almost ten times as much.
It seems that information presented to the council meeting was woefully incorrect. £1 million is not even in the same ballpark as £100K.
What any arts organisation will tell you is that when get a grant from a public body like Shropshire Council, they can use the kudos it awards them to persuade other funders to pay up. Portfolio holder Steve Charmley thought the Shropshire Council grant of £65K in 2014/15 drew in just an extra £100K of funding – a leverage of 1.5 times the council’s investment. In reality, the £65K underwrote £996K of funding – a leverage of 15 times the council’s investment. He could not have been more wrong.
The details are an extract from an email the council’s head of finance, sent in response to request from Lib Dem group leader, Councillor Roger Evans:
In 2013/14 Shropshire Council paid Arts Grants of £70,100 and in turn this levered in over £800,000 from Grants, earned income etc. from those arts organisations.
In 2014/15 Shropshire Council paid out slightly less in Arts Grants of £65,162 and in this year those arts organisations were able to lever in a further £996,000 from Grants and earned income.
As a council, we have to make difficult decisions in times of cuts. That means we need to use money where it makes the most impact. The seed corn money Shropshire Council has provided for the arts in the last two years has made a 15-fold return. That’s good value for money in anyone’s book and its exactly the way the council should be using its money.
There is now no excuse for Shropshire Council cancelling its arts grants. It should guarantee the future of the scheme immediately.