Shropshire Council gets its sums wrong on arts grants – they draw in ten times more money than it thinks

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.

3 thoughts on “Shropshire Council gets its sums wrong on arts grants – they draw in ten times more money than it thinks

  1. thanks for this information Andy. Sadly, in Shropshire we seem to be saddled with a council that is not only devious but daft, probably the latter is more worrying.

  2. The arts can only ever be a wise investment in this part of the UK, because one main reason why people come here in such large numbers is arts and leisure. We should be trying to find a way to get the Shakespeare performance in the Castle restored.

    One good idea might be to have the arts festivals of the summer partly during academic holiday time, to bring in pupils, students and teachers – all likely to welcome that kind of opportunity.

  3. Let’s hope they do reconsider their decisions Andy. Certainly it puts the future of the Ludlow Fringe into question which would be such a shame for the Ludlow community. This year we had around 1,000 people involved in the festival as performers, artists, writers, poets, dancers, singers, musicians, volunteers etc, and around 94% of them local to the area. When you think that we are a town of only 10,500, that means that 1 in 10 people (or 10% of the population) benefited from the Fringe. When adding up all of the audience numbers at ticketed and free events and street entertainment around the town over the 3 weeks of festival, it came to a stunning 16,000, so we certainly have engaged a much greater selection of the town and attracted more diverse audiences in from a much wider area. We used around 40 venues throughout the town, giving a greater opportunity for local businesses and organisations to promote themselves whilst supporting local creative talent. Also, by reducing the costs of all tickets for students and young people to just £6, we managed to raise the figures for participation and engagement of under 21’s to around 20%. It is hard to estimate the actual financial benefit to the town and to local businesses from such activity but certainly the £2000 which has been awarded to us annually from Shropshire Council over the past 3 years has been well matched, well spent and has reaped overwhelming rewards.

    I do hope they can recognise how short-sighted they are being and acknowledge the part the Arts play, not only in contributing toward the economic health of a community but just as importantly, in its social well-being, through the joy, opportunities, sense of pride, identity and bringing people together in a common celebration of creative talent.

    The Ludlow Fringe is having a public meeting at 7.30pm, on the 29th October, at the Ludlow Brewery to discuss how (and if) we can continue without this financial support. We would like as much feedback from our local community as possible and we will be looking for more volunteers to help take this fantastic community festival forward to 2016 and beyond.

    I do hope you can come along to support us Andy and to represent our case with the Shropshire County Council and I do urge anybody else reading this who has enjoyed the Ludlow Fringe over the past 3 years to share this information and to come along too.

    Anita Bigsby
    Festival Director – Ludlow Fringe

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