Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Thursday, 12 March 2009

Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts in Northern Ireland

12 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Raymond McCartney (Acting Chairperson)
Mr Francie Brolly
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

The Acting Chairperson (Mr McCartney):

I refer members to the Research and Library Service’s paper ‘Per Capita Spend on the Arts in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland’. The paper provides information in respect of point 1 of the terms of reference of the Committee’s inquiry into the funding of the arts in Northern Ireland which is:

“To compare the per capita spend on the arts in Northern Ireland with that of other Europe countries/regions, and to establish the rationale which other countries/regions have used in order to increase their spend on the arts.”

I invite Meadhbh McCann from the Research and Library Service to brief members, and I will then invite members to ask questions.

Ms Meadhbh McCann (Research and Library Services):

The presentation provides information in relation to the per capita spend on the arts in the regions of the United Kingdom, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. The paper on the per capita spend on the arts in the UK and the Republic of Ireland is part of a larger piece of research covering arts funding in Europe, which is forthcoming.

With respect to the United Kingdom’s financing of culture, the public expenditure statistical analyses (PESA) 2007 — produced by the UK HM Treasury — completed the regional distribution figures in January and February 2007. The statistics included by the PESA included current and capital spending by the Department and its non-departmental public bodies’ and public corporations’ capital expenditure. The statistics do not include capital finance to public corporations, payments to local authorities or local authorities’ own expenditure. The data are based on identified expenditure on services that are also capable of being analysed for the benefit of individual countries and regions.

The PESA found that, in 2006-07, the per capita spend on the arts by Government via Arts Councils was as follows: the Arts Council of England spent £8·19; the Scottish Arts Council spent £11·93; the Arts Council of Wales spent £8·80; and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland spent £6·13.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland states that the per capita spend on the arts in Northern Ireland is the lowest across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The following are the statistics for arts per capita spend in the UK and the Republic of Ireland for 2008-09: £14·04 in Scotland; £10·10 in Wales; £8·47 in England; €17·92 in the Republic of Ireland; and £7·58 in Northern Ireland.

The Arts Council of England published a report entitled ‘International Data on Government Spending on the Arts’. The report analysed the direct public arts spending in the following 10 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries: Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. That report states that comparing public arts spending across countries is a complicated task, partly because various countries have a variety of methods of defining and accounting for arts expenditure. The report highlights that a high economic output does not necessarily correlate with high public spend on the arts.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure does not have a commonly accepted indicator of the per capita spend on the arts in Northern Ireland. It is not aware of any benchmark data available for public expenditure in the arts that is sufficiently robust to be comparable with other jurisdictions. The Department states that further analytical work is required and should be based on statistics that are either collected or quality-assured by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

The Acting Chairperson:

I notice that some fruit has been brought to Mr Shannon and Mr Ramsey; I am not sure whether that is an experiment in healthy eating or in making sure that people do not speak for long. We will work that out at the end.

Mr Shannon:

Just to clarify, Pat and I are both diabetic, and that is the reason why we look for our pears and apples in the morning. I mentioned that to a member of the Committee staff, who very kindly bent the ear of someone out there; it is not that we are getting special treatment.

Mr Brolly:

I was thinking that the intelligence is very good here. [Laughter.]

The Acting Chairperson:

I thank Meadhbh for her presentation. Do members have any questions?

Mr Shannon:

Ken, do you want some fruit? [Laughter.]

Mr Brolly:

I am interested to know how the overall spend on the arts is divided between professional and amateur bodies. I do not to like to use the word “voluntary” because, unfortunately, if anyone volunteers, they are accepting that they are not going to get any help from the Arts Council, which will simply tell them to go ahead, as it can spend the money on other people.

Ms M McCann:

The per capita spend figure has been worked out for the sector as a whole, so it is a breakdown of what is being spent by the Department. I think that that figure will cover both professional and amateur bodies but I am not certain — I can find out whether that is the case.

Mr Brolly:

I appreciate that you would not have that information with you.

Ms M McCann:

My initial reaction is that it covers both sectors, but I will check that and come back to you.

Mr Brolly:

I am interested to know the proportion of money that is spent on the different types of bodies.

Mr P Ramsey:

Francie’s latter point about voluntary contributions is significant. How can the level of voluntary contributions in communities — in relation to small arts groups and musical societies, for example — be benchmarked and compared with that in other regions? In relation to per capita spend, is the figure of approximately £7·50 per capita in Northern Ireland, for example, inclusive of spend by local government, the Department for Social Development and the Department of Education?

The Arts Council distributes whatever it distributes of that £6·13 per capita, so does that other £1·50 per capita come from a range of other sources?

Ms M McCann:

The £6·13 per capita is the UK Treasury figure for the previous year, 2006-07. The figure for Northern Ireland that the Arts Council has supplied for the current year, 2008-09, is £7·58 per capita, and that includes amounts that have been ring-fenced for the creative industries initiative fund, Arts and Business Northern Ireland, the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s and the Royal Society of Ulster Architects. It encompasses all of those funding streams, and the money is ring-fenced for 2008-09.

Mr P Ramsey:

I am still not sure of the numbers that are coming directly from DCAL, but we are aware of funding streams from the Department of Education and local government, and from DSD for urban regeneration. I am not clear whether that is a definitive figure. Is the per capita spend in England inclusive? In England, local government has greater devolved powers, so separate allocations are made to the arts. Can figures be provided on that?

Ms M McCann:

I can try to get a greater breakdown of the figure, but issues that have been raised about the per capita spend go back to issues of clarity and whether the indicator itself is robust enough in trying to find commonality with the different jurisdictions and how that is broken down. Each jurisdiction picks the economic rationale methodology to get its per capita spend out at the end, and that might be different for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is where the difficulty lies in using that comparative indicator as a comparable function.

Perhaps using a figure such as gross domestic product (GDP) would have more statistical robustness because it would allow consideration of the wealth of a country divided by the amount that is spent on arts, rather than using a per capita figure. I shall find out whether such a breakdown of figures exists.

Mr K Robinson:

The figure that is spent on the arts in the Republic of Ireland appears to be extremely generous. Is that because tax regimes there are geared to bring film industries forward and to encourage writers? The figure appears to be extremely generous, and, historically, the Republic of Ireland has had a greater input into the arts than we have had. Are there other factors at play that distort that figure?

Ms M McCann:

The Republic of Ireland has put much effort and emphasis into attracting sponsorship and donations from the business sector, so that work may be reflected in that figure. In its economic breakdown, the Republic of Ireland may be including donations and not ring-fencing those. That could make the figure higher than perhaps it is in reality. A couple of countries include donations from outside, and that is included in their breakdown. That boosts their figure, but the Government spend is not that, so it should be lower when compared with other countries, and, because it has been factored in, it does not give a true reading.

Mr K Robinson:

That adds to Pat’s point that local government puts a significant sum into the arts here. Has that been factored into our figure, or is that being looked at separately? For example, Newtownabbey Borough Council, of which I am a member, has a multi-million pound theatre development going on. Is such spending factored into the figures?

Ms M McCann:

Spending by local authorities is not included in the UK PESA figure.

Mr Shannon:

I wish to back up Pat’s point that the contributions that local councils make are significant, not only through the money that they spend each year but through the money that they have in their buildings. Do the figures on local council spending take account of those running costs?

I always felt, in all honesty, and not being disrespectful to the Arts Council, that our figures were quite low. I am not sure whether they are accurate either. I believe that our contribution to the arts is significant. It is nowhere near the level of the contribution that is made in the Republic of Ireland, nor does it match that of Scotland; nonetheless, when it is quantified, it will be more significant than it is perceived to be.

My other concern is that it is difficult, while we are conducting an inquiry into arts funding, to consider extra funding above and beyond what is already being provided. In all honesty, people are more concerned about jobs, health and education at the moment. We can all say what our priorities should be, but, in the current situation, it may not be the best time to recommend extra spending on the arts. I do not wish to take away from the importance of the arts; there is always a need to prioritise.

You have given us all the figures, but I believe that the contribution of local councils is significant. I know that the arts committee of Ards Borough Council, on which Kieran and I sit, is very active, and pursues a wide range of projects. Cultural pursuits come under the banner of community relations; it is not just about the arts. The good relations officers, as they are now known, play their part through their work for local councils, and that must be taken into consideration. Spending on the arts might rise dramatically. I suspect that our spending would be ahead of England’s, and might be equal to the contribution that is made in Wales.

Ms M McCann:

That ties in with what the Department said about the per capita spending indicator. It might not be the best mechanism for determining spending, because it does not highlight that input. If more statistical research were carried out, a more appropriate way of calculating spending could be discovered that has that robustness and could show all the different elements that feed into a figure. That would be better than excluding many other elements, because they cannot be included if a per capita spend indicator is insisted on in order to show arts funding. From what I have read, that is what the Department is saying. These figures are not the best available, because they do not show the true picture.

Mr Shannon:

Is the issue of language — Irish or Ulster Scots — under consideration? That is part of our culture, and should be included under the arts heading. Is that being taken on board?

Ms M McCann:

The figures are based on the amount of Government funding that is issued. Language will be part of the package that emerges.

Mr Shannon:

Has that been considered under the per capita indicator up until now?

Ms M McCann:

I will have to check on that, but I do not believe that it is excluded. The money comes directly from Government, so it should be included in the figure. I will check whether that money has been ring-fenced and come back to you about it.

Mr Shannon:

It would be helpful if we had an indication of what has been ring-fenced. That would give us a better feel for how the figure was arrived at.

Mr Brolly:

I want to follow Ken’s point. These figures are not much use to us because the Arts Council of England report did not include quite significant sums of money, particularly tax foregone across the border. It would be interesting if it was possible to get a round figure on what contribution that makes to arts funding. I am sure that it is huge; it has to be. We have no tax-varying powers, but if we could create something similar here, it could augment what are, in reality, poor figures.

Mr K Robinson:

Building on what Francie said, the current trade mission to America is actively pursuing the issue of arts funding by talking to the film industry. Therefore, perhaps that is something that we should look at more seriously.

Mr Brolly:

The boom in the film industry across the border was down to tax relief.

Mr P Ramsey:

I respect and understand in general Jim’s point that now is not a good time to have an inquiry into arts funding. However, the whole principle of having an inquiry is based on the fact that we do not know how the arts can contribute to, and pay dividends for, people’s health and well-being. We also do not know how the arts contribute to social and urban regeneration, to targeting social need, to the economy — particularly when one considers the number of jobs that the creative industries create — and to all the other ailments of society. Therefore, an unknown quantity exists.

I think that now is a good time for an inquiry. With respect, Jim, I go against what you said. I think that now is a good time to get the evidence that is required and evaluate that. The same argument can be used for sport, which is what we will look at next. A lot of evidence suggests that the long-term advantage of investing in sports is that less money will need to be is spent on health services. We need to evaluate that as part of the inquiry.

Mr Shannon:

For clarification, I did not say that we should not have an inquiry. I simply pointed out that a lot of people do not equate the money that it is invested in the arts with the benefits that they can bring. We are all elected representatives — what is the biggest issue that constituents raise? People are concerned about their jobs, among other issues. That is my point; that is all that I am saying. I am not saying that we should not have an inquiry. We will have an inquiry, and we will see how we can promote the arts more positively and significantly.

Mr Brolly:

Interestingly, I had conversation with Malcolm Murchison, manager of Flowerfield Arts Centre, before this Committee meeting started, and he made that very point. He said that the arts contribute to people’s health as much — if not more, in some cases — as hospitals.

The Acting Chairperson:

Before we finish, Meadhbh, when you undertook your research into arts funding, was there any sort of regional examination of per capita spend? For example, was more spent on arts funding per capita in London than in other parts of England? Was there a heavy concentration of spend in and around certain areas in the South?

Ms M McCann:

Figures in the public expenditure statistical analysis, which was carried out in 2007, included a bare breakdown of per capita spend for the UK. That showed a higher concentration of per capita spend in more urban areas. I have not found such a breakdown for the Republic of Ireland. I can provide you with a copy of the figures for England.

Mr Shannon:

There was some concern a while ago about the fact that £1·5 million had been spent on art for the Royal Victoria Hospital. One woman who had an operation at the hospital told me that when she was in the operating theatre, she did not care whether there was an abstract painting or a landscape painting on the wall; she simply wanted her operation to be over. She said that it did not make any difference to her. That is my point.

Sometimes, we need to be sure that what is happening is for the benefit of the people. That woman was more interested in getting her operation over with and getting out of hospital. She did care whether there was a lovely landscape painting or an abstract picture on the wall. She was not interested; she simply wanted to get out of there.

The Acting Chairperson:

It is good that she knew the difference between an abstract picture and a landscape picture. [Laughter.]

Mr Shannon:

It is easy to tell the difference.

The Acting Chairperson:

Meadhbh, thank you very much.

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