Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 02 July 2009

Per Capita Spend on the Arts in Northern Ireland

2 July 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr P J Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McCausland)

Ms Anne Tohill ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Ms Linda Wilson )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

We will now have an evidence session with the newly appointed Minister, Nelson McCausland, who previously served as a member of the Committee, and departmental officials. The Minister took his position with effect from yesterday. The written submission and the Minister’s response on per capita spend issues are included in members’ packs. I welcome the newly appointed Minister, Nelson McCausland, and congratulate him on his appointment. Fair play and good luck to you.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McCausland):

Thank you. I am accompanied by Linda Wilson, the director of culture, and Anne Tohill, the head of arts and creativity. I will start with my introductory statement, which I will keep as brief as I can so that there will be more time for questions, as I know that is what the Committee would prefer.

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute further to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee’s inquiry into the funding of the Arts in Northern Ireland. I welcome the inquiry and acknowledge the Committee’s important role in engaging with the diverse range of stakeholders in the arts sector and its understanding of the specific issues that impact on the sector.

The inquiry is timely, not least because of the current economic climate and the difficulties that that has presented to many arts organisations that are seeking to secure much-needed funding and ensure their ongoing sustainability and viability. It is incumbent on all of us to do all that we can to explore ways in which to support and help our economy recover from the current difficulties. I am convinced that continued investment in the arts, in our creative people and in the creative sector generally will make an important contribution to that recovery.

Over the past few months, the Committee has gathered evidence from a wide range of stakeholders. It is clear that there is much support for the arts sector and a genuine desire to ensure that appropriate levels of funding are allocated to the arts to enable the sector to continue to grow and develop. It is also apparent that there is widespread recognition of the many benefits to be gained from such funding. The arts and creative sectors contribute to the cultural, social and economic life of all the people of Northern Ireland. In addition, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) estimates that more than 36,300 people were employed in the creative industries or creative occupations in Northern Ireland in 2007. That equates to 4·6% of the workforce, which demonstrates the significance of the creative sector.

It has been recognised for some time that the most prosperous economies are characterised by a strong creative sector. Creativity generates innovation, and the two are inseparable. In turn, innovation drives productivity by introducing new and higher value added products and processes, leading, ultimately, to wealth creation. We must ensure, through our investment in the arts and creative sectors, that we continue to foster and promote creativity in our young people through all stages and structures of our education system, our businesses and the workforce in general.

I am sure that the Committee shares my goal of ensuring that we have the best model possible for the allocation and distribution of funding for the arts. I recognise that we have a responsibility to make the case for the importance of arts funding. However, it would be unrealistic to do so without recognising the very tight public expenditure conditions in which we currently work. We are competing with other Departments for scarce resources and we need to be realistic as to what we can achieve and deliver. In that context, it is imperative to have a funding model in place, which will enable us to continue to provide sufficient levels of support for the development of the arts in Northern Ireland, while delivering value for money.

In its terms of reference, the Committee identified a number of areas on which it wished to focus. My Department has provided a detailed written response about the specific elements of the terms of reference of the inquiry. The first point is about per capita spend on the arts. Currently, there is no universally accepted indicator of that nature, which creates a difficulty. It is vital that any comparisons made are like for like and that they adequately capture all public expenditure on the arts here and in other justifications.

The second point is about innovative approaches to funding. With regard to innovative approaches of sourcing additional funding, private-sector giving and philanthropy have been an increasingly important source of support to the arts in recent years, and we should do everything possible to encourage that. We see that in other countries, and it is something that needs to be encouraged here. However, we have already seen examples of how the more challenging economic climate is influencing funding from those sources. That, in the immediate term, could make it difficult for many arts organisations to continue with current levels of activity.

As mentioned, we must also recognise that public funding of the arts also directly supports the creative sector which is a sector of considerable significance to the current and future prosperity of the Northern Ireland economy. Given the economic significance of the creative industries, it is important to understand how other regions and countries provide funding to the creative sector and that we benchmark the levels of funding that is made available.

The third term of reference of the Committee’s inquiry deals with the economic and social benefits of investing in the arts, and I already outlined the range of such benefits associated with that investment. However, there is no commonly agreed approach to the measurement of that, nor is there an accepted multiplier that can easily be applied to capture direct and indirect employment and productivity effects. That lack of a commonly agreed approach has been widely recognised, and to attempt to assess the impact at a Northern Ireland level would require a bank of relevant data to be collected, which would then need to be built up and quality assured. That would take time to construct and would require additional resources.

The fourth term of reference of the Committee’s inquiry deals with the allocation of funding across art forms. The Arts Council is undertaking a review of it grant-making process, which will include consideration of a number of the issues that are listed in Committee’s terms of reference for this inquiry. The Department provided the Committee with a detailed breakdown of the funding provided by the Arts Council to its funded organisations, which I hope will prove to be of assistance to the Committee in its deliberations.

It is important that there is a balanced allocation of funding to various art forms and to the professional, voluntary and community sectors. I believe that the Arts Council is seeking to ensure an equitable distribution of funds, bearing in mind the high demand for such funding. Programmes and initiatives being taken forward by the Arts Council and Northern Ireland Screen are contributing to a range of Government objectives including those that are set out in ‘A Shared Future’.

The fifth term of reference of the Committee’s inquiry deals with how other regions allocate funding for the arts. It is important to understand and, where appropriate, learn from the funding- allocation process used by other organisations that provide public funding to the arts. However, every region is different and Northern Ireland, like other regions, has its own unique cultural demographic and social characteristics that are reflected in the allocation of funds to various art forms.

Finally, the sixth term of reference of the Committee’s inquiry deals with whether there are art forms in receipt of sufficient funding, and whether funding is being directed at targeting areas of social need and is contributing to the regeneration of communities. The Department agrees that it is important to ensure that funding is allocated to those arts activities where there is a clear need and demand for funding, and where the greatest impact against a range of indicators can be achieved.

It is clear that the arts can play a key role in addressing issues of social exclusion, in targeting social need and in contributing to the economic, physical and social regeneration of deprived communities. A considerable element of the Arts Council’s funding has been directed at projects and initiatives for that purpose, but I understand that the Arts Council is currently unable to meet the very high levels of demand for funding through its various funding streams.

Ultimately, the Executive has to manage within the resources that are allocated to it by the Treasury. There are competing demands across Departments, and those must be managed within the Northern Ireland expenditure limit.

In conclusion, I very much welcome the Committee’s inquiry into the funding for the arts and I look forward to its conclusions and recommendations. I believe that those will be of benefit to the Department and to me.

Mr McCarthy:

I thank the Minister for his presentation. I congratulate him on his appointment and I wish him every success for the future.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

No doubt just for the moment.

Mr McCarthy:

Indeed. You spoke briefly about per capita spend on the arts. The Department made the point that the figures that were produced by the Arts Council on per capita spend do not include spend by other Government Departments or local councils. It also said that it is not possible to use per capita figures to draw robust conclusions on either the over-provisions or under-provision of spend on the arts in Northern Ireland. Given that statement, am I correct in thinking that the Department’s view is that the arts are adequately funded in Northern Ireland?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

The conclusion that you are drawing may not be correct. There are difficulties in drawing comparisons across jurisdictions and countries. As I said in my presentation, every area is different, and we have structures of Government here that do not exist in other places. For example, representatives here from the greater Belfast area will be aware of the amount of money that is directed into the arts through the Belfast Regeneration Office and the Department for Social Development. There are other sources of European funding which may not appear in other areas, such as the Peace III funding and so on. There are differences in that regard, and therefore, as you acknowledged, there is a difficulty with drawing comparisons. However, that does not in any way diminish the fact that we believe that more money should be directed towards the arts. I agree with you fully on that. The one caveat is the competition across Departments.

Mr McCarthy:

I am grateful for your response. What you are saying is that the arts could do with more funding, if the money was available.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

You expressed the caveat: “if the money was available”. However, the case must be presented as robustly as possible, and the Department is certainly committed to doing that.

Mr McNarry:

You are welcome, Minister. On the back of what you said to Kieran, perhaps there is a distinction to be made between funding for the arts and funding for the Arts Council. What are the Department’s criteria for defining arts, and, on the basis of that, allocating funding directly to the Arts Council?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Definitions can sometimes be constrictive or inclusive, but the Department is willing to make the definition as broad and inclusive as possible. Some activities have sometimes not received as much recognition in the past as I would like. By way of example, the biggest community arts sector in Northern undoubtedly consists of people who play music in bands. In looking at the hundreds of those across Northern Ireland, the number of people playing in them and so on, it has to be recognised as the biggest community arts activity that exists, yet sometimes it is not seen as art. I want the Department to be broad and inclusive, not just in regard to the general definition of arts. Sometimes people try to define community arts, voluntary arts and professional arts in distinct ways, and draw strict lines between them. That is not particularly helpful, because there is often an overlap. There are community and voluntary arts organisations that are very professional in the way they do things. There are lots of professional artists who work with community and voluntary arts organisations. An earlier Assembly report produced a definition of community arts that took a broad approach, which I think is a good one. Community arts is effectively art that is happening in the community. We should keep definitions as broad as possible, and seek not to be restrictive.

Mr McNarry:

I am satisfied with your answer. I do not want to put words into your mouth, but you seem to be saying that the definitions should be not only broad but flexible.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Indeed.

Mr McNarry:

In saying that, do you think that the Arts Council has the capacity to address those issues?

The Minister of Culture Arts and Leisure:

To take the area to which I referred earlier, the funding that has been provided by the Arts Council for musical instruments for bands has been a positive development, and has enabled that sector to engage with the Arts Council in a way that it did not previously. I use that as an example, but the same principle applies across a range of sectors. At the end of the day, the Arts Council is an arm’s-length body, and the Department’s influence is, therefore, limited. The Committee has been closely examining the relationship between arm’s-length bodies and the Department, and it will want to ensure flexibility for the Arts Council. This is only my second day as Minister, and I have not yet had the opportunity to meet the Arts Council. However, I note your point and will raise it during my conversation with the Arts Council.

Mr McNarry:

I appreciate that it is only your second day, but how does the Department determine what percentage of its overall budget should be spent on the arts as opposed to on other areas that it funds? I do not want to enter a funding competition. I am keen on the arts, as you know, but I am also keen on sport. Do the arts sit below, above or alongside other funding from the Arts Council?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I will hand that over question to Linda.

Ms Linda Wilson (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

From a departmental perspective, both are key strands of our work. However, when it comes to the allocation of money, we have to submit bids to the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) as part of the budgetary process and make the case for the arts or whatever other funding we want. DFP then scrutinises those bids.

Mr McNarry:

Excuse me; I know all that. Do you bid equally, place one strand above the other, or does it vary?

Ms L Wilson:

It varies depending on the priority that the Department attaches to the individual bid that we are submitting at the time. DFP always considers the order of priorities.

Mr McNarry:

I am not too concerned about what DFP does. I am more concerned about your approach to the work that challenges you. I sit on the Committee for Finance and Personnel. I am trying to determine what leeway exists. As the Minister said, there is the question of flexibility. You are saying that you exercise the same flexibility when it comes to bidding. However, I want to get an overall picture of where the arts sit on the Arts Council’s ladder. I did not want to introduce sport, but, compared with sport, where do the arts sit?

Ms L Wilson:

It depends on the bid; it varies.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

In a sense, we are considering what is needed, and that shapes how much money is sought, through bidding, for a particular sector in DCAL, whether it is libraries, the arts, museums or sport.

Mr McNarry:

The Arts Council is carrying out a review. If, during that review, a particular gap in community funding was identified and a bid was made, would it be considered on a level playing field? In line with policy, would you be likely to bid for an increase in funding to fill that gap?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

As I said earlier, bids may be submitted but whether they are successful is another matter.

Mr McNarry:

The intention behind the bid is also important.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

If the Arts Council identifies a particular need that has not been accommodated until now, it would be incumbent on it, having recognised that need, to consider how it could be met within its budget.

Mr D Bradley:

Fair fye til ye, Minister. Tá céad míle fáilte romhat. Congratulations on your appointment, I wish you success in your post. I was reading through your Department’s response to the Committee’s inquiry. I particularly noted the part that is pertinent to the per capita spend. In the Department’s view, public and private sources of funding should be taken into account. I disagree with that, and contend that we would get a more objective view of the issue and a better comparison of the various regions if we were to use public money alone. Does the Minister not agree that a Department such as his and a Statutory Committee such as this one should be more focused on the per capita public spend, and look on philanthropic donations and so on as an added bonus?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I will take comments from the officials who are here, but I made the point earlier that one of the difficulties is that there are different structures in each of the jurisdictions. The result of that is that there are other sources of public funding in Northern Ireland that may not exist in other parts of the United Kingdom. Therefore, we are not always comparing like for like when we look at this arts council or that arts council. A huge amount of the community arts infrastructure was built around Peace II; I hope that it will receive some money under Peace III as well. That is something that does not exist anywhere else, so it is not quite a like for like situation. I acknowledge that the priority has to be on the public sector funding. However, that does not and should not in any way diminish either the departmental or, indeed, the Committee’s responsibility to encourage and facilitate those other sources of funding. It is not about choosing either a or b; it is about encouraging a and b. Having looked at the arts in other countries, there is a different attitude to philanthropy and private-sector funding.

I recall that, during the conversations that we had when I was a member of the Committee, we talked to people who were dealing with the issue of private-sector funding, such as Arts & Business. There are differences even within regions of the United Kingdom. It is easier, sometimes, for businesses in London or wherever to put money into the arts than for businesses here, because they have more control over the budget in other regions than we might have where a subsidiary of a UK-wide business is involved. I acknowledge your initial point that there has to be a priority on securing what we can for the arts.

Mr D Bradley:

Having read the Department’s paper, I got the feeling that there is a tendency to over-complicate the matter to the extent when comparisons might become meaningless. I contend that it is more sensible to take a more confined view of per capita spending. It is probably more reliable if we look at it, initially at least, in the public sphere.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I have no difficulty in folk making comparisons with different regions. In Northern Ireland, however, money may well come in from the Exchequer and be directed into another Department, but still end up by an indirect route being spent on the arts. It is important to take all those factors into account when we are looking at figures.

Mr D Bradley:

I agree with that.

Ms Anne Tohill (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

One of the reasons that we would like to understand private-sector investment is to see where we are at in comparison to other regions and then, if necessary, consider what the policy response to that should be. If, for example, we know that we raised £8·53 million from private investment in the arts, and compare it to other regions as a percentage of the overall investment, should we be doing more? Organisations that the Department funds through the Arts Council, such as Arts & Business, are proactive in working with the business sector to encourage that, but we do need to understand the totality, if possible, so that we can formulate a policy response.

Mr D Bradley:

The representatives of the Arts Council told us this morning that the system of comparison that it uses reveals that Northern Ireland comes out as one of the lowest recipients of funding. It added that if we were to add in the philanthropic donations from the private sector and so on, we would come out even worse in a comparison.

Ms Tohill:

We highlighted some of the concerns about the figures. They do not include, for example, the Department’s capital spend. This year alone, more than £10 million has been allocated for arts capital projects. Like the Arts Council, we want to ensure that we have a similar understanding of the spend. There are other factors. For example, Scotland has the Scottish Ballet and a national theatre. We do not have those, and we do not know whether we could sustain them if we did. If a comparison is undertaken, it is important to understand what is being compared and whether a region such as Northern Ireland needs exactly the same investment as other regions.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I will pick up on a point that Anne made. Over the past number of years in Northern Ireland, we have directed quite a large amount of resources towards building up the regional infrastructure. Many towns across Northern Ireland now have their own dedicated arts centres. Newtownabbey Borough Council has the Ballyearl Arts and Leisure Centre, and it now has plans for further developments. We are seeing a huge growth in that area. That was needed because it was an issue that was not addressed over the years during the Troubles, so resources have been directed towards that. We do not need three arts centres in every town, so there comes a point at which that process will have met its target and reached fruition. It may well be that there are then opportunities to see how we can reprofile.

Mr Shannon:

Minister, it is good to see you. You heard it first in Jordanstown when I said that the winds of change were coming and that Tornado McCausland would be taking over. You are here, and it is good news. The only thing is that we did not put any money on it. Ken and I were just saying that if we had bet on it, we would have gained an advantage out of it. It is good to see you here.

Mr McNarry:

What a crawler. Did you ever hear the like of it? [Laughter.]

The Minister of Culture Arts and Leisure:

He does it very well.

The Chairperson:

Jim, do you have a question about the inquiry?

Mr Shannon:

I have a question, but I wanted an interlude beforehand.

Mr McNarry:

Do you need some money for something in Greyabbey?

Mr Shannon:

I am sure that I will ask for the Minister’s help at some stage, but that is by the by.

As a member of this Committee, you will have heard witnesses indicating that there should be a cross-departmental attitude to issues such as sport, culture and leisure. That approach would bring advantages, whether in health, education, through tourism or social development. Has any thought been given to having a cross-departmental approach to see what benefits can be brought?

The Chairman and I once attended an education event in the Long Gallery. We could clearly see the benefits for the young people who were there. Has thought and real focus been given to that issue? It is something of which we have not seen enough. Has an interdepartmental group been set up to look at the matter? If so, can we have some feedback?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I welcome your question because it raises and important issue, which Anne will respond to.

Ms Tohill:

At present, there is not a cross-departmental or formal strategy for the arts. Having said that, however, as members will be aware, the Department works with other Departments on various initiatives that support the arts sector, an example of which is the Re-imaging Communities programme, in which the Department for Social Development, the Department of Education, the International Fund for Ireland and the PSNI are all involved. There are many examples of cross-departmental working.

A further example is the creative industries innovation fund, in which we work with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Department for Employment and Learning, and the Department of Education. We are conscious that there have been several representations to the Committee about that. It is probably an area that requires further consideration, but we feel that we are working as closely as we can with other Departments on various arts issues.

The Arts Council also takes account of the Minister’s priorities in delivering its corporate and business plans each year. Again, a lot of the initiatives that the Arts Council take forward are in partnership with other organisations and Departments.

Mr Shannon:

It is important to have that issue considered so that it is at least on the table and in the mindset of your Department. One of example of that is the fly-fishing festival that we have every year in Killyleagh. The idea behind it is to bring in young people who are involved in antisocial behaviour. It takes all the bodies working together to make that happen. DCAL has a part to play, although the funding role has not been as apparent as it should have been. The PSNI, the Department for Social Development and the council are involved, as is everyone who is feeding into education, health, and so on. It is important that we explore those areas, because the benefits are clear. I could talk about them at length, but I will not. Let us have a real focus. I am disappointed that there has not been an interdepartmental group approach yet, but I am encouraged that you are looking at that. I will be more encouraged if you come back and tell us what you are going to do. Perhaps at some stage in the not-too-distant future we could have some detail about how that would come together.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Yes, I think that that is something that we will want to consider. At the moment, as Anne said, there are individual examples of cross-departmental co-operation. As people see the value and benefits of that, an atmosphere can be created in which people are more prepared to consider taking it a stage further. We will certainly take that on board.

Mr Shannon:

I appreciate that; thank you very much.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

One caveat that I would attach to that is that, if people enter into a cross-departmental working group, it is important that they do not simply come with their two arms the one length.

Mr Shannon:

Absolutely, they must come with deep pockets.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I am delighted to hear that point from you, Jim. A key issue is that they bring a contribution to the table.

Mr Shannon:

Yes; I accept that.

Lord Browne:

Minister, I congratulate you on your well-merited promotion. I am confident that, with your expertise and knowledge, the arts and sport will flourish under your control.

Mr Shannon:

Have you got your list then?

Lord Browne:

Some organisations that the Committee has heard from, especially the smaller ones, have expressed concern that they are struggling to meet the day-to-day expenses to pay their staff, to commission projects and to fund research work. It is difficult for them to do that when they do not know when they will receive funding. Can you clarify when the Department provides funding to the arts? Is it on an annual or a three-year basis? Many organisations would benefit from funding being on a three-year basis. If the Department were to provide funding for a three-year block, the Arts Council could do that as well. Many small organisations find the financial situation difficult, especially in the current economic crisis when the banks are on their backs. If funding was on a longer-term rather than an annual basis, organisations would know whether they were going to receive funding and it could be released earlier.

Ms L Wilson:

The Department is tied into the wider public expenditure process, which means that its budgets are confirmed for one year only and it cannot give formal commitments outside that. I do not know whether there is scope for the Arts Council to do something on the basis of a semi-formal understanding. However, the Department is tied formally to the annual letter of offer.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Some organisations see the benefits of three-year, funding. It creates more job security for their staff and it means that they do not have staff members coming in with one year’s funding and starting to look elsewhere for another job after six months, which results in the organisation not getting the best benefit. A difficulty with three-year funding is that it commits large amounts of money and smaller organisations that are trying to get in for the first time can have some difficulty. Longer-term funding has pros and cons that need to be considered carefully.

The Chairperson:

Is the Department satisfied with the way in which the Arts Council allocates its funding when investing in organisations and projects that have the greatest impact in social, economic and regeneration terms? Also, does the Department provide any guidance to the Arts Council on what its priorities for allocating funding should be?

Ms L Wilson:

The Department agrees the Arts Council’s corporate plan and annual business plan. When I say “agrees”, I mean that to prior that, a process of engagement takes place during which we discuss the priorities. If the Minister wants certain issues to be reflected in the plan, we work with the Arts Council to ensure that that is the case.

As regards the issue of investment, we look at the outcomes of formal evaluations to measure the impact that projects have on areas of social and economic regeneration. If there are issues of concern, we engage collaboratively with the Arts Council to address those.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

I intend to meet the Arts Council soon. In the past, I expressed my support for the contribution that the arts can make in regenerating communities that have certain social needs. I intend to raise issues such as areas of social need and communities that are under-represented in arts activity with the Arts Council at the earliest possible opportunity to get its views on such matters.

Mr McNarry:

I forgot to congratulate the Minister; it is nice to see that a former colleague from this Committee has been elevated to that post.

Mr Shannon:

After he did his apprenticeship here first.

Mr McNarry:

I do not whether it is a case of poacher turned gamekeeper, but there certainly is a fella here who owns plenty of guns and shoots anything on sight.

Mr Shannon:

For the record, I do not do that. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

The Committee intends to follow up in writing on a number of questions that were raised today. Thank you.

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