Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Promises from Conservatives

Back in April, when the election in the UK was in full swing, I noted the stark difference between the Conservative Party's platform (you know, the promises they were making in order to get elected) and that of our Republican party here in the US in terms of commitment to the arts:
[W]hat's happening in the UK is so encouraging, that I hope it sparks a wave of reconsideration in the US. The UK's Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto, just to give you a flavor of how it stands in stark contrast to anything the conservatives in the US would normally be associated with, states:
The Conservative Party is committed to fostering an environment in which sport, the arts, and the creative industries can flourish, and in which people can take control of the most enjoyable aspects of their lives.
In the Republican party's 2008 platform, for comparison, the word "art" or "arts" don't appear at all. Even the word "culture" is used only in the context of "military culture" or "culture of radical terror" or "faith and family, culture and commerce," etc. The only time the word "creative" appears was when discussing how "to master the global economy."

Turns out the difference is just in rhetoric. In practice, the two political parties are not so far apart. From Bloomberg [via]:
Prime Minister David Cameron, who took over in May, plans spending cuts and tax increases totaling 113 billion pounds ($174 billion) to shrink a deficit that has widened to 11 percent of economic output. In May, the arts got a 61 million-pound trim. Bigger scale backs will come by late October, with most departments facing inflation-adjusted cuts of 25 percent by 2015.
The potential impact of these plans has alarmed even London's Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson (not anyone's top pick for "Arts Lover of the Year"), who apparently sees the Prime Minister's plans as short-sighted:
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said that if the new U.K. government slashes arts spending too radically, everyone will suffer.

“The arts are part of a powerful machine that drives the London economy,” the mayor said in an interview in his office last night. “If you cut too savagely, if you cut the wrong things, the risk is that you will take away one of the things that makes London such an extraordinarily attractive place to live in and invest in.”

Johnson said he wasn’t merely backing the arts for their own sake. “In terms of cold, hard cash, they deliver in London,” he said, “and they deliver for some of the poorest and the neediest people in London, in the sense that they drive investment in our city.”

Mind you, all this comes on the heels of some seriously drastic decisions already made by Cameron's government:
The UK Film Council has been axed as part of the austerity measures being undertaken by the British coalition government.

British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a round of cuts Monday to the department for culture, media and sport, including abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

The UK Film Council, which has an annual operating budget of £15 million ($24 million), was set up by the previous Labour government to develop and promote British film. It also fostered the move to digital projection in the U.K.

It has funnelled $255 million in lottery money to produce over 900 films since 2000, including works such as Gosford Park, Man on a Wire and The Last King of Scotland.

It is the highest profile of 16 public bodies cut on Monday as Britain seeks to tame its huge deficit.

The Museums, Library and Archives Council, which has raised standards at regional museums, delivered national museums programs and fostered digitization in libraries and archives, is also to be abolished.
As Michael Chanan of Art Threat noted,
There is something very seriously rotten in the State when the Government can decide to abolish the Film Council to save £15m a year at the same time that the head of BP is said to be about to take a severance package of approaching the same amount.
Echoing Boris Johnson's observation that the Conservatives are being almost criminally short-sighted, Chanan also points out:
The disparity is all the more striking when you register that while BP is writing off more than £20 billion to pay for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Film Council has been responsible for allocating a mere £160m of Lottery funding to more than 900 films which have entertained over 200 million people and helped to generate over £700 million at the box office worldwide, or almost £5 for every £1 of Lottery money thus invested. [emphasis mine]
I know the economy in the UK is in tatters, but recklessly dismantling what their capital's own Conservative mayor calls "a powerful machine that drives the London economy" seems like the last step someone seriously concerned with amending that situation would be taking.

Labels: arts funding, politics, UK


Blogger annell said...

After all, I'm sure the government only makes cuts to things that aren't important. And who needs art?
Thanks for the post.

7/29/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's not the return of Thatherism, it is too close for comfort regardless. The UK Film Council decision is a horrendous one indeed.

----ondine nyc

7/29/2010 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous melekler korusun final said...

thank you

7/29/2010 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

There are problems with these multiplier-effect arguments, such as the invidious one presented by Chanan at the end of the post and the ones presented by Polly Toynbee yesterday. The revenues are being generated across a long supply chain. That chain has costs associated with it, and the margins along the way are at times razor-thin. (So thin, in fact, that the specter of darkened theaters, excuse me, the spectre of darkened theatres, rises along with talk of budget cuts.) That end sum can find no easy way back to the initial investor as a dividend except in terms of national pride and other intangibles. It's not like you can drop off a pound sterling today and pick up five next week. It's more like you drop off a pound sterling and next week somebody else picks up five pounds after spending £4.85 on cheese and crackers for the theater's green room. And even then you have to buy your own ticket to see the play. By equivalent accounting, one could say that even the £20 billion BP settlement will create financial benefits for all concerned far in excess of that figure given enough time, but BP would rather keep that money to do with what it pleased than be obliged to spend it in the way it must. Whether you feel the same way about the contents of your wallet depends on a more subjective calculation than is characterized by a fivefold ROI.

The sad thing about all this is that you might as well make a fake fiscal argument in support of the arts because the arguments to defund it are equally fake. In the US, the FY2010 budget for the NEA is $161 million. That figure would fund the Iraq War for five hours. It would fund Medicare for three hours. UK numbers are harder to find but the number discussed regarding the film program, £160 million, is about what England spends in Iraq in one day. You could ax that film program and another just like it, and the savings would disappear over the weekend. Targeting arts programs for budget cuts is criminally unserious in the face of legitimately frightening problems facing the world economies.

7/29/2010 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Targeting arts programs for budget cuts is criminally unserious in the face of legitimately frightening problems facing the world economies.

Not to mention a direct reversal in terms of stated priorities before the election.

Nice, accessible explanation of the financial realities, Franklin. Thanks.

7/30/2010 08:21:00 AM  

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