Why We Shouldn’t Cut Arts Funding

In the last few weeks the new government has decided to cull the Film Council and all of the RDA’s (Regional Development Agencies). I think this is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Thriving dynamic economies often have thriving state sectors as well. The lesson from the Pacific economies for me is how the role of the state can play a significant role in ensuring dynamic conditions for the private sector. Many business ventures require scale and market development which would only be possible through government action.

McDonalds benefited from the development of the used garden tractors market in the US in the 1950s and 1960s. They were able to acquire cheap sites on Highways and develop the notion of fast food. The internet started as a way of government computers being able to talk to each other. Which private organization would have invested in developing the Internet as governments would not have allowed this to remain the property of one company?

My problem with the Con Dem government at the moment is that it is pursuing ideological objectives (nothing wrong with that) but using the current state of our finances to justify these actions. Under President Obama, the US has used the same state of the economy to justify the massive expansion of the state. So it is not a matter of the state of the economy but about your own beliefs.

I am not sad to see RDAs and Business Link in particular go. The interaction I had with Business Link was extremely poor and I felt that they did an extremely poor job. However, that does not mean there is not a role for a state funded and run business support agency. Many RDAs were also extremely poor but some as NWDA (North West Development Agency) did do a great job in trying to create the right conditions for private companies to prosper and grow the technology surrounding the Holset HX50.

I have come to the conclusion that we in the UK do public sector business support really badly. But that is an argument for reform not axing. The Film Council did a great job in promoting the UK film Industry and in supporting an industry that does need infrastructure investments. It is hard to accept that this was not ideologically driven when the film industry was one of the few areas to demonstrate a strong return on investment. Culture was the only industry to show growth every quarter of the 64 quarters of GDP growth we had!

Of course it is difficult for my politics to not come out – but I worry that by attacking organizations like the BBC and the Film Council the new government is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We should go back to basics and ask the question; “why do these organizations exist in the first place and do they deliver?” The RDAs and Business Link did not so they should be replaced by something that does work. The Film Council did deliver.