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NECP response to the most recent Department for Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry

1. Introduction

The North East Culture Partnership (NECP) welcomes the opportunity to respond to this DCMS Inquiry as the balance of funding between London and the Regions is vital to our regional vision. We also welcome the recent White Paper and the statements supporting leadership at regional and local levels, and fully agree that this is vital to place-making and increasing the ‘Equality of Access’ which the Prime Minister passionately supports in his introduction.

Since 2013 NECP has become the authentic regional voice for arts and heritage and is directly funded by our 12 Local Authorities, 5 Universities, and supported by the North East Chamber of Commerce, arts and heritage organisations across the North East of England. In 2014/15 we undertook a major consultation across 1000 people in the arts and heritage sectors in the North East to produce the North East of England’s regional strategy. Case for Culture (C4C) which the recent DCMS White Paper cited as ‘a template for what can be achieved and an ambitious vision for cultural development over the next 15 years”, is now being delivered through partnership across the region, nationally and, increasingly, internationally.

As well as a Board and advisory group, NECP continues to have a network of sub-groups – including Universities, Business and Festivals – and links to user and provider groups, such as culture-based What Next? and the regional Historic Environment Forum. As a result, the views of NECP are informed by the wider cultural, heritage and arts community in the region. Additionally, our links with the Local Enterprise Partnerships and the emerging Combined Authorities as well as the regional Chamber of Commerce ensure that our strategy is linked to the wider socio-economic agendas. The views presented in this paper, therefore, are well based and founded on this network.

Our Universities sub-group is making its own, linked submission.

2. Executive Summary of Key Points

Our submission addresses the seven areas raised by the Committee. In particular we focus on:
• The innovative nature of the partnership developed in the North East – NECP – and the opportunity it provides for delivering regionally agreed priorities, as articulated in the regional cultural strategy: The North East Case for Culture.
• The record of collaboration and the value the North East has consistently attached to arts and heritage over the past 20 years. Additionally, the role culture has played and continues to play in the socio-economic regeneration of the region. The region has shown itself willing and able to develop its own vision, based on wide-spread collaboration.
• The particular challenges that the North East faces in continuing our commitment to arts and heritage, including rurality, reduction in funding, potential loss of expertise and the need to invest in partnership building to enable new models of collaboration to be developed. We have come a long way on our journey and we are looking to continue.
• To achieve this, we want to ensure that the North East has more influence relating to culture including legislation, policy and funding. Our agreed regional cultural strategy can inform national policy-making and funding streams, including those of the exchequer and lottery distributors.

The following analysis is a regional response to the seven issues raised by the Committee.

3. The current funding situation for cultural sectors in the region and sub-regions.

• C4C identifies investment as a critical component for the delivery of the regional vision. We have a priority to increase investment from £100 million to £300million in the next 15 years and, through C4C, identify where this would be made to help arts and heritage bring further benefits to the region and its communities.
• Levels of investment and funding remain buoyant in some sectors and in some areas, building on a record of innovative and creative partnership, but more remains to be done.
• There has been limited change in the on-going need to significantly re-balance treasury resources, as re-iterated in the recent White Paper and the issue remains central to funding in the region.
• Indirect funding for culture and the heritage has reduced – the European Programmes, the former Regional Development Agencies and Government Offices were all important strategic partners and funders of culture and heritage in the region, acknowledging the important role culture plays in the region’s socio-economic well-being.
• The region has shown itself innovative in meeting new funding challenges and a number of its larger cultural institutions can point to their commercial success. The NE remains committed to working together to tackle funding shortfalls and has the strategic plan in place to deliver its vision, but to do so additional resource is needed.

4. The regional impact of local authority settlement on the cultural sector.

• The reduction in direct funding of cultural venues and activity by local authorities has been well documented in the press and is evident across the North East. Notwithstanding this, all the Local Authorities in the region remain committed to continued partnership and have agreed funding to sustain NECP. This is a significant indication of the continued importance of culture to them and to the region.
• The net reduction to local authority funding in the North East since 2010 is over 40% and will exceed 50% by 2019. The impact on all non-statutory services has been massive. The picture is common to all non-protected services. Improvements in efficiency, utilization of technology, public-public and public-private partnerships and service remodeling have all been deployed. Grants to external organisations have been cut by amounts equivalent to or greater than the overall cuts born by local government. However, some one-off or time-limited resource has masked the full impact as arts and cultural organisations have had investments aimed at reducing overheads or opening new trading avenues. In some cases assets have been transferred to allow organisations to borrow as they pursue new commercial revenue streams. In this situation there is an increased underlying vulnerability to much of the surviving infrastructure.
• Particularly vulnerable have been the museums and libraries, (beyond the larger organisations) where funding is usually from a single local authority. An additional problem is the loss of specialist officers in individual local authorities. The local authorities’ capacity for enablement, innovation and collective-working is therefore severely reduced. The NECP and sub-regional groupings have sought to address this through partnership, but the loss of expertise remains a core issue in the region.

5. New funding models including lottery providers.

• The region has shown itself able to work in partnership with national and international funders, and the work of the NECP continues in this spirit. The regional partners have worked constructively with a range of agencies and funders over the past 20 years to deliver excellence and growth in a number of areas.
• The regional partners and NECP work closely with existing and emerging organisations, such as the LEPs, to embed arts and heritage in wider socio-economic growth strategies. Whilst this work remains on-going, there have been some successes. The delivery of C4C is a fully-regional objective.
• The C4C has identified working with national and regional organisations as one of its key priorities and agreeing “mutually understood priorities” as core to delivering this. We are committed to working on an equal footing with funders, to not only develop and influence policy frameworks, but also explore new ways of funding and delivering on our regional priorities.
• New funding models would clearly involve private sector partners. The NE economy is increasing in confidence, with some significant successes in national and international markets and there remains an appetite in some private funders to help where they are able. In terms of support for culture, however, there is limited scope for corporate support in the region. This is due in part to the proportion of SMEs in the region, but due mainly to the drift away from the region of strategic decision-making in many companies. The loss of Northern Rock and their Northern Rock Foundation is a significant case in point.
• Central to working with new funding models is the need for regional and local priorities to influence the decision making of national funders and for this regional voice to influence funding streams to meet local need. NECP is ideally placed to explore new ways of decision making or broker new funding models.

6. Cultural partnership in the regions, including National Portfolio Organisations and Major Partnership Museums.

• All of the partners and stakeholders in the region have shown themselves willing and enthusiastic about creative partnership working. NECP is one such innovative partnership that shows we are keen to look at new ways of working. Additionally, there is a network of sub-regional partnerships whose emerging strategies are also linked to C4C and NECP. Key to these partnerships are a number of nationally funded organisations such as Beamish, Baltic, Sage Gateshead and Tyne and Wear Museums whose roles as museum-hubs and NPOs, tied into our regional strategy, are vital. NECP welcomes input from national organisations as part of the development of mutually understood priorities and developing and delivering on our regional strategy.
• As a template and an exemplary organisation highlighted in the White Paper, the NECP understands the value of a wide-ranging partnership, including input from national organisations. It also understands the resources needed to support this stakeholder-building. The long term sustainability of the NECP and what it represents remains a priority and the input of national organisations, including funding, could reflect this.
• The devolution process is taking shape and the emerging roles of Combined Authorities and LEPs will be important. There should be discussion at the national level about the need for the DCMS and their sponsored bodies to be involved in the devolution process to ensure that culture and heritage are embedded in the devolution strategies and subsequent programme and funding decisions. If the DCMS and its arms-length bodies are to ensure Combined Authorities embrace the potential contribution of culture to their economic priorities, they must be prepared to allow the Combined Authorities some influence over the funding regimes of those bodies, to unlock joint investment. Devolution represents an opportunity for the cultural sector if it is embraced as such by the national agencies.

7. Skills, management and infrastructure of regional cultural institutions.

• Developing skilled individuals in the cultural sector and retaining them in the region is a priority for the partners; the universities and all the local colleges are part of NECP and links with the other partners and stakeholders are already bringing success.
• We advocate that a vibrant cultural sector is essential for jobs and the growth of the economy and our recent Cultural Fuse project of our 5 Universities seeks to retain creative graduates in the region and boost entrepreneurship and SME start-ups – cultural organisations are a growing part of the North East economy and there are SME clusters in several places, particularly around our universities; and in the historic environment, the North of England Civic Trust Europa Nostra award for Heritage Skills Initiative reflects regional excellence.
• Our efforts to develop and retain skilled workers in the cultural sector are set against the already-referred-to loss of cultural professionals in the public sector. The public sector formerly provided a seed-bed for professional talent, giving early career arts and heritage workers experience to complement academic training; they could then go on to run and champion new programmes and new organisations as their careers evolved. This seedbed is now largely drained. The full impact of this has yet to be felt.
• We are working together to develop stronger links between the training and development of skills and their retention in the region and developing links with cultural providers – our 100×100 programme of artists’ residencies is one example of this. But more remains to be done and the twin supports of resources and influence on decision making are again critical.
• The C4C strategy is in place to inform the allocation of resources in innovative ways. In the White Paper Greg Clark says ‘ We are in the middle of a devolution revolution’ and NECP believes this should extend beyond purely cultural organisations and departments. There are therefore contradictions in the devolved landscape of LEPs, Elected Mayors, Combined Authorities and the Northern Powerhouse when the decisions on some regional and lottery funding are made in London or Manchester
• Innovative partnerships and project/programme definition require energy and resource; many agencies and local authorities lack resources to provide the expertise and capacity to pull-together such partnerships. Yet there remains a need for this leadership in community, partnership and regional infrastructures if innovation is to be successful.
• NECP therefore believes that the ‘tailored reviews’ of Arts Council England and HLF announced in the White Paper could provide the opportunity to revisit the recommendations of the 2012 Norgrove report that ‘the effectiveness of a single Northern Area’ for Arts Council England be kept under review’.
• As in our written and oral submissions to your 2013 Inquiry, we continue to find that for many ACE decisions, we remain ‘much further removed from the decision-making process’. Were ACE boundaries and decision-making structures to be realigned with those of HLF in the North East and a regional presence comparable to Historic England created, for example, we would anticipate substantial advantages in the delivery of our vision.

8. The physical and virtual accessibility of cultural sectors in the region.

• Equality of access and participation lies at the heart of C4C, especially for young people and we have set ourselves very challenging targets. We particularly stress the importance of participation as it is in participation that fuller benefits are to be realized.
• North East has a number of specific issues to resolve. The coverage of the highest level of bandwidth, necessary to deliver digital-cultural excellence, whilst comparable to the rest of the country in some areas, is poor in significant parts the region, due in large part to its rurality. This rurality also contributes to the lack of suitable venues, with community hubs being poorly funded and serviced. Similarly, there is a schools’ network of digital provision in place to deliver some lessons remotely, but the process is let down by poor-quality infrastructure – the time-lag which may be acceptable in some circumstances is unacceptable for music lessons for example. Public-transport across much of the North East is problematic both in rural areas and, increasingly, in urban areas, meaning that actual or virtual participation and viewing is constrained in these places. Many regional organisations are seeking to address these issues in their programming, but more remains to be done.
• Additionally, we value the partnerships North East cultural organisations have with national institutions, including those based in London – touring organisations enrich our venues; the growing digital access to national collections/performances is exciting. However, it can fail to recognise the cyclical and sporadic nature of most touring patterns as opposed to more consistent local provision. It neglects the very local nature of many people’s cultural lives and the difficulties, including costs, of changing that.
• NECP partners are exploring the opportunities to develop new models of access and participation – in a region where upto 25% of the population see themselves as disabled in some way, we are keen to develop new ideas and partnerships to tackle barriers, equality and diversity in our patterns of access to culture. Building on an increase in arts participation of 4.4% between 2005/6 and 2012/13, we would welcome the opportunity to work with national organisations to push further at the challenges of Place and Engagement to increase levels of participation, levels, building on some of our experience in Creative People and Places programmes.

9. Value and impact of culture in the North East.

• The region has a long history of partnership and delivery, and underlying this is a common understanding of the importance and value of culture. Cultural infrastructure and the cultural offer has been part of the regeneration of our region following industrial restructuring of the 1980s and 90s. It has built on work done with regional and national partners and has also drawn in significant amounts of European and private sector investment. This has enabled people to take part in great cultural activities and to develop artistic practice and creative businesses; culture is central to increasing SME start-up rates. It also helps keep talented people in the region and attract inward investment and tourism. It helps make the region an attractive place to live, visit and work. Through these impacts it increases confidence, aspiration and well-being.
• A higher proportion of visitors indicate that culture and heritage are drivers to their visit to the North East than in most other regions and also account for their enjoyment and engagement with the area. Arts and heritage are very important components of the NE visitor economy.
• The creative and culture industries are now worth £755m in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the North East Economy, 2% of total GVA. We have consistently invested in innovative new models for organisations.
• NECP is a reflection of this collective belief in culture as a driver for socio-economic strategies as well as of intrinsic value in its own right; the role of the cultural sector in broader socio-economic development is a key part of the C4C.
• The work at regional level must be supported at national level. We note that the Big Lottery has established a much more strategic fit with LEPs and EU funding around community engagement projects, for example and the HLF has kept and is strengthening its regional boards and localized decision making. We therefore welcome the recent observation by the Chair of ACE about supporting local authorities and the region is ready to work even more closely on delivering its priorities with national agencies, including ACE.

10. Recommendations

NECP recommends its Case for Culture as a framework for decision making and investment in the arts and heritage in the North East. There are three core aspirations in the strategy, supported by all the key organisations and stakeholders in the region, that we would further recommend to the Committee:
• Celebrate the record of partnership by supporting the innovative model of NECP and investing in cultural partnerships developed in the region;
• Continue to review cross-treasury funding across England to redress the “urgent and significant” imbalance, involving all relevant departments, using C4C as a delivery framework for the North East;
• Enable NECP to develop greater influence on decision-making to enable regionally set priorities based on local expertise to help steer lottery funding.

11. Summary

The above analysis shows how the North East has responded to the changing and still-evolving landscape around the leadership, infrastructure and funding of arts and heritage. The innovative and groundbreaking partnership has developed new ways of thinking and working and this has both led and been informed by the recent White Paper. We want our 15 year Case for Culture to shape future investment and practical projects in the region and influence the national policy makers and funders. We believe that national funding can be better aligned to local priorities and that Lottery funding can be more flexible and responsive to local partnership priorities in line with national devolution agendas.

We are currently commissioning further statistical research into the financial health of our cultural organisations (following up our 2013 research with TBR) and would welcome the opportunity to meet the DCMS Committee, host a visit to the North East and further engage in the review and continuing process of change.

North East Culture Partnership, April 2016 www.case4culture.org.uk

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