Sir John Tusa: The arts are good value for money

The writer, broadcaster and former managing director of the Barbican and BBC World Service argues that the arts enrich lives and boost the economy.

Arts Council England has just announced its funding settlements for the next three years. Most organisations have either taken a cut or had their funding frozen; some fell off ACE’s list; others joined it. Further reduction in public spending are expected after the 2015 election. The case for continuing arts funding at significant levels is easy to make. Yet politicians are reluctant to use the evidence before their eyes. It needs stating and re-stating.

The basic fact is that since arts funding commands just 0.05% of the national budget, it can be argued that time spent in cutting it is at best a diversion from serious matters, at worst a displacement activity. The arts budget should be 'ring-fenced', as is the budget for international development. To do so would not damage the national budget. It would benefit it.

For the arts are exceptionally good value for money, as all evidence demonstrates. Every £1 spent on the arts by a local authority levers £3.83 of additional funding and generates £6 of economic activity. Another perspective from the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed that its members gained £4bn per year in economic value as a result of spending on music, visual and performing arts.

The evidence piles up. In April 2013, NESTA calculated that the 'creative economy' engaged 2.5 million people and contributed 9.7% of the UK’s gross value added. In May 2013, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found that businesses in the UK’s arts and cultural industries had an aggregate turn over of £12.4bn which represented gross added value of £5.9bn. The numbers are important. The arts are often accused of 'costing' but not 'contributing'. The reverse is the case. Politicians always call for 'evidence based policies' – the evidence is conclusive in favour of the value of arts investment.

Significantly, major research projects assess the impact and the value of the arts and the creative industries. For the arts do not exist in some selfish kind of 'splendid isolation'. The arts feed innovation, creativity and intellectual research. They connect with and contribute to higher education and the knowledge sector. Awareness of the scale and strength of such synergies has been one of the discoveries of the past decade. And the growth of the UK’s 'creative sector' has come about because of the absence of government policy, or put in another way the absence of government interference.

Economists understand the reality of the economic case for the arts very well. In 1909, the economist John Maynard Keynes – later the founder of the Arts Council – set up the Political Economy Club. Just over a century later, in June 2013, twenty of Keynes’ successors wrote to the Guardian that the 'case for the arts' existed for all to see:

'Broadly defined, commercial creative activities account for a formidable 10% of national output... This country can ill afford to neglect an area of such excellence that attracts the rest of the world... Tourist spending and its knock-on effects amount to at least 6% of our national output; this is simply the most obvious of the "multiplier" benefits of the arts to the economy'. Who needs more evidence about the case for supporting arts funding?

Perhaps the case itself needs to be put more broadly, reflecting the extent to which the arts touch so many aspects of life, welfare and society. My own conclusion goes like this: the arts must be funded because they are efficiently run, transparently led, meet their objectives and deliver all the outcomes set. People are healthier, children better educated, communities more harmonious, towns and villages more prosperous when open to and involved in arts activity. National economic activity is boosted, research and innovation advanced, entrepreneurship galvanised, philanthropy stimulated, employment increased, tax take grown, social benefits increased, international reputation and prestige enhanced as a direct result of public support for the arts.

The case could be put more directly still: the arts help us learn; they help us think; they heal and keep us healthy; they are good for community; they make us happy; they shape the way the world around us looks, the words we use, the songs we sing, the sounds we make.

In the continuing fight for the case for arts funding, there is only one sin – to think the case is not overwhelming.

John Tusa's latest book is Pain in the Arts (I.B.Tauris). He is chair of the Clore Leadership Programme.

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