50p per person per week on culture adds up

April 29, 2014 4:44 PM

A new campaign has been launched by the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) calling for local authorities to spend 50p per person per week on “culture”.

50p per person per week may not sound like much, but this over £1.6 billion. That works out at least £63 per year on every Council Tax bill. The actual cost will be higher once people who do not pay Council Tax are taken into account.

The 50p For Culture campaign acknowledges that “We elect councillors to make tough decisions about where to spend our taxes,” but the money must come from somewhere. Before councils commit to spending any more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, they must show how they are going to fund it. Campaigns such as 50p For Culture can help too by declaring a War on Waste so that the taxes that councils do raise are spent wisely.

The campaign quotes an opinion poll where most people said that local authorities should spend 50p per person per week on culture. But I strongly suspect that people may have thought differently if they had been told what the cost would be to them.

And I would still question whether £1.6 billion should be spent on “culture”. I remember this bizarre piece of “art” commissioned by Preston City Council. It consisted of a man walking up and down some steps in the city centre and cost £500. And who can forget The Public – Sandwell Council’s disastrous public arts centre? It has recently closed, but only after costing the taxpayer a staggering £72 million.

If £1.6 billion can be found to fund “culture”, surely it would be put to much better use by cutting taxes and letting people spend their own money on things that they want?

The campaign has produced a league table of councils based on their spending on culture. The top three are the City of London, Middlesbrough and Exeter. The bottom three are Wigan, North Somerset and the Isles of Scilly. Bath and North East Somerset spends nothing on culture, but I seriously doubt anyone would argue that Bath is an uncultured city!

I say that 50p For Culture has its league tables the wrong way round. Instead of shaming councils like Wigan, we should commend them for choosing not to waste taxpayers’ money like this.

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