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Standing Up for London Arts Funding

February 3, 2016

It’s fashionable, every time Arts Council or Lottery funding is announced, for everybody to get upset about London getting most of the cash.

I’m going to be unfashionable, and ask, “why not?”

Most of the big theatre companies are based here, and do tour extensively. You could argue that the Royal Shakespeare Company, which now send little to London, or the Scottish, Irish or Welsh National Theatres, which send pretty much nothing, fulfil less of a touring obligation than the London-based South Bank National Theatre does.

When it comes down to it, the creatives are also here. Those who write, direct, produce the best the country has to offer, generally live and work here – or at least maintain a presence when not on their country estate.

Likewise, ever wonder why outside of London it’s hard to find a dentist? Dentists are educated people, they want to be near the highest culture. London is it. A huge concentration of keen arts lovers – at a level sufficient to keep every venue open, rather than having to close after two years of folk “just popping in to use the loo” of that shiny new theatre / gallery / café place.

That does mean that we are also lumbered, I mean endowed, with two expensive Opera Houses, when there is arguably a need for just one. OK, Covent Garden should be self-supporting, given its clientele, but wealthy people stay that way for a reason, and I guess they do pay proportionally more taxes. So, if some chav can have a free council flat, why shouldn’t a toff get a cheap night out at the opera – you know who’s paid more in.

Same goes for the wider argument. Londoners generate more tax revenue, so are entitled to see the benefit. The city does more with less cash than many others, and every little extra helps.

In particular, London is the tourist magnet of the country, and arts cash goes to help that. A worldwide hit, funded by grants (think, as ever, ‘Les Miz’ and now ‘Matilda’) returns income as it reminds those overseas that they can see a show here first – or draw them to catch the original.

The buildings too, are generally old. I wouldn’t have it any other way – give me faded gilt over concrete any day – but they require looking after, and are part of the nation’s heritage.

Finally, well, it’s London. “London and Broadway,” and we don’t mean Ealing. It’s a name, a brand, an experience… and if a few extra taxpayer pounds are required to keep it that way, I’ve no problem with that.

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