Arts Council England’s Future Hangs in the Balance as the U.K. Government Looks to Cut Down on Spending

The cost-cutting exercise, which affects hundreds of pubic bodies, will be overseen by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency. Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

The U.K. government is undertaking a review of public bodies that could lead to major funding cuts for the Arts Council England.

The Public Bodies Review Program, as the review is formally called, will involve at least a five percent spending cut for all bodies under review.

“Taxpayer’s money should be spent efficiently and on worthwhile areas,” Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency Jacob Rees-Mogg said in April. “It’s right, then, that we should always look at public organizations and whether they are delivering for the British people.”

Rees-Mogg has issued a letter to each governmental department head asking that they compile lists of all organizations under their purview with proposals of how to make cuts by June 24.

Part of the plan is to bring certain organizational functions directly within the purview of the government, and cut out the “arms-length public body,” as organizations like Arts Council England are called. The government has also spoken of shrinking the number of civil servants by up to 91,000.

Nearly 300 organizations are part of the review, and they altogether command an annual budget of £220 billion and employ more than 300,000 people.

The highest budgets are overseen by the Department of Health and Social Care (including the National Health Service), which oversees £134 billion, and the Department of Education, which controls £60.4 billion.

Bodies overseen by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), meanwhile, spend a total of £1.66 billion, of which £465 million is allocated to Arts Council England which in turn provides funding for a huge amount of UK arts projects, companies and initiatives. The latter organization is chaired by former Tate director Nicholas Serota and funds areas including visual arts, publishing, and dance.

In a worst-case scenario, Arts Council England could be shuttered altogether.

“We are unable to comment at this time,” the council said in a statement. “It is for DCMS and its Ministers to decide when and how bodies are reviewed.”

Other organizations that could be affected include the British Film Institute, Historic England, and the National Lottery Community Fund.

The government has already come under fire for overreach after issuing edicts on appropriate programming for arts organizations.

Between 2010 and 2015, the government reduced the number of arms-length public bodies by a third, and then dropped 168 more bodies between 2016 and 2019. Today, there are 295 of the organizations, which vary greatly in size and function.

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