WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Examination of changes to the state of culture in South West England and its public policy context, indicate a turbulent and unpredictable situation for the foreseeable future. Of certainties, the strategic objectives of economic growth and transformation of public-funded services will continue to inform the direction of travel. Fundamental to achievement of these goals is a greater understanding of the wider and longer term impacts of cultural and sporting activities on local economies and citizen well-being. A recent DCMS commissioned study (CASE, July 2011) analysed the effects of cultural and sport investment on, for example, business activity, local property
markets, and social, educational and health outcomes, and found considerable mutual benefits. This ‘spillover’ effect is similar to that found between creative industries and other high-growth sectors (Chapain et al, November 2010, NESTA, October 2009). With diminishing public investment in business development, and continuing credit restrictions on small businesses, economic growth is a long term goal. In the meantime, patterns of creative enterprise may continue to change throughout the UK and South West. It is imperative that decision-makers, such as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and private investors, understand the complex ecologies of a local cultural and creative economy in order to assess the merits of any one project or public intervention, and to maximise its opportunities.
Turning briefly to the visitor economy that is so important to South West England, evidence shows tourism will continue to be adversely affected by global and national financial uncertainties and rises to oil price and cost of living. While the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will boost international and domestic visitor numbers, including those to the Weymouth area and torch relay events, evidence shows ‘staycations’ are becoming more local (VisitBritain, July 2011). The challenge for the South West tourist industry, with its strength in this domestic holiday market, will be to forge closer and mutually beneficial partnerships with cultural sectors.
Local authority funded cultural, leisure and sport services are the subject of much debate but the most contentious and emotive area is probably that of libraries. Because libraries are a statutory service, closures by local councils have generated considerable resistance and is the subject of a Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Inquiry. Modernisation should be the preferred option, as demonstrated by local authorities involved in the Future Libraries programme and described in a Local Government Group and MLA paper (LGG and MLA, August 2011). Reforms to cultural and leisure services are ‘work in progress’ but it is evident that future provision and control of public owned cultural assets are undergoing an unprecedented transformation.
In conclusion, financial issues have dominated this discourse, but the impact of public spending cuts vis-a-vis the four key themes should not be under estimated. However, there is good news on the cultural horizon! By April 2012, 60% of National Lottery funds will be allocated to cultural, heritage and sports activities including an increase to film funds. According to National Lottery accounts for 2010/11 (DCMS, December 2011), Arts Council England distributed £120 million, British Film Institute just over £11 million, Sport England £269 million, UK Sport £101 million and Heritage Lottery Fund £539 million. Of the £1.7 billion raised during 2010/11, £292 million was allocated to the Olympic Development Lottery Fund. Notwithstanding the legacy of London 2012 Games, a re-allocation of funds opens up new opportunities for public investment in culture.
The challenge for Government and distributors will be to maintain a clear distinction between the objectives of the National Lottery Fund and those of governmental policy. Looking beyond monetary matters, there is little doubt that cultural sectors will continue to play a central role in the distinct quality of life and prosperity in localities across South West England.