Commentary (Culture, State of the South West 2011)
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11.9.1 The chapter presents mostly quantitative data and statistics from mainstream official sources, to give a comprehensive overview of the state of culture in South West England. With a renewed emphasis on evidence-based policy and decision-making, the approach adopted in this chapter is deliberate. Economic and cultural development strategies, many of which are cited in the sections above, set out ambitious objectives and outcomes that require monitoring and evaluation. It is to this end, that surveys such as Active People, Taking Part and Heritage Counts are conducted and publications such as State of the South West 2011 provide data and analysis at regional and, where possible, at local level.
11.9.2 Overall, economic data indicate that the region’s culture and sport sector, and particularly the creative industries, are performing well. Tracking progress, on the basis of consistent and accurate data, remains problematic because of definitional and methodological difficulties. The DCMS-led Culture and Sport Evidence programme has begun to address these issues with publication of technical guidance reports and datasets. It is arguable, however, that statistics explain only part of the dynamics and subtleties of cultural production and consumption. A NESTA report (Boyle et al, April 2010) criticised public service KPIs, as a ‘narrow range of anticipated activities and evidenced by limited indicators of success’. A review of standard KPIs and reporting methodologies, would help find a better match between activity and measures of success, including those applied to the cultural sector.
11.9.3 Given the importance of the creative and heritage sub-sectors to the South West’s economy, and to local visitor economies (counter-balanced by residents’ relatively low participation rates in culture and sport), it is imperative that further research and analysis are undertaken, to more fully inform investment decisions. Today’s state of culture in South West England raises questions such as: ‘what conditions stimulate growth of cultural and creative industries?’, ‘how should creative hubs be supported and their effects disseminated more widely?’, and ‘if engagement in culture and sport is known to be highly beneficial, why do participation rates remain low?’, and ‘what
cultural and sporting infrastructure do local residents need now and in the future?’.
11.9.4 Public engagement in culture and sport activities is higher in the South West than in most other parts of England. For volunteering in sports, participation in the arts and historic environment, regional rates are above the national average. Closer investigation, however, shows rates for certain groups are well below average – Black and Minority Ethnic groups, people with a limiting disability and low socio-economic groups. Disparities are also evident between local authority areas, and although much of the data cannot be interrogated at ward level, it is probable that engagement rates vary between these localities. Market segment profiles, such as those developed by Sport England, provide more in-depth analysis of Active People Survey data, and build a better picture of local patterns. Caution is required, however, when engagement rates are interpreted for policy and planning purposes. Decreased rates of participation in certain culture and sport activities - for example, visits to libraries - would seem to indicate a lower value placed on this service and justify reduced public investment. But, in-depth research and local intelligence may reveal an alternative explanation and different course of action.
11.9.5 At a time of rapid economic and political change, compounded by public spending cuts, culture and sport infrastructure development is a critical issue for those involved in strategic planning and public and private investment decisions. Databases of culture and sport facilities, and registers of listed historic buildings, parks and gardens,provide irrefutable evidence of the unique ancient and modern assets located in South West England. But these audits pose challenges and opportunities that are twofold:
While responsibility for the solutions has shifted to the individual and private entrepreneur, there are practical tools and resources, such as Living Places Culture and Sport Planning Toolkit (DCLG and DCMS, March 2009) and CASE research, that people in the private and public sector can use to make their decisions.
(1) how to ensure the existing infrastructure is maintained and conserved for users today and in the future;
(2) how to identify gaps in provision and plan for new development.