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Government funding ‘must get to arts and culture bodies’

Ministers previously unveiled a £1.57 billion fund to help the cultural, arts and heritage institutions survive the pandemic.

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Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier (PA)

Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier (PA)

Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier (PA)

Government funding must get to arts and culture bodies shut in the pandemic while “there are still organisations left to support”, MPs have said.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) unveiled a £1.57 billion fund to help the cultural, arts and heritage institutions survive the pandemic last summer.

Of the £1 billion that has been made available, some £830 million in grants and loans has been awarded to different organisations so far, but only £495 million of that has been paid out, the National Audit Office report said.

The Department assumed, in the worst-case scenario, that social distancing would remain until the end of March this year and that demand for the likes of theatre tickets and venue capacity would remain at 40% of pre-Covid-19 levels.

But the current situation exceeds this worst-case scenario.

Meg Hillier MP, who is chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, urged payments, which are awarded by arm’s-length bodies, to be speeded up.

“The culture, arts and heritage sector has been one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic with many organisations now having been closed for nearly a year,” she said.

“Many across the sector will have welcomed the funding announced last summer.

“But eight months later, more than half of the £1 billion made available so far is still waiting in the wings.

“With the sector’s shutdown already past Government’s worst-case scenario, DCMS needs to get support out to organisations while there are still organisations left to support.”

The National Audit Office report said that the DCMS aimed to support the survival of 75% of the organisations in the sector at risk during 2020-21.

Museums, galleries, cinemas, music venues and theatres had to close their doors in March last year when the UK entered the first national lockdown.

Some reopened partially in the summer and autumn, but many have remained entirely or mostly closed for nearly a year.

The DCMS predicted that without targeted support organisations would run out of money around the end of September 2020, the report said.

The Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) included grants and loans.

The Department has not yet paid out any funding from its second phase of funding, totalling £400 million, comprised of funding not awarded in the first funding phase plus £258 million that it held back as contingency.

London has received 31% of total revenue grant funding, followed by the North West and South East, which each received 12%.

A DCMS spokeswoman said: “Over £1 billion from our unprecedented Culture Recovery Fund has already protected nearly 4,000 organisations and over 75,000 jobs across the country, with more support on the way.

“It is right that we get funding out quickly with the safeguards taxpayers would expect to see in such a huge investment, and much more money has been invested into the sector since this report was compiled.

“Applications are being processed for a £400 million second round of grants and loans, and an additional £300 million announced at the Budget will help the hardest hit reopen and recover. This brings direct support for the culture sector to almost £2 billion.”

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