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A Sound Investment: Current and future funding of the arts, a fringe meeting held during the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, 5.10. 2010 (GR).


My press release for this meeting declared that British orchestras would tell the Minister for Culture, Ed Vaisey MP, that if cuts to public funding were too deep and too sudden, they would risk serious damage to the government’s aim to engage people in culture and jeopardise the capacity of orchestras to sustain themselves. To my mind, with no Jeremy Paxman to ask incisive questions, Mr Vaisey was let off the hook. Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras, was scheduled to be on the platform. But his contribution was a simple plug for his organisation’s pamphlet ‘A Sound Investment’ at the close of the meeting – some time after Mr Vaisey had left for another appointment. For anyone interested and concerned regarding the future of our orchestras (and the CBSO means a great deal to me) ABO’s ‘A Sound Investment’ is well worth a look; it can be downloaded from It describes the mixed economy model that supports our orchestras, giving details of both public and private investment, as well as their earned income. One fact it highlights is that from a funding of £4.5 million by the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh National Opera contributed £22.5 million to the local economy.

Who was present then? The panel was chaired by Stephen Maddock, Chief Execetive of the CBSO. He welcomed and introduced Ed Vaisey, Emma Turner of Barclays Wealth and Colin Tweedy Chief Executive of Arts & Business. Barclays Bank, major sponsors of the CBSO, had also come with a handout, their ‘Barriers to Giving’, a white paper in co-operation with Ledbury Research. Emma Turner summarised this in her opening remarks, describing giving patterns, attitudes and behaviours of the wealthy. Colin Tweedy, who described himself as a ‘cheerleader for the arts’, followed; his organisation claiming to be the leading source of learning and development opportunities, offering advice on fundraising and resources for organisations seeking partnerships with business. Ed Vaisey, who works with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, assured the estimated 120 present that it was not government policy to replace public funding of the arts by private finance – this was not what the PM’s Building the Big Society was all about.

A Q/A session followed. Inevitably perhaps the tax question was raised again. But all three representatives closed ranks: apparently the UK is second only to the US regarding tax breaks for charitable donations. One comment from the floor regarding private investment in the arts was the lack of a tangible return. The decline in the coverage of cultural activities by the national dailies (allegedly The Telegraph no longer have any full time arts correspondents) was regretted. It may be that websites such as this one can fill the gap!

After Ed Vaisey had gone the ‘Cuts’ question were mentioned, once; Stephen Maddock thought, like Basil Fawlty, that they got away with it. I was not so sure. It is realistic to say that the arts world cannot stand aside from the shadow of Oct 20th. Colin Tweedy thought we should not be frightened, ‘we are still a rich country’. But try telling that to those whose jobs may be under threat!

Geoff Read


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