HomeFeaturesLevelling Up White Paper: Culture

So, it’s here at last … the Government’s long-delayed white paper for levelling-up. We already know that investment through culture and heritage has a significant role to play, following our recent analysis for Arts Professional highlighting £429m invested in cultural projects through the first round of the Levelling Up Fund (LUF).

But what else does the white paper have to say about the role of culture in levelling up? We’ve summarised all 107 references to “culture” or “cultural” in the document to pick out a few key themes…

1: Evidence for culture

The opening chapter of the White Paper presents a 100+ page explanation of economic geographies, which includes a history lesson dating back to the formation of Jericho as “a hub not only for commerce and trade, but for people and skills, culture and finance”. Much is made of the “Medici Effect”, (based on the 2004 Harvard Business Review book of the same name), which gets no less than 16 mentions. Specifically the “magnetic attraction of people, culture, commerce and finance spreading ideas, innovation and ultimately growth”.

All of this will come as great comfort to all of us in the creative and cultural sectors who have fought so hard, often feeling like we’re bashing our heads against brick walls, producing countless evaluation reports and evidence reviews demonstrating the value of culture and creative hubs in building communities and supporting growth. Apparently, this has been “a thing” for 10,000 years. Who knew?

And yet it appears there’s work still to do. Despite 10,000 years of cumulative evidence showing how “cities emerged and grew rapidly as creative and commercial hubs were formed”, the White Paper still can’t resist pointing out that “it was not permanent and few of the world’s largest cities of the pre-Industrial past are in the world’s top 100 today”. Except, London, of course, established “as a multi-cultural hub for people, commerce, finance and culture, a position (unusually by historical standards) that it has retained for 2,000 years”. Which brings us to …

2: Tackling Disparities

The White Paper notes “a strong skew towards London, which attracts 40% of Arts Council Grant-in-Aid investment” and seeks to address this in no less a term than as a “defining feature” of the entire levelling up agenda:

Tackling disparities in access to culture and delivering a truly national cultural offer should be a defining feature of levelling up. The UK Government will make changes to transform the landscape for arts, culture and heritage by significantly increasing cultural investment outside London.” (p.218)

This is supported by a specific policy commitment:

“100% of the Arts Council England funding uplift announced at SR21 will be directed outside London, with support for theatre, museums and galleries, libraries and dance in towns which have been deprived of investment in the past.”

Arts Professional reports that this “could be as much as £68.6m based on historic funding levels and a 5.8% uplift for DCMS in last year’s Spending Review”.

In addition, the White Paper makes several references to the role of flagship cultural institutions and how they “can support the strength of our historic cultural heritage in great cities such as Stoke and Manchester”. Presumably this leaves the door open for London-based flagships to tap into funding allocated towards the regions through partnership initiatives and/or expansions such as the Plus Tate network, Tate St Ives/Liverpool, V&A Dundee etc.

Our analysis of the successful first round of Levelling Up Fund (LUF) bids already shows a prioritisation of cultural spend outside the capital, with London one of the lowest areas in terms of % of cultural spend in the LUF bids at 14.08%. All of the Northern regions committed to cultural spend higher than the national average of 24.79%.

Source: Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) based on split of reported spend across three key themes in the LUF bid documents

Worth noting that this is obviously based on what each local authority chose to prioritise across the LUF’s three key strands of regeneration, transport and culture. It is also based on each local authority’s own definitions of cultural spend as reported in their LUF application forms, which is not entirely consistent with DCMS definitions of culture.

Amongst those authorities reporting a 100% spend on culture, for example, is Southend-on-Sea, whose successful LUF project “focuses on Infrastructure upgrades to coastal attractions by building back better key areas included Marine Parade, port needs urgent renovation to maintain fishing operations and also essential maintenance to prevent flooding.” Similarly, spend on creative industries led regeneration – which may be included in DCMS definitions – is not always reported as cultural spend, such as c.£15m for Ashford International Studios, which is defined as 0% cultural, (100% regen) and “include purpose built film studios, production offices, and a skills and education centre for the creative and digital industries.”

3: Pride in Place

Probably the most significant role for culture – at least according to the White Paper – is in supporting and developing communities’ pride in place. Lots of references here, both in how culture can help make an area a more desirable place to live and also, conversely, how lack of cultural provision and engagement can indicate low levels of social capital, for example:

“cultural activities serve as a magnet for skilled people, meaning those places continue to steam ahead”

“…places with attractive leisure and cultural amenities and reliable connections to nearby cities. There is already evidence of some people and businesses relocating to these places, supporting local growth.”

“Areas with low levels of social capital often have high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, poor quality shops, sports and cultural facilities

The focus on improving pride of place – partly through culture – is summarised in mission 9 of the White Paper’s 12 core Levelling Up “Missions”:

“By 2030, pride in place, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing”.

Culture clearly has a role to play, although it’s not clear how those “top performing” areas – or the closing of the gap – is going to be measured, with the Levelling Up Missions and Metrics Annex noting:

“The UK Government intends to carry out further work to identify and develop the most appropriate measures of pride in place, improve the evidence base on what determines it and assess how policies might be designed to improve it, especially in communities where it is low.”

4: Skills and Education

As expected, the White Paper has much to say about this, although not specifically about the role that culture can play beyond attracting skilled people to an area:

cultural activities serve as a magnet for skilled people, meaning those places continue to steam ahead”; and

“The depth of local labour markets, and quality of jobs on offer, are the most significant factors determining where younger graduates settle… But non-wage factors, such as cultural and social opportunities, are also important.”

There is also some recognition of the role that universities and research centres can play, including as anchor institutions and delivering cultural benefits:

“Give UKRI a new organisational objective to “Deliver economic, social, and cultural benefits from research and innovation to all of our citizens, including by developing research and innovation strengths across the UK in support of levelling up”; and

“In March 2021, DfE part-funded the creation of the Civic University Network through a £50,000 grant to support universities through the creation of Civic University Agreements, placing universities as anchor institutions within their locality to develop the economic, social and cultural well-being needs of the surrounding community.

The role of universities as anchor institutions may be worth considering in responses to the DCMS Enquiry into levelling up – specifically question 3 in its terms of reference: “How can the Government support places without established artistic infrastructure to take full advantage of the opportunities that the levelling up agenda provides?”

5: Culture and Heritage – Specific Interventions

Pages 217-219 of the White Paper deal specifically with the role of Culture and Heritage, with a promise that DCMS will set out further plans to deliver this in the Spring, including:

  • Setting out Arts Council England’s key priorities for investing in National Portfolio Organisations from 2023, including setting the Arts Council’s budget to deliver a more even distribution between regions of Grant-in-Aid and Lottery “Good Cause” funding. 
  • Launching the 2023-26 National Portfolio funding round, which will provide funding to cultural organisations across England from 2023-26. 
  • Increasing the national impact of London-based National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs). ACE will identify a number of nationally significant as well as smaller NPOs that wish to establish a presence outside London, and provide them with support to succeed. This will mean encouraging London-based organisations to establish new long-term offices, venues or partnerships outside London, and giving them practical and financial support to do so. Organisations that wish to consider these options will be able to access funding for feasibility studies. 
  • Diversifying the boards of cultural organisations in the National Portfolio. Arts Council England will support NPOs to engage with a wider set of audiences and communities, to ensure that the make-up of their workforces and boards reflects the communities they serve. 
  • £40m of successful projects in England as part of the Cultural Investment Fund, (including Cultural Development Fund) with the majority of this being spent outside of London on over 50 projects involving cultural assets, libraries, museums and creative industries. 
  • Identifying over 100 levelling up priority places outside of London that will be the focus for additional ACE engagement and investment. This will mean that places like Stoke-on Trent, Barnsley, Rochdale and Wigan are given the support they need to build on their rich cultural heritage – from the world-renowned ceramics of Stoke to Kirklees’ plan for a vibrant cultural centre in Huddersfield

6: Structural Funds – Shared Prosperity Fund

The prospectus for the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) – which replaces the former EU structural funds, (including ERDF and ESF) – was launched at the same time as the Levelling Up White Paper. Of note here is that there is £2.6bn promised to the period 2024-25, after which the government promises to “ramp up” UKSPF funding to £1.5bn a year. Clearly this is not a £ for £ replacement of the EU funds, which averaged around £2bn per year.

UKSPF is focused on four key objectives:

  • Boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards, especially in those places where they are lagging.
  • Spread opportunities and improve public services, especially in those places where they are weakest.
  • Restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging, especially in those places where they have been lost.
  • Empower local leaders and communities, especially in those places lacking local agency.

Of these, restoring a sense of community is clearly the objective which most closely aligns with the cultural sector and its role in levelling up. Worth noting, however, that in the final section of the Levelling Up White Paper – Delivering for all parts of the United Kingdom (pages 281-329), culture and/or cultural investments have also been referenced as examples of “empowering local leaders and communities” in at least 8 of the regional examples, (East of England p.252, East Midlands p.256, North East p.264, North West p.268, South East p.280, South West p.284, West Midlands p.292, Yorkshire and the Humber p.296).

Cultural Development Fund (CDF) Network at Creative Coalition

We were joined by our colleagues in the Cultural Development Fund (CDF) Network to discuss the role of culture in levelling up and how to create cultural centres outside London at the Creative Coalition Festival 2022, Thursday 3rd February. A summary of the panels will be appearing here soon.

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