DCMS urged to speed up pandemic aid payments to arts and heritage sector

National Audit Office says less than half of £1bn in grant funding earmarked for allocation via the government’s Culture Recovery Fund has so-far been paid out
Culture at risk? The Tate Modern Gallery PA

By Jim Dunton

15 Mar 2021

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been urged to up its game in rolling out hundreds of millions of pounds of government-funded pandemic support to museums,  art galleries, theatres, cinemas and historic attractions.

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier’s made the call in response to a National Audit Office report on the £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund, set up last year to stop venues – also including nightclubs and cinemas – from going to the wall because of Covid-19. The fund aimed to protect 75% of organisations deemed to be “at risk” and DCMS gave responsibility for awarding £1bn of the fund to four arm’s-length bodies: Arts Council England, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.  The total £1.57bn figure included contingency funding and allocations made directly to devolved administrations.

The NAO report found that of £830m in grant funding allocated so far by the ALBs as part of the Culture Recovery Fund, just £495m had been paid out. The organisations have until the end of this month to award all of the funding, although it can be distributed and used beyond that deadline. 

Hillier said the culture, arts and heritage sector had been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with many organisations now having been closed for nearly a year.

“Many across the sector will have welcomed the funding announced last summer,” she said.

“But eight months later, more than half of the £1bn 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.”

A DCMS spokesperson said the Culture Recovery Fund was an “unprecedented” initiative that had so-far protected nearly 4,000 organisations and in excess of 75,000 jobs.

“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,” they said.

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

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