Don\’t cut the luvvies!

Michael Billington (Guardian\’s theatre critic) seems to think that the arts shouldn\’t have to face cuts.

The figures, as Melvyn Bragg recently pointed out, tell the story. The arts take a minute 0.08% of the national budget. Yet they employ close to two million people and contribute £16.6bn to our exports. The theatre alone makes £2.6bn annually from a subsidy of £107m.

Fortunately we don\’t rely upon theatre critics (or Melvyn Bragg) to do sums for us. For those numbers are nonsese, entirely so.

First, just look at the scale there. 2 million jobs? There\’s only 2.6 million working in manufacturing. Someone is seriously trying to tell us that there are roughly the same number employed in \”the arts\”?

What definition of arts are they using? Are we lumping in every BBC bureaucrat as an artist? Even so there\’s only 25,000 or so of them.

And if we are, what about the £3 billionish a year from the licence fee? Isn\’t that a subsidy (and that alone is 0.5% of the government budget)?

As is said in the comments:

That is astounding, given that the Office of National Statistics reports the following amounts for 2009 (in pounds):

Exports 2009

Motion picture and video production 0.7 bn
Artistic & literary creation 2.2 bn

Imports 2009

Motion picture and video production 0.9 bn
Artistic & literary creation 1.9 bn

Whichever way you look at it, 16.6 bn per year in exports appears to be wishful thinking. If we are to fool the Treasury, we\’ll need more careful research. Besides, the ONS figures doubtless include the overseas income of JK Rowling, Paul McCartney etc.

And if we do have this very wide description of the arts, then we rather need to drill down and work out which bits get the subsidies and which bits produce the wonga. It might be true, for example, that having a writer in residence at a prison is a good idea (no, not saying it is or it isn\’t, just an example) but that doesn\’t mean that all writers either need or deserve subsidy. Nor does it mean that those getting the subsidy are those producing the economic value.

Subsidy to music might well produce all sorts of things….but it\’s likely to be the Arctic Monkeys that produce the exports, not those people getting the subsidies.

Anyway, I\’m at something of a loss trying to work out where these figures come from. Anyone got any bright ideas where Bragg cooked them up from?

7 thoughts on “Don\’t cut the luvvies!”

  1. If there are 2 million working in “The Arts” and all get minimum wage, no more, then thats a 24 trillion pond per year industry at an absolute minimum. On those figure the subsidy isn’t worth the admin. required to get it. Similarly if the theatre generates 2.6 billion profit per year the subsidy as stated is barely a rounding error.
    The gentleman’s figures indicate to me that there is no need for a subsidy.
    Of course he may have got his figures muddled somewhere.

  2. Are they including shop staff? DVDs don’t sell themselves y’know.

    Clearly, if theatre makes billions it doesn’t need a subsidy.

  3. Tim

    The numbers come from the script of a new, edgy, art house play called “We wus robbed”. The story of how the eeevil Tories stole the hero’s fourth term in power.

  4. It’s the result of 13 years of relentless propaganda pushing the self esteem and cult of celebrity memes. QED, It’s all the media studies graduates.

  5. It also seems to include 626,000 in “IT and Communications”, which might be classed as creative, but certainly most of it isn’t artistic.

  6. @Gareth // May 14, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Spot on!
    Every year they demand more subsidy money by telling us how profitable they are. Oddly enough, businesses and sectors that are profitable seem to do so without subsidies.

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