The Northern Powerhouse: Redressing the Balance

The Northern Powerhouse: Redressing the Balance

Chrstina McNeill Profile 2

Christina McNeill was Fellow for the Hallé until September 2016, and has remained with the organisation as Development Campaigns Officer.

Some of you may have seen the announcement made by Arts Council England on 7th January about the sixteen organisations who have successfully made it through to the second stage of their Large Capital Grants Programme of funding. The programme is designed to develop or extend existing buildings ‘to make them more economically and environmentally sustainable’ and provides organisations with premises more suited to their needs and work.

My host organisation, the Hallé, is one of the organisations that has made it through stage one as we work to build a dedicated Education Centre and complete the conversion of Hallé St Peter’s in Ancoats. Other organisations that qualified include Bristol Music Trust, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Story Museum.

Hallé St Peters
Hallé St Peters

Interestingly, of the sixteen organisations who have been approved through the first stage, six are based in the North, four in the South East and only three in London. Consider this news alongside the government’s pledge of £9 million a year for two years towards the running costs of ‘The Factory’ arts space to be constructed in Manchester and it begs the question, is this evidence of the government’s work to redress the spending balance and develop the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ within the cultural sector?

A quick reminder of ‘The Northern Powerhouse’ and its purpose:

  • Scheme created by the Chancellor, George Osborne
  • Plans to revitalise and refurbish Northern regions and cities
  • Increase UK economic strength as a whole by improving economic growth of regions outside London by way of infrastructure and culture.
  • Considered major step towards devolving political powers in the North

Culture and the arts are considered key to the development of the Northern Powerhouse and infrastructure both in the private and public sectors. Although the Government has pledged to focus infrastructure development on projects outside the capital, a study by Sheffield Political Economy Research Institution (Speri) from August shows that the infrastructure investment for London still works out at being more spent per person than the other regions of England combined.

This once again calls into question the London issue raised politically and culturally as to whether the vast imbalance of private and public spending on London will ever really be properly balanced with the rest of the UK. Lest we forget that whilst the most recent announcement is weighted outside the capital (including news of ‘The Factory’ development) there are separate promises of the very large development of a new concert hall in London, which the Guardian warns could see ‘£200m coming from the public purse and the Corporation of London.’

It is fair to say that Arts Council England has taken promising steps, not only with the balance of organisations in the Large Capital Grants Programme announcement, but more widely they have pledged by 2018 to be spending 75% of their lottery funding on organisations and projects outside the capital. Whilst this type of pledge is not so much a step but a leap in the right direction of balance when it comes to public spending, is it enough to persuade visitors out of London for culture? Improving facilities is one thing, but enticing the masses onto a train to experience them is quite another. It will take increases in an amalgamation of private sector business, infrastructure and world-class culture to truly give the regions outside of London a real chance to compete for balance.

What are the facilities like where you are? Do you succeed in attracting many visitors from outside your region? We’d love to hear your views.