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"ACE did a pretty good job by adopting equal misery for all"

27 June 2010, Leeds, UK

Richard Mantle
Richard Mantle

Last week, Arts Council England (ACE) announced an in-year budget cut of 0.5% for its 880 regularly funded frontline arts organisations.

In real terms, this means recipients of the largest annual grants have suffered the biggest losses. Several major opera companies are at the top of ACE's list, with the Royal Opera House in pole position.

Outside of London (and in sixth place overall) the worst affected organisation is Opera North, which receives roughly 70% of its £15 million annual operating budget in grants from central and local government bodies. £49,577 has been cut from ACE’s 2010-11 grant to Opera North.

Speaking to Opera Now about the short-term impact of this move, Opera North’s General Director, Richard Mantle, said “I think ACE has done a pretty good job of ameliorating the situation by drawing on its reserves and adopting equal misery for all. If ACE had passed on their full 4% cut to us it would have had a big impact because we are heavily reliant on public funds.”

As far as the company’s forthcoming season is concerned, Mantle says that the cuts are unlikely to cause a reduction in planned activities: “We will have to manage as best we can because to make any cuts to at this stage would probably cost more than we would save.” 

Looking further into the future, however, Mantle admits that the picture is less clear – particularly given Chancellor George Osborne’s indication that all non-protected departments could be required to reduce their budgets by as much as 25% over the next four years:

“We won’t be able to announce our plans for 2011-12 until we know our funding position, but we already need to plan forward into seasons that are uncertain. This kind of balancing act is built into the DNA of opera companies like ours.”

On top of the cut by ACE, Opera North is also coping with a loss of £50,000 from its annual Leeds City Council grant, yet Mantle remains upbeat:

“We have no historic deficits and a very good record of controlling our expenditure, but costs do keep rising. On the other hand, although sponsorship from the private sector has taken a tumble over the past three years, private philanthropy does not seem to have suffered –  in fact it’s currently increasing, with individuals who like what we're doing coming forward to support. The resources of some private foundations are also beginning to grow again, despite what has happened on the stock markets.”

Pointing to the launch last year of Opera North’s Future Fund – a separate charitable trust that supports new initiatives by the company – Mantle is also encouraged by the Tories’ stated desire to reward organisations that take steps to build up an endowment: “We are one of the organisations to have adopted a lead in this respect.”

Meanwhile, with further cuts likely in October’s Comprehensive Spending Review, there is no room for complacency. Mantle says that “a big case now needs to be made by the arts sector to its funding body”, but, he warns “it is not a case that should be made frantically, because that won't win us any friends or support.”


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