Thursday, 17 September 2009

First cut is the deepest?

The c word is now being spoken out loud on all sides of the political spectrum. There are good cuts and bad cuts, it seems, but the focus is all on cuts in spending. Joe Hallgarten on his arm’s length state blog makes the point that politicians needs to be talk more honestly about the limitations of their power over the world, and thus encourage in us, the ‘public’, a more realistic and probably more forgiving attitude. (He kind of praises Arts Council with one hand, for at least grappling with change, and then digs us in the ribs with the other, which is probably fair enough.) Politicians, he suggests, need to point out they cannot do the impossible - eg keep costs down but make sure no one ever gets hurt. (I'd say the same goes for funders.)

Also this morning someone sent me a link to a report called ‘How to Save £50 billion’, which is at least honest enough to have a clear and relatively unequivocal list of cuts in spending that the Institute of Directors and the Tiny Minority of Tax Payers Alliance think would be a good idea. Read the list and you can see which Tax Payers the Alliance voice might represent: not those like my dad living on the Basic State Pension, or families being helped by Sure Start or Education Maintenance Allowance, or the children being educated in dilapidated buildings. Not to mention the people employed as a result of the things on their little list.

This is not to deny savings are possible or even necessary in some areas. But what needs to be considered is not which expenditure lines should be reduced, but which of the outcomes we want to do without. (We do also need to remember that some of the ‘savings’ also have a direct financial cost, in terms of unemployment, but also indirect social costs – conveniently left out of most of the equations.) I’d happily live without ID cards, but I don’t want the state education system on starvation rations in horrible old buildings. (I know there are some horrible new buildings, but let’s not go there right now.)

In a sense, the public spending cuts debate could then become a part of a wholly necessary discussion about how we are living beyond the means of the planet and our real economies, and what we are prepared to forgo, and how we can reinvent our ways of living and working. That’s obviously also a discussion that is ongoing in culture, and we at Arts Council are constantly making the case as strongly as humanly possible that money spent on culture is well spent and productive. A more mature language for the overall debate can only help us in that.

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