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NAO publishes results of investigation into CRF funding

The National Audit Office (NAO), the UK’s public spending watchdog, has found that just over half of the grants and loans awarded as part of the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) had been paid out as of February.

In a report, Investigation into the Culture Recovery Fund, published this morning (12 March), the NAO reveals that of the £830 million in CRF funding awarded so far, only £495m had been paid by 19 February.

The CRF, which was set up last year to assist entertainment, arts and leisure businesses forced to close as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, received an extra £300m in last week’s budget, bringing total funding across three rounds to £1.87bn. For music and live entertainment businesses, funding is administered by Artists Council England.

Meg Hillier MP, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, has urged payments to be sped up. “The culture, arts and heritage sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with many organisations now having been closed for nearly a year,” she says. “Many across the sector will have welcomed the funding announced last summer.

“But eight months later, more than half of the £1 billion made available so far is still waiting in the wings. With the sector’s shutdown already past government’s worst-case scenario [of March 2021], DCMS needs to get support out to organisations while there are still organisations left to support.”

“Many businesses are awaiting the outcome of the CRF 2, which will be fundamental to their future”

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) attributes the delay to the necessary “safeguards taxpayers would expect to see in such a huge investment”.

“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,” they add. “This brings direct support for the culture sector to almost £2bn.”

The NAO’s report also found that two grants to be awarded by Arts Council England (ACE), worth nearly £0.5m, were withdrawn after they were found to be based on fraudulent claims.

“ACE told us that in no cases where a grant had been paid out had fraud been identified,” add the report’s authors.

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night-Time Industries Association, also urges DCMS and ACE to speed up payments where possible.

“Many businesses are awaiting the outcome of the CRF 2, which will be fundamental to their future, and ultimately have an impact on the cultural tapestry of this country for years to come,” he says.


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Final £400m on the way as latest CRF recipients announced

Historic London venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Alexandra Palace and Southbank Centre are among the beneficiaries of the latest round of Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) spending, as the scheme marks a milestone £1 billion in funding allocated.

The Royal Albert Hall (5,272-cap.) and Southbank Centre, along with organisations such as the English National Opera, Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, were awarded a share of £165 million in low-interest repayable finance, with the Albert Hall receiving a total of £20.74 million from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Arts Council England (ACE).

Hall CEO Craig Hassall says the loan is a “lifeline” that will enable the Victorian arena “restore our minimum reserves and operating finances to a level comparable to before the pandemic struck”.

Elsewhere, a number of venues across the country are receiving grants from the £60m Capital Kickstart Fund. They include the Alexandra Palace, which has been awarded £2,967,600 to enable its 10,400-capacity Great Hall to “continue with a diverse programme of live, Covid-secure events this winter”, and new Manchester arts venue the Factory, which receives £21m towards its completion.

“As well as providing a multi-use space for diverse arts activity,” the Factory will be the permanent home for Manchester International Festival, “which attracts visitors to the city from across the country and creates opportunities for creative freelancers,” reads a statement from DCMS and UK culture minister Oliver Dowden CBE.

“The £1 billion invested so far through the Culture Recovery Fund has protected tens of thousands of jobs”

“Over the last nine months we’ve worked non-stop to make sure we can open the doors safely and keep the parkland well maintained to provide vital green space,” says Louise Stewart, CEO of Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust. “There are many challenges ahead, but for now at least, thanks to this funding, we have some time and resource to deliver our route to recovery.”

The latest grants and loans come as the government makes plans to allocate the final £400 million of the £1.57 billion CRF. Further details of the final round, comprising £300m in grants and £100m loans to help companies “transition back to usual operating mode from April 2021”, will be announced shortly.

According to Dowden, some funding was held back in previous rounds (to enable authorities to assess the “changing public health picture”), and will also be made available to organisations at “imminent risk of collapse before the end of this financial year” in April.

“This government promised it would be here for culture, and today’s announcement is proof we’ve kept our word,” says the culture secretary. “The £1 billion invested so far through the Culture Recovery Fund has protected tens of thousands of jobs at cultural organisations across the UK, with more support still to come through a second round of applications.

“Today we’re extending a huge helping hand to the crown jewels of UK culture, so that they can continue to inspire future generations all around the world.”

More information about the CRF is available from the Gov.UK website.


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UK Culture Recovery Fund details revealed

The British government today (29 July) set out application guidance for £622 million in grants, as part of its much-anticipated £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.

The first round of funding – allocated through Arts Council England (for arts and cultural organisations, including music businesses), the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England (heritage sites), and the British Film Institute (independent cinemas) – totals £622m, with £500m reserved for Arts Council England (ACE).

The £500m ACE fund (which includes the £2.25m for grassroots music venues announced earlier this week) will allow cultural-sector businesses to “reopen/restart their operations, where appropriate” or “operate on a sustainable, cost-efficient basis, so that they are able to reopen at a later date”, according to the ACE guidance for applications, which open on Monday 10 August.

The fund, which is open to companies based in England, will support costs incurred between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021 including staff salaries, freelance employment and operation costs; maintaining buildings while closed; redundancy pay-outs, debts incurred during the Covid-19 pandemic; and reflating cash reserves of up to eight weeks of turnover.

Grants of between £50,000 and £3m are available; all applications over £1m will be referred to a Culture Recovery Board, appointed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The board is chaired by businessman Sir Damon Buffini, with the music sector represented by Claire Whitaker, formerly owner and director of jazz promoter Serious.

“Help is on the way to our much-loved cultural and heritage organisations”

A further £258m is reserved for a second round of grants later in the financial year, in addition to £270m in repayable finance. More details on the outstanding elements of the £1.57bn package – worth £1.15 billion to “cultural organisations” – will be revealed later this year, a DCMS spokesperson tells IQ.

“Help is on the way to our much-loved cultural and heritage organisations with our £1.57 billion fund,” says UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden. “This support package will protect buildings, organisations and people to help ensure our wonderful institutions, big and small, pull through Covid.

“Today we’re publishing guidance so organisations know how to access help. We’re also calling on organisations to be creative in diversifying their income streams and the public to continue supporting the places they love, so this funding can be spread as far and wide as possible”.

Adds Nicholas Serota (pictured), chair of Arts Council England: “Arts and cultural organisations are an integral part of public life in villages, towns and cities across the country. We warmly welcome and are pleased to be administering this vital investment from government, which will help ensure as many organisations as possible survive the existential challenge posed by Covid-19 so they can continue to serve their communities safely in the future.”

The deadline for the first round of applications is 21 August 2020.


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London’s Macbeth in Arts Council funding first

The Macbeth in Hoxton, east London, has become one of the first recipients of Arts Council England (ACE)’s new Support Grassroots Live Music fund.

The 300-capacity pub and venue has been successful in applying for £15,000 from the £1.5 million fund, which launched at the Great Escape in May, to support and develop its cultural programme.

“The last ten years have been incredibly challenging,” comments Mark Robinson of the Macbeth (pictured). “We know that hundreds of venues across the country were forced out of business and we really struggled to get through very tough times. This turns a corner for us, with a grant that will enable us to support and develop our programme.

“Arts Council England funding really puts us on the map as not just a great night out, but also a culturally important space that really matters to artists and to audiences. We would like to thank ACE for the opportunity of this fund and to thank Music Venue Trust for all the support they have given us in the last few years. To all the other venues out there thinking about applying: if the Macbeth can do it, you can too.”

Music Venue Trust (MVT) says it and Arts Council England have been working closely together to ensure venues have all the support they need to make an application. A special funding area at MVT’s Venues Day 2019 has been created for venues can book one-to-one appointments with ACE relationship managers and with other funders, including PRS Foundation.

“Their success demonstrates that this really is a fund grassroots music venues can apply to and get support from”

Claire Mera Nelson, head of music at ACE, says: “Arts Council England’s Supporting Grassroots Live Music fund was created in response to the needs of small venues across the country just like the Macbeth, and we are delighted that they have been successful in obtaining a grant to support a developing and expanding programme.”

At Venues Day, she adds, “we are looking forward to ensuring venues of all kinds understand how to register and apply for our grant funding”.

“This is another huge step in recognising the cultural value of our grassroots music venues, and we are so delighted it is the Macbeth that is leading the way,” adds MVT’s Mark Davyd. “Mark and his team at the venue have been through every kind of challenge you can imagine, only recently having to engage again with our emergency response team for support on a licensing review.

“Their success demonstrates that this really is a fund grassroots music venues can apply to and get support from. At Venues Day we want to make sure that every venue that wants to make an application has the skills and the opportunity to do so.”

Venues Day 2019 takes place at Islington Assembly Hall in London on Wednesday 9 October. Venue delegates who wish to book a one-to-one meeting with ACE staff during an afternoon session should contact MVT at [email protected].


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