Exodus of top arts bodies as they follow levelling-up cash out of London

Jenna Coleman starred in All My Sons for Headlong  (Dave Benett)
Jenna Coleman starred in All My Sons for Headlong (Dave Benett)

Two dozen arts organisations, including a theatre group that brought stars including Jenna Coleman, Anne-Marie Duff and David Harewood to the London stage, are set to quit the capital to keep their government funding. The arts exodus has been sparked by the levelling-up plan to spend more on culture outside London.

By committing to relocate by October 2024, the 24 arts groups have been guaranteed two years’ funding.

Waterloo-based Headlong Theatre, whose recent successes include the Young Vic’s Best of Enemies which opens in the West End later this month with Harewood starring opposite US star Zachary Quinto, has joined Arts Council England’s (ACE) Transfer programme.

The government ordered ACE to funnel at least £24 million of investment a year from London to the regions with a further £8m being taken out of the capital to fund groups to relocate.

The 24 groups on the Transfer scheme also include award-winning touring theatre Paines Plough, which helped launch the career of Doctor Foster writer Mike Bartlett, and the National Jazz Collective.

The plans are revealed today as ACE releases details of its latest funding settlement which covers 2023-26.

Writing in the Evening Standard, ACE chair Sir Nicholas Serota admitted there had been “tough decisions about how much funding London receives and where in the capital that money is spent” with “many of the biggest names” having to “face reductions in their funding”.

The announcement has also cast doubt on the future of English National Opera (ENO) which previously got £12 million a year but is no longer included in the portfolio.

The ENO, which had its funding removed temporarily in 2015 over concerns about its business model, has long been seen as hamstrung by its home at the vast Coliseum Theatre in the West End which is hugely expensive to run.

Sir Nicholas said ENO will be given £17 million to “develop a new business model” which could see them move to Manchester, though a spokeswoman for the organisation said it would “continue to manage the London Coliseum, using it to present a range of opera and dance while maximising it as a commercial asset”.

Other organisations face funding cuts – albeit not on the same scale – with the Southbank’s annual grant cut from £18.3 million in the last round to £16.8 million.

The Royal Opera House, which received £24.7 million a year under the previous deal, will now get £22.2 million.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said the deal was “spreading more money to more communities than ever before”, adding: “We continue to support our icons such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Shakespeare Company, but today’s announcement will see organisations in places all too often overlooked get the support they need to transform access to the arts for everyone - no matter where they live.”

London will still get a third of the £446 million a year which is shared between 990 groups with some smaller organisations in the capital benefiting including the London Borough of Merton whose libraries will get £116,050 a year, while Walthamstow’s award-winning William Morris Gallery will benefit from annual funding of £61,104.

The Jewish Museum of London will get around quarter of a million pounds a year and the Foundling Museum will benefit from an annual award of £150,000.