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NPO You Better Don't

When the news of the £1.57bn rescue package arrived via the modern carrier pigeon that is Twitter, the work of March For The Arts shifted from taking to the streets with our grievances to looking into how this funding was to be distributed.

It quickly became apparent that the conversation was shifting. Our arts distribution senses were tingling and we wanted to look further into what this all meant.

Fairly quickly the Government announced that it was to appoint four bodies to be responsible for the distribution of the funds - which also coincided with the shoulder shrug emoji being changed to a picture of Oliver Dowden’s face.

The bodies appointed are:

Arts Council England (ACE)

British Film Institute (BFI)

National Heritage

National Lottery

Initial thoughts of, ‘Well at least the purse strings are being held by arts bodies’ led us to thinking, ‘How do these organisations cut their cake?’

Is it into even pieces or haphazardly, like that time I tried to cut a cake with a butter knife? (I’d used the big knife to chop garlic)

Having had most of my funding experience from ACE I decided to investigate further.

You could say, like Sandra Bullock in The Net, but with a lot less floppy discs and illegal activity and a lot more pdfs and downloadable reports.

This brought me to the world of National Portfolio Organisations. Or NPOs for short, and for those who love an acronym.

From my initial introduction it was a bit like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. A place where funding is regularly provided to organisations so they can feel secure in their future and ability to sustain as a company, but the more you read the more it gets a bit odd, like when they go on that random psychedelic boat ride that is genuinely disturbing.

What are NPOs and How do you become one?

Essentially, you apply. Everyone who does fill in the same application form, to be assessed in 4 stages.

  • Assessment by a relationship manager. (are you viable?)

  • Balancing the portfolio (do you fit?)

  • Final decision (who’s gonna sign this off?)

  • Offer and finalising details of the funding agreement (few more hoops)

If an organisation makes it through this process, it will have a structure of regular funding for the next four years, providing security and the ability to plan and deliver projects.

The latest round of funding will run from 2018-2022.

The previous ran from 2015-2018 - We will Delorean ourselves back in time to those figures later on.

But for the moment, let’s see how much we are talking and where ACE are making it rain.

For the round 2018/22

£407m NPOs

£97.3m Grants

£72.2m Arts Council Development Fund

£71.3m per year of lottery funding specifically for touring, children and young people.

Fun Fact: 75% of the lottery budget is invested outside the capital.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that it has specifically been spent on touring activity within the NPO since 2012?

Make it look good on paper ACE.

I’d defo want them writing my Tinder profile.

Cutting the cake

The 2018-22 portfolio sees the NPO funding distribution as

60% outside of London

40% in London

This has been a gradual progression from


56% Outside

44% London

2012 -15

54% Outside

46% London

So there’s progress - progress akin to loading Paper Boy on the Commodore 64 - but progress none the less.

However - and not to dump on this dial-up modem speed of progression - it may be worth noting that in 2018-19:

London NPOs received £161.9m in funding with 253 agreements

The North (West, East and Yorkshire) NPOs received £100.8m with 225 agreements

They have a very similar amount of funding agreements, so a similar amount of companies being helped, however, when you look at this comparing the size of the regions, the spread is much thinner.

Note: It is at this point in proceedings that a moth just flew into my room and died an incredibly dramatic death. Trying to decide if it’s an omen.

When we look at these figures and the distribution of funding it is split into regions, which are as follows,


South East

South West




*These are organisations which are defined as having a significant national reach beyond the region of their home base so are classed in a region of their own.

A Closer Look

Here are some figures of who’s getting some of the sweet cash 2018/19.

In 1 year:

The Royal Opera House (ROH) will get 24% of the NPO budget

£37m will go to 2 organisations within 8 minutes walk of each other.

Both which are Opera companies

£55m will go to Opera companies.

54% of the NPO yearly budget will be spent on opera.

ROH & ROH SSO £24.7m

English National Opera £12.3m

Opera North £10.3m

Welsh National Opera £ 6.1m

Glyndebourne £ 1.6m

Ballet Black became an NPO for the first time in it’s 17 year history, with a yearly sum of £220k

English National Ballet is on £6.2m

Just saying.

But before anyone accuses me of unleashing my attack whippets and pie grenades on these companies, it is worth noting the following *coughs and shuffles papers*

"The four highest-funded NPOs – The Royal Opera House, Southbank Centre, Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company – have all taken an average 3% cut, which works out at around £2.5m a year. ACE said the move would allow it to “focus on bringing in smaller, more diverse organisations into the portfolio”.

ROH went from £26m to £24m


Oh wait, yeah, by letting all their casual staff go.

But for now, let’s use the Delorean I mentioned earlier, and head to a time where we don’t need roads. And by roads I mean diversity in arts funding.


Ah, the years in which we voted for Brexit and Theresa May thought people liked her enough to wager an election on it.

As it stands, the most full detailed figures about NPO funding are from 2016/17 and is the reason I am using them for data and to discuss further ‘The Nationals’ region of the NPO budget.

The 2018/19 figures are due out in October.

The Nationals

So who are the nationals from 2016/17?

When we talk about the nationals, they are referred to and analysed as if they were their own region.

The group consists of Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, Opera North, Royal National Theatre, Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company, Southbank Centre and Welsh National Opera.

Very elite, very white.

Like, The Avengers, but white, oh wait...

Out of 9:

4 are opera

3 are ballet

2 are theatre. 1 of which predominantly does the plays of 1 dead white guy.

4 out of 9 have Royal in the title.

Here are some fun facts

  • Had the biggest expenditure out of all the regions

  • Highest level of subsidy. £16.77 per ticket. More than 2 times the national average. Ballet and Opera having the highest subsidy out of the nationals various disciplines. (And by various I mean specific)

  • Highest average ticket sales - £10 higher than the London region

  • 80% of ticket sales were full price; 18% concessionary

  • Lowest amount of children and young person activity (5%)

  • Lowest amount of new work and artist commissions with 65% being established repertoire

  • 40% decrease in attendance since 2015

These figures come from the same year Royal Opera House Antonio Pappano was paid £795k and the CEO Alex Beard was paid £286K

If these facts were a scene, they’d defo be the one where Marty Mcfly’s mum tries it on with him in 1955. Bit gross, totes inappropriate


So what have we learnt?

Well, it seems pretty clear that ACE really like opera. Like, a lot. But overall, I’d also say that even though they champion strategies of diversity and for people "to enjoy the widest possible range of culture" it seems that they are steadfast into sustaining institutions that are steeped in tradition.

Whilst all art forms have value, one does have to question how it is possible that if The Royal Opera house, is so heavily subsidised, why it is not the champion and pioneer of diversity and accessibility within it’s field? Why did it take until 2016 for The RSC to have it’s first black Hamlet? 2019 for Freed (one of the biggest professional dancewear companies) in collaboration with Ballet Black to create pointe shoes and tights to match BIPOC skin tones.

The need for representation, from training to creation to production is vital, and of course a conversation more nuanced than that of where the NPO funding goes. How these companies are spending this money and how they are promoting diversity and accessibility within their companies also needs to be addressed.

I do want to point out that this isn’t a post aimed at being anti NPO funding, I believe in the importance of it. Without it many organisations, who are doing valuable and participatory work, wouldn’t have the capabilities to do so.

But for me, having looked at these figures, I would suggest that it is time to really look at how we cut the cake.

Note: Good news turns out the moth wasn’t actually dead. Just clearly stunned from the findings.

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