Cultural Cities Enquiry: Enriching UK Cities through Smart Investment in Culture

  • By Spike van der Vliet-Firth


Originally launched in April 2018, the Cultural Cities Enquiry brought together cities, UK Arts Councils and leaders from the cultural, education, design, development, hospitality and technology sectors to consider how and why culture should be funded and how resources can be most effectively utilised. 


The report seeks to advance the cultural funding debate by looking at how culture can be more effectively resourced across the UK and how cities can make use of new and existing resources to unlock the social and economic value for communities. It explores how culture can be a force to shape places, drive economic growth and improve lives and how new investment in arts and culture can be created across the UK, rather than through redistribution of existing funding.

The Cultural Cities Enquiry identifies a great opportunity to release reserves of untapped potential in our cities through investment in culture. The UK’s cultural sector is growing at a rate of 57% GVA a year. Sir Peter Bazalgette’s 2017 review of the Creative Industries highlighted the vital relationship between a strong cultural environment and the growth of creative clusters. However, public investment in culture is decreasing- down 11 per cent from 2012 to 2017 primarily due to the fall in local authority funding. Local government remains the main funder of arts and culture in the UK. 

The report was sponsored by Key Cities, Core Cities, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland and Belfast City Council. It was also supported by London Councils through representation on the Board leading the Enquiry and input into the report itself.  


The recommendations in this report are divided into four themes.

1. Leadership

The report argues that strong and sustained collaboration between strategic city partners can grow a city’s cultural ecosystem and drive lasting social and economic benefits. The Enquiry believes that cities with a clear vision for culture supported by business, city authorities, education and the cultural sector can align activity and funding and leverage new resources.

As a result, the report recommends the creation of City Culture Compacts – a strategic partnership bringing together city authorities, business, education, cultural and community leaders, in order to co-design and deliver a vision for culture in the city. Effective Compacts will set out business plans to deliver measurable progress against local priorities.

The report sees City Culture Compacts as the central architecture that the remaining recommendations will be built around and administrated. During the launch of the report Mike Ellis MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Arts, Heritage and Tourism announced that £220,000 will be made available from DCMS and ACE for each early adopter of the City Compact proposed in the report. Further detail is awaited on how much funding will be available and how it will be distributed.    

2. Investment

Evidence is presented on how culture can create compelling investment propositions that deliver cultural, social, economic and financial returns for the city. By linking cultural projects to civic outcomes, including urban regeneration, growth of the creative and digital industries, health and wellbeing, and tourism, cities and cultural organisations can access new public and private streams of investment. 

As a result, the report recommends: 

  • Enterprise development– establishing and enhancing collaborative networks of cultural organisations to share professional expertise and support joint investment into shared infrastructure.
  • Contactless – that cities and cultural organisations increase donations from visitors by adopting contactless giving technology.
  • Social investment – cities across the UK should establish city-based Corporate Social Venture funds to increase the supply of repayable finance for the cultural and creative sectors, with mentoring support from corporate investors.
  • Tax reliefs – places can increase the impact of Creative Industries Tax Reliefs through supporting smaller organisations to access the scheme, and extending reliefs to literature and popular music.
  • BIDs+ and Tourist Levy – as has been done in Scotland, the rest of the UK should evaluate options for these gainshare mechanisms, to capture value and reinvest in cultural assets within a city. The report focusses on having the conversation and does not directly encourage any stakeholder to adopt this position. 

3. Talent

The Cultural Cities Enquiry calls on local leaders to support the use of culture to release the creative potential of all people in our cities. The cultural workforce should better reflect the diversity of our communities, and cities could be more strategic about nurturing talent for creative industries. Greater coordination at city level can drive development programmes for creative talent and take advantage of the fastest growing sector in the economy. 

To do this, the report recommends:

  • Diverse workforce – cultural organisations should establish diversity targets for their boards and leadership teams, reflecting local demographics and each organisation’s purpose. Progress against targets should be published by each organisation, and city level cultural diversity to be prioritised by City Compacts.
  • Talent pipelines – City Compacts can establish city-wide development plans for growing, attracting and retaining creative talent, aligning resources to increase the supply of training opportunities. This will be supported by greater flexibility in the use of apprenticeship levies and structuring of apprenticeship programmes.

4. Place

The report recognises that cultural activity has a powerful capacity to catalyse economic development and spur the growth of creative and digital industries. Publicly-owned cultural properties can be strategic assets for cities in driving regeneration. But it also recognises regeneration can lead to displacement of culture, as land values rise, and civic returns are not always optimised. Portfolio approaches to asset management can help sustain and enhance a city’s cultural ecosystem, capturing and recycling value into the sector, the city and communities. 

As a result, the report recommends:

  • Asset portfolio approaches – City Compacts will promote collective management of cultural property assets to increase efficiency, allow cross-subsidy and promote long-term viability – deploying private sector expertise in asset management for civic gain. Models including studio space collectives, creative land trusts and creative heritage organisations deliver civic, community or cultural ownership of property assets which support recycling of returns. This can be supported by governments through best practice toolkits, coordination of public bodies and other interested agencies, and funding pathfinder projects. 


London Councils welcomes the findings of the report and the recommendations made. In recent years the conversation around national arts and culture funding had been dominated by arguments on how it should be distributed. Much of this relates to London’s relationship with the rest of the country, and the perception that arts and culture is over-funded in the capital at the UK’s expense.

This report instead serves as a vital tool for combatting these perceptions and looks at how more overall investment in arts and culture can be created. The Cultural Cities Compact calls on cities to bring together relevant local people and institutions to bring in higher levels of investment, make best use of cultural property assets and attract diverse talent. Recognising the power of culture to accelerate growth and placemaking, the report advocates leveraging wider investment to develop local cultural offers. City Compacts will have a strategic transformational focus within their city and focus on delivering the other recommendations in the report. 

The report recognises that Compacts must be built from the bottom up and reflect local priorities. It also does not define the geography for a City Compact. London Councils welcomes the recognition in the report that London is different to the rest of the UK due to its scale, diversity and unique governance arrangements. The report identifies that established partnership structures, such as London’s Sub-Regional Partnerships, could be used to gain similar recognition from government and others in the development of a Compact. 

The key to success for the Cultural Cities Enquiry will be the adoption of City Compacts. It is welcome that initial funding support has been pledged by the government and ACE, however it remains to be seen whether this is enough to embed effective networks in cities across the UK. The government should consider how additional tools and resources will be provided to local areas seeking to develop City Compacts beyond the stage of incubation. This support and publicity will enhance the ability of local leaders to engage and galvanise local business and other key stakeholders around the City Compact. 

London Councils welcomes the recommendations in the report regarding diversity and widening access to the creative industries. The creative sector in the UK is set to create an additional one million new jobs by 2030 but career pathways in the sector are much narrower than others. The report argues for flexibilities to the apprenticeship levy that could be better utilised for developing transferrable creative skills and supporting an inclusive talent pipeline for the sector. These align closely to the asks London Councils has made to government on improving the effectiveness of the apprenticeship levy.

The focus on new forms of investment in the creative sector is a welcome addition to the national conversation on funding arts and culture. Recommendations such as Corporate Social Venture funds offer new opportunities to create local funding opportunities for culture. London Councils would have liked to see the report go further in advocating new forms of funding for culture, including advocating for a tourism levy rather than suggesting further conversation on the issue.  It is good the report re-opens the debate on the issue.

Spike van der Vliet-Firth, Principal Policy Officer

T: 020 7934 9916

E: [email protected]