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Whilst obviously significant for all of us, today's budget feels like a bit of  pre-2014 Spending Review foreplay. So, provoked by Peter Bazalgette's inaugural lecture as Chair of Arts Council England here at RSA this morning, the fantastic questions from our new Chair Vikki Heywood, and the launch of a new RSA-ACE project called Towards Plan A: a new political economy for arts and culture, here is an attempt at the real thing: a zero-based budgeting exercise for the arts.

Zero-based budgeting is often threatened across public services and departments, but in reality rarely happens - there are too many powerful, vested interests in maintaining some sense of status quo. It, (or usually the Treasury in some form), essentially asks the question 'what would happen if this programme/initiative/whole area of public spending was no longer funded? Rather than tweaking spending decisions, zero-based budgeting gives the chance for more radical solutions to fiscal challenges.

Whether you are lover and hater of public spending on the arts (and please let's not call it  'investment' - it's spending, stupid), try this scenario.

Imagine that the Government decides to withdraw all national funding for the arts (apart maybe, from a tiny amount of art education in schools), and also bans local government from supporting the arts. What do you think would be the consequences of such a decision, in the short and long term?

Your predictions will, of course, only be predictions. But they may still help you to understand what 'market failure' in the arts might really look like, and build a clearer picture of the purpose of state subsidy for the arts.

I tried this with a friend, and we came to a simple conclusion... which, in a crude attempt to get some comments on my blog,  I will promise to reveal once I've got five predictions from other people.

You can have this for free - a paper I wrote on 'art as evidence for public policy making', titled Speaking Doubt to Power.


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