On Tuesday, the MU's Acting Regional Organiser for Scotland and Northern Ireland Sam Dunkley, joined members at Equity’s rally in Belfast to resist the proposed cuts. You can read his full speech below.
I’m proud to be here with you today, as the Acting Regional Organiser for Scotland and Northern Ireland at the Musicians’ Union. I’m grateful to Alice, and Equity, for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to speak.
As the trade union for professional musicians, we represent over 33,000 working musicians in the UK who work across all areas of the music industry. Our members are instrumental music teachers, orchestral players, composers, session musicians and everything in between. They run community projects, perform gigs large and small, and provide the soundtrack to our lives.
Even standstill funding would be a real terms cut
As a Union we are deeply concerned by the media reports that Arts Council of Northern Ireland have asked organisations in their Annual Funding Programme to assume 10% cuts to their budgets in the 2023-24 period.
This is on top of double-digit inflation figures which mean even standstill funding would be a real terms cut, and we know Northern Ireland is already poorly served by public funding for the arts.
The ACNI Chair said last year – and I quote - ‘Despite fulfilling almost identical functions, investment in the Arts in NI sits at only £5.44 per capita, based on 2022/23 budget figures. This contrasts sharply with Wales at £10.35 and the Republic of Ireland at £25.90 per capita.’
To cut that figure still further is reckless and risks undermining a fragile sector still further, and the leadership team at ACNI know it.
The Chief Executive of ACNI said last year – again I quote – ‘public investment in the arts … has fallen by 28% in cash terms over the last decade, from £14.1m to £10.1m, closer to 49% when inflation is taken into account.’ – double digit inflation and a further 10% cut to the budget of ACNI would be grossly unfair.
In 2019 the music sector contributed almost £345m to the local economy in Northern Ireland
We are concerned that these cuts will fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable in our sector; the freelance and self-employed workforce on which many organisations and artforms rely, and work being created by, for and with those with disabilities and other marginalised groups.
In 2019 the music sector contributed almost £345m to the local economy in Northern Ireland and accounted for almost 6,500 jobs. UK Music report 234,000 music tourists visited Northern Ireland in 2019 generating £81m in tourist spend. We know also that public investment in the arts has a very strong return on investment, it makes no sense to undermine this sector with these ill-conceived cuts.
The new Deputy Prime Minister was speaking proudly on the BBC Laura Kuenssberg show on Sunday of the Governments investment to protect the arts sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. We know how many of those in our sector missed out on that support, fell through the gaps in the safety net the government created when they did ‘all that they could’.
Music is a crucial part of the creative economy of Northern Ireland
The sector is still recovering, with audiences slow to return and thousands of musicians, actors, dancers, technicians and associated professionals having left the profession. To propose cuts to ACNI funding at this time will undermine still further the recovery of these industries and has already put performances, community programmes and careers at risk.
Music is a crucial part of the creative economy of Northern Ireland, contributing to the wider night time economy in restaurants, bars, hotels and so on. The quality and vibrancy of the Northern Irish music scene is world renowned, constantly punching well above its weight, at the heart of the cultural identity of Northern Ireland.
As well as the cultural and economic importance of music, there are overwhelmingly positive impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of participants in community music projects and the audiences of performances. I’m proud to stand with you all, members of the Musicians’ Union and our fellow Unions, to express our deep concern at these proposed budget reductions.
We have to stand together
We have to stand together and urge the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to direct the Department of Communities to think again. To urge the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Communities to maintain or increase the budget of ACNI to ensure that the culture sector, which makes such a vital contribution to the economy of Northern Ireland, is supported to grow and thrive in coming years.
It is not fair or appropriate to punish the arts sector in Northern Ireland because The Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting. It is not fair or appropriate to put jobs in the creative industries at risk to play political games. It is not fair or appropriate to cut the funding of ACNI when its funding is already so far below of that received by other similar organisations.
We must stand together against these proposals, and so I encourage you if you haven’t done so to sign the petition against these cuts. If you have, ask those you make art with to do the same, ask those you love and live with, who’ve supported you in your career and who consume your work to do the same, to sign the petition and send a message to the Department of Communities and to the Secretary of State that this is not acceptable.
Encourage those you work with and make art with to join a Union, and to stand with us now and in the future.