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MU Meets with Arts Council England Following Arts Funding Cuts

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl has met with Arts Council England (ACE) as the union campaigns to reverse damaging funding cuts to English National Opera and others.

Published: 11 November 2022 | 12:21 PM Updated: 11 November 2022 | 5:19 PM
Empty red seating in a concert setting
The more noise we can make as a collective, the better chance we have of convincing the Government and Arts Council England to act. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Following the announcement of devastating arts funding cuts on 4 November, MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl met with ACE Chief Executive Officer Darren Henley and Music and London Director Claire Mera-Nelson on Tuesday 8 November.

Naomi challenged them on the cuts, asked what could be done to secure the future of the affected companies and emphasised the importance of these organisations for the employment of professional musicians.

Talking to members and management

MU organisers have been meeting with players and management from English National Opera (ENO), Welsh National Opera (WNO) and others to support musicians and work with the managements to pressure the government into reversing these cuts. Press events and social media campaigns are already underway to keep this issue in the public eye.

Challenging arts funding cuts at the highest level

Given that the ACE cuts have come about as a result of Government reductions to arts funding, the MU has also asked Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan for an urgent meeting. We have also asked our parliamentary allies to question Ministers in the Commons and the Lords and we will let members know what the responses are.

We are particularly looking to challenge the idea that taking money away from London organisations is the best way to implement the ‘levelling up’ agenda, which was championed by the previous Culture Minister Nadine Dorries.

The MU is in favour of providing more funding to other areas of the UK. But with investment in the arts giving such a high return to the UK economy, it makes no sense to threaten the future of existing successful organisations by implementing these savage cuts.

Undermining vital arts cultural organisations in all four nations

The strategy also makes no sense given that Welsh National Opera also lost a third of its ACE funding.

As MU Regional Organiser for Wales and South West England Andy Warnock says:

“Welsh National Opera is a vital cultural organisation for audiences across Wales and much of England, from Liverpool to Truro, and a crucial part of the music industry in Wales.

“As an opera company with a full time orchestra operating outside London, the cut that Arts Council England is proposing to Welsh National Opera’s funding is the opposite of levelling up and risks causing serious harm at an extremely difficult time.

“On top of the immediate cut Welsh National Opera will suffer a further real terms cut with standstill funding for three years from 2023 to 2026 while inflation is at over 10%. This is a major concern for us, our members, and audiences across England and Wales.

“We urge Arts Council England to reconsider this proposed cut, and work together with Arts Council of Wales to provide Welsh National Opera with a sustainable level of funding into the future for everyone’s benefit.”

Take action now

Alongside the union’s own work, the MU is supporting member and organisation campaigns such as #LoveENO. The union is also working with Equity, whose members are equally affected.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Sign this petition to save the ENO and share on social media using #LoveENO
  • Write to your MP and to Chair of the DCMS Select Committee Julian Knight MP using the union’s template letter
  • Share why opera is important to you, and why you believe the culture of opera and the arts in the UK and abroad matters, using #LoveENO and #ChooseOpera across your social media channels

    The more noise we can make as a collective, the better chance we have of convincing the Government and Arts Council England to act.

    More information about how to support other organisations will be made available in due course.

    Write to your MP template letter

    Dear [MP name here]

    I am writing to you [as your constituent / in your role as Chair of the DCMS Select Committee].

    My address is [insert your address here]

    On Friday 4 November, Arts Council England (ACE) announced huge funding cuts to English National Opera (ENO) from April. This was accompanied by an instruction to relocate from its current home, the London Coliseum, to a location outside of London.

    [Use this space to talk about a personal experience of the ENO or opera as a worker, musician, fan, or someone who has taken part in ENO outreach activities. Personal stories about the difference the ENO has made to your life are crucial to convincing MPs to act]

    Whilst I recognise the need for culture to be funded in all parts of the UK, it makes no financial sense to destroy a cultural institution of nearly 100 years:

    • It is the workplace of 300 permanent singers, musicians, and technical workers, as well as several hundred freelancers, every year.
    • For every £1 of ACE funding, ENO generates £2. Arts funding is one of the most lucrative investments that the Government has, and levelling up should involve increasing overall funding for the whole country rather than cutting it in London.
    • ENO’s mainstage work is heralded around the world – their version of Philip Glass’ Akhnaten, a co-production with the Met, recently won a Grammy.
    • It also has the most diverse full-time chorus in the country, provides Free Tickets for Under 21s and has an average ticket price of £65.
    • 15% of the ENO’s audience are aged under 35 – the youngest audience for opera anywhere in the country. Moreover, in the last four years, around 50% of its audience have been first time opera goers. This is ground-breaking in the opera world.
    • During the pandemic, ENO not only continued to perform work through initiatives like Drive and Live, but also supported the NHS by launching ENO Breathe, which provides breathing training to sufferers of long-Covid. This is now available in more than 80 NHS Trusts around the country.
    • Since September of this year, ENO has already provided 5000 school children with music training through ENO Finish This.

    By forcing the ENO to reconfigure and reduce so drastically, alongside many of the other proposed cuts to London theatres, ACE and this Government run the risk of losing London’s status as the cultural capital of the world.

    Please raise this with the Government as a matter of urgency.


    You can find your MP’s email address on the Parliament website.

    You can still write to your MP if you’re a British citizen living abroad, and if you have no fixed address.


    Please Get in Touch

    If you are an MU member that has been affected by ACE cuts please get in touch with your Regional Office and let us know so we can continue to build a full picture of cuts across the UK.

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