Call to reduce public sector costs

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald in early February reported upon the intentions of the NSW State Government’s call reduce public sector costs – read reduce staff numbers – as the State Government seeks to balance its budget in the wake of spending on Covid-19 measures.

This is not entirely unexpected. I’m sure it will happen in each of the major States, in particular those that incurred significant additional costs. Just as I’m sure it will be more likely to occur in NSW where there is Liberal Government, than in others States with Labour Governments.

Regardless of political persuasions, at the end of the day, each State Government will seek to balance its books, by either reducing costs, increasing State revenue or doing both. Increasing revenue through taxes is always an unpopular option. Most people will accept Government cost cutting measures. So long as they are not on the receiving end of staffing cuts.

The arts sector has expressed concern at staffing cuts leading to less efficient service delivery and support from Government. In a worse case scenario, cuts to government spending at either the Federal or State level could have a negative impact upon arts funding over the next couple of years.

As usual, it will be the little people, or small business that will bear the burden of Government’s seeking to reduce costs. When there are less people to do a job, it takes longer for those remaining to complete tasks. Delays add to the the cost of doing business. Stretched deadlines for processing grant applications and distributing funds lead to less time for art organisations and individual artists to prepare works or submit applications for events and exhibitions.

When Governments start cutting costs, artists and arts organisations can anticipate there will be less funding money to go round. Reduced funding leads to homogeny in arts as artists and organisations seek to reduce risk by producing art they know will sell and reducing their exposure to risk. Only those organisations with deep pockets will take a risk on the art they create. When art becomes boring less people are prepared to pay hard earned cash to visit or view those works. At the same time, people that have been made redundant dreduce their spending on art.

It is important the arts sector maintain pressure upon Governments, keep advocating for sustained support and for recognition of the valued contribution of art to society. Equally, it is important Governments change their perspective. Instead of viewing the arts as a variable cost to society, able to be reduced or increased at whim; view arts for the value they add in bring people to places, raising hope and improving moral, improving overall social and emotional wellbeing, getting people out of their homes, helping with education, and so on. None of these are costs, they are benefits. They add value. They help to reduce healthcare and welfare costs. They create employment. A vibrant and supported arts sector contributes in a positive manner to the tax revenue of any State.

I’m John Coxon. I blog and podcast on art topics and provide consulting services to arts organisations in Australia. I can be contacted by email.

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