March Budget 2017: what it means for Culture and Learning

15 March 2017

This month the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond presented his final Spring Budget. This Budget heralds some big structural changes, particularly for education and learning, for freelancers and the self-employed and for Science and Innovation. Here’s our analysis of what it means for cultural learning.

From now on the government will be moving its schedule and will make major financial decisions in the Autumn. You can read the Chancellor’s speech and here are the documents. The government has also provided this handy one-pager that sets out the major investment areas.


New Schools White Paper

One of the biggest headlines is the confirmation that there is a new Schools White Paper on the horizon – apparently about to be published imminently. This will replace last year’s  ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ which focussed on Academisation and which was scrapped by Autumn 2016.

It’s very likely that the new White Paper will focus on the government’s ambition to increase Free schools and Selective schools, with the architecture for this laid out in this budget, and the headline policy outlined by the Prime Minister in this piece in The Telegraph. It will follow on from last Autumn’s Green paper on Grammar Schools: Schools that work for everyone.

As always, it is absolutely essential that the arts, culture and creative industries are reflected properly in this new Schools White Paper, and that it is hand-in-glove with the government’s new Industrial Strategy plans; particularly the proposed strand for the creative industries.

Free Schools

One of the biggest investments in the Budget is into the Free Schools agenda, with £320 million for the set-up of 140 new schools, 30 in this parliament and the remainder in the next.

It will be interesting to see whether this will be enough money to achieve this ambition. In February this year the National Audit Office published a report on Free Schools. By September 2016 there were 429 Free Schools open and in the same period the Department of Education had purchased 175 sites for the schools – at an average cost of £4.9million and says that ‘The Department estimates that it will need to spend a further £2.5 billion on buying land from 2016 to 2022, making it one of the largest land purchasers in the country’

It’s also worth noting that there is even more money for Free Schools in later years in the small print of the documents, though not announced in the speech. The Times Educational Supplement report this at half a billion.

Toby Young, Director of the New Schools Network (the charity which sets up free schools) has written his response to the budget in this article.

Selective schools and free travel for disadvantaged children

As Teresa May sets out in her speech above, the government is committed to the principle of selective education (though it will need to amend legislation to fully overturn the current ban on the set up of new Grammar Schools).

This is a controversial position as many people believe that there no compelling evidence that selective education drives up standards – it’s worth reading the 2016 report from the Education Policy Institute for the headlines of this side of the argument.

In this Budget the Chancellor set out plans for free travel for disadvantaged children to selective schools up to 15 miles away from their home.

We would love to see such a policy adopted for culture – with free travel for disadvantaged children to attend any cultural activity.

More funding for T-levels

T-levels are the government’s proposed technical alternative to A-levels and plans have been in place for some time (see the Post-16 Skills Plan) to develop new ‘learning pathways’ in a number of sectors – including Creative and Design, Digital and business and Administration.

This budget pledged a further £500million for the development of new qualifications and standards to be developed by Industry and Employer Boards and offered as college courses or apprenticeships. The new qualifications will come on stream for teaching between September 2019 and 2022.

PE and Sport Premium

In this Budget the Chancellor confirmed that he will be honouring last year’s pledge to use the revenue from the Sugar Tax to fund School Sport. They will invest £1 billion into school sports and healthy living programmes. The plans for this were laid out earlier in the week by Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening in this speech. Whilst this is good news from our colleagues in PE, and especially our colleagues in Dance, it is worth noting that the money (around £280 million) that was previously earmarked for extended schools revenue – to include cultural activities – appears to have been repurposed towards school sport capital funding.

What else?

There are a number of other interesting education initiatives in the budget including:

  • The number of hours of training for 16-19 year olds in technical education will increase by over 50%. As part of the course, all students will take part in an industry work placement.
  • The government will also provide maintenance loans for students doing higher-level technical courses at National Colleges and Institutes of Technology – like those available to university students.
  • £90 million will provide 1,000 new PhD places, including in science, technology, engineering and maths.
  • £216 million will be invested in school maintenance (although the National Audit Office estimates that it will take more that £6 billion to bring the current school estate up to satisfactory standards).
  • £16 million for a national 5G Innovation Network to trial new 5G technology.
  • And £200 million for local projects to build fast and reliable full-fibre broadband networks.

Wider education picture

As we set out in this month’s CLA Policy and practice round-up, many of the main players in Education have been describing a landscape of cuts, retrenchment and serious financial pressures for the school system, and the Budget does not specifically address this: for example, see Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, writing in Schools Week.

Culture and the Creative Industries

There is nothing specifically in the budget for culture and the creative industries; and we will need to keep an eye on this and the November budget, as we will need to ensure that the financial architecture is in place for any recommendations that result in the upcoming Industrial Strategy.

There is funding in place for some of the strategies other aspects – notably £270 for a Challenge Fund that will encourage Artificial Intelligence and Robotics research as well as drug manufacturing and electric battery technology.

Other funding and initiatives that directly affect the sector include:

  • £435 million to support businesses affected by the business rates relief revaluation
  • Small Businesses and landlords under the VAT threshold will have an extra year to prepare for Making Tax Digital (MTD)

Plans to raise Nic contributions for freelancers were announced but have now been scrapped.

What is not in the Budget?

As always, it is worth noting what is not included, and although there is funding in this  budget for Local Authority Adult Social Care, the response from the Local Government Association flags up the following:

Local government faces a challenging overall funding gap of £5.8 billion by 2019/20. Within this funding gap the cost pressures associated with homelessness and temporary accommodation, and children’s and adult social care, are particularly acute. Plugging this overall funding gap will allow councils to continue to deliver much valued local services including those that contribute to wellbeing in its wider sense, such as maintaining our parks and green spaces and running leisure centres and libraries.


There is also nothing addressing EU Funding, Brexit and its costs or the Refugee and Migrant Crisis.