Festivals and orchestras cost little compared to welfare top-up fund

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

For more than half a century, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s has been one of the cultural highlights of life in Northern Ireland.

Even through most of the Troubles, the festival brought famous names and grand acts to the Province.

The roll call of visitors over the decades includes comedians, politicians, philosophers, pop musicians, classical musicians, TV broadcasters, scientists and great actors.

Now the future of the festival looks uncertain after the university around which it is organised has pulled its funding.

The organisers of the festival say that they plan to press ahead with the annual event.

It will be a cultural tragedy if the festival falls, in much the same way that it would be an incalculable loss if the Ulster Orchestra was to fold.

The loss of QUB money is not directly related to government austerity, but it is indirectly so, in that educational institutions, which depend on public funds, are under pressure.

This newspaper is a strong advocate of fiscal responsibility, but even if the most fiscally conservative of the major Westminster political factions were to get their way, the UK would remain a rich country with vast public funds.

The debate is not whether or not we should have large publicly funded bodies, but whether there is room to cut back on the percentage of the economy that is state, and if so where.

Welfare spending has been obviously ripe for reform.

The cost of fully funding (let alone partially funding) both the Ulster Orchestra and the QUB festival would be tiny compared to the £100m or so annual top-up to our post reform welfare system that Sinn Fein have successfully demanded to save Stormont (and have indeed now said is not enough).

There are many other populist uses of public funds, including free prescriptions and free travel at 60, that also deserve scrutiny before we should accept that there is no money for our finest culture.