Fairer funding for all: how Youth Music ensures an equitable funding spread across England

Since publication of the ‘Rebalancing our cultural capital’ report, there has been much debate about regional funding allocations for the arts. Indeed, the current Culture Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry of Arts Council England is asking specifically whether the geographical distribution of funding is ‘fair’.

Since publication of the ‘Rebalancing our cultural capital’ report, there has been much debate about regional funding allocations for the arts. Indeed, the current Culture Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry of Arts Council England is asking specifically whether the geographical distribution of funding is ‘fair’.

At the National Foundation for Youth Music (Youth Music), fair distribution of funding is of paramount importance to us. In 2011 we introduced a regional allocation formula into our grant-making process, which is beginning to lead to a more equitable balance of funding across our portfolio.

Youth Music’s vision is that life-changing music-making is available to all children and young people.  As a charity, our explicit focus is on those with least opportunity. In this way we differ from many other arts funders: our priority is not the production of art for audiences, but the positive outcomes arising from children and young people producing art, in our case making music. Among our diverse portfolio we have projects working with young people in very challenging circumstances, from work in hospital settings, looked-after children’s choirs, projects offering music-mentoring to children in special schools and lullaby composition projects for young children with development delay.

Youth Music is a designated distributor of £10million per year of Lottery funding via Arts Council England. We currently invest in 411 projects across England, supporting over 90,000 children and young people each year. We take an evidenced-based approach to distributing funds, which means we look at our own data regarding existing provision, as well as the ever-evolving needs of regions and localities based on evidence created and published elsewhere. When we launched our most recent grants programme in 2011, we wanted to ensure fairness and equity within our investment allocations, so we introduced a regional weighting system into our decision-making process.

Our approach

Our regional investment process is made up of two steps.  First, we use a range of internal and external data to identify the priority status of each region.  We then adjust the application success rates for each region according to their priority status.

1. Determining the priority status of each region

We use a number of indices to determine how regional investment should be prioritised:

Youth Music historical investment
Youth Music current spend-per-child investment
Indices of Multiple Deprivation – overall levels and the education, skills and training deprivation domain
Current Arts Council investment in Music Education Hubs
DCMS active people (cultural engagement) data

The data is entered for each region and leads to a corresponding points score based on distance from the overall average (mean) in each category (areas that are most deprived are furthest from the mean and score the highest number of points).  Points for each criterion are added together to give an overall rank, and a tertile rank (i.e. distributed into three - low priority, average priority, high priority) for each region.

2. Weighting of success rates

After undertaking the prioritisation exercise, we identify the value of applications we have received overall to determine what the average success rate would be (it’s usually between 30 and 40%).  We then weight the success rates for each region by up +/- 20% of the average rate depending on the priority score of each region (so the high priority regions receive positive discrimination, and their success rate at each funding round could typically be around 10% higher than the average priority regions). This gives each region a notional investment amount at the assessment panel, with applications working across regions or nationally considered separately.

The reason we weight success rates (rather than working to pre-determined investment amounts) is to ensure all regions have a minimum level of investment at every round. While we want to increase our investment in certain regions, we also need to ensure a minimum quality threshold amongst the projects that we fund.

What has been the impact?

Since introducing this approach we have seen a re-balancing of our investment away from the South East and the South West (areas where we historically received the most applications and therefore funded the most projects).  Funding to London has increased slightly over the period but it does not receive disproportionately more than other regions and is broadly in line with the proportion of the under-19 population resident in London (15%).

We have started to see greater equity across all regions, with the North East and Yorkshire (the two top-priority regions when we first undertook the exercise in 2011) moving closer to the average in terms of their points scoring.  In addition, Youth Music investment in the 20% most deprived Local Authority areas (according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation) has increased by 8% - from 37% in 2011/12 to 45% in 2012/13.

Other ways of addressing regional imbalances

It’s not just about being responsive to the number of applications we receive. If there has been a historic lack of investment in an area then chances are we’ll see fewer applications located there.

That’s why funders need to be intelligent and respond in appropriate ways.  One way Youth Music has done this is by introducing additional funding for our strategic ‘Musical Inclusion’ grant-holders, who are charged with identifying areas where there is little activity taking place (‘cold spots’), and developing sustainable provision and working with emerging (‘breakthrough’) practitioners, who are nurtured to deliver future activity.

Other funders have tackled these issues in different ways.  Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places Fund specifically targets areas of low cultural engagement. Garfield Weston recently introduced the Weston Charity Awards (a package of funding and organisational development support) for organisations in the North East, after seeing a decline in applications from that region in recent years.

Undertaking the regional prioritisation process at the start of every funding round is a useful exercise, as it enables us to gain an up-to-date picture of the current scene.  We run a training course for Youth Music grant-holders and potential applicants on taking an outcomes approach, and in the latest round the location of this training in two regions (North East and West Midlands) was in direct response to their priority status.  As we undertake a review of our funding programme we will explore how we can better respond to geographical imbalances, building infrastructure where it is currently lacking and responding to ever evolving need.

A recent Arts Professional survey asked ‘should the distribution of Lottery funding for the arts reflect regional population densities?’ This may be a simple formula for funders to adopt, but we argue strongly against this being used as a sole measure, as it takes no account of deprivation (which is not evenly spread across the country) and hides rural isolation and other geographical issues.

Funder responsibilities

We strongly agree with ACE that great art should be available to everyone. We all want a diverse, thriving and accessible arts infrastructure, reflective of the culture in which it exists. To achieve this, funders need to take an intelligent approach to ensure an equitable and ‘fair’ distribution of funds across the country. This approach might start with the development of a geographical investment process, but this will never be an end in itself.  Funders should be (and are) looking further than this to try and overcome the root causes of the imbalances. This will not be an overnight process, but it is only by being honest about where we can improve, using evidence, and taking action now that we will start to redress the balance.

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Mark Davyd's picture

Thanks for posting this Carol, I think it's hugely informative about the distribution of funding, the aim that drives it and the reasoning behind it. I cannot speak to the national impact of your process, but I think the outcome for our specific region (The South East) is causing us some concerns, even though we support a lot of the reasoning above.

The South East has the largest population (16.2%) and falls second on the GVA per capita list (although we would note the gap between Greater London - at £35K - and the rest - with the South East at the top of a group of 5 regions with a spread of between £18K and £22K). We completely agree with the point about specific areas of localised deprivation, especially rural deprivation and isolation, but we must also address the outcome of the process when it is applied by Youth Music: In the latest round of module funding awards, no funding at all was awarded for Kent, Surrey, East Sussex, West Sussex or Medway, which includes the two most populated counties in England. Consequently, there is a general feeling within the region that whatever the methodology, something isn't working quite right. Obviously those counties have young people in challenging circumstances, how do we ensure Youth Music funding and support reaches them?

I think this is a complex issue, and I believe Youth Music have taken a positive approach to it which we, as an organisation, also take locally; trying to identify need and weighing up that need against a finite resource. At the same time, I believe that for our region the outcome has seen a too significant fall in the available funding, and we are concerned about perceptions that Youth Music is failing to understand that need and therefore address it through the funding system.

A funding system that aims to support those with the most barriers to engaging with music is to be applauded, but if the outcome of that process means that no projects are funded in entire regions of the UK, then perhaps we need to work together to revisit the database of statistics on which this methodology is based?

Great post, really good to see Youth Music being absolutely up front about the methodology. In a perfect world, of course, there would be enough funding to meet the need and Youth Music wouldn't be placed in the position of having to balance very complex issues such as these.

Graham Dowdall's picture

YM, along with ACE and others have clearly been put in an invidious position by repeated rounds of "austerity " cuts and using these as an opportunity to refocus how this shrinking pie be divided up equitably and for the benefit of the most needy is to be welcomed. Obviously any re-assignment of funding is going to result in winners and losers and creating mechanisms to ensure those in the most challenging circumstances rightly receive the most is a tricky and reductive business.
As someone who has worked on YM projects across the country and especially in the S East I think it's really important that generalised perceptions about the affluence of the SE dont cause the most deprived in that area to suffer for the wealth of their neighbours. In many parts of the SE the pockets of deprivation can be fragmented and small but these pockets are very real and it can be both surprising and shocking to see how close people living in really difficult circumstances live to the very wealthy. In some ways this can be even more alienating and destructive for the young people we work with than the " communities of deprivation " to be found in other parts which can create and sustain some cultural solidarity and community.
I'd urge YM to make sure they pull back the curtains on hidden deprivation so that young people actually as well as statistically living in challenging circumstances get a fair opportunity to take past in life changing musical activity.

Carol Reid's picture

Thanks for your comments Graham and Mark. I am in complete agreement with your caution about hidden deprivation, Graham. This is something that grant applicants to Youth Music frequently identify, and also something that our Musical Inclusion grant holders are supporting through the cold spot element of their grants (which can apply to geographical ‘cold spots’ or groups of young people in challenging circumstances who are not being reached by other provision).

Whilst our investment in the South East has declined slightly since the introduction of the regional investment formula, the formula will never create a situation where no projects are funded in entire regions of the UK. We will always ensure that there is a certain baseline success rate in each region that we will not go below.

In relation to grant awards from the last round - in making our decisions about which projects go through to the second stage of the application process, we also look at active grants in each region. So whilst there were no projects from the last round in Kent, Surrey, East Sussex, West Sussex or Medway, there are a large number of existing Youth Music-funded projects already active in these areas.

Russ Grooms's picture

Hi Carol

Thank you for giving such a detailed breakdown of how you assess funding in each region. It's great that you take into consideration what has happened historically as well as looking at what is already happening in a particular region whilst making your decision. With this in mind, I can't help thinking that based on the information Youth Music would've been amassing from a number of sources and organisations as early as 2011, and certainly by 2013, surely you would've already, or at least had an inkling that funding would be reduced for the South East by this recent funding round? In principle, i don't have an issue with YM deciding to move funding to other regions of need, we must of course all learn to spread our butter a bit thinner in this economic climate but what I am struggling with is the idea that not only must YM already have know they weren't able to fund further projects in the region by a specific point, they then actively encouraged new and previously funded organisations to spend vital monies, energy and capacity in planning and submitting applications, only to be turned down not on the strength, content or value of the bids but simply because there was no budget to pay for additional projects in that region. Surely it would've been more sustainable for the region to highlight that there would be no more funding available for a period of time, based on a perfectly reasonable set of criteria, thus allowing those organisations to pitch their energies elsewhere and to source funding to build on the substantial investment of previous YM applications?

Dougie Lonie's picture

Great to get some debate on this topic - a hot potato all over the place!

Just to clarify a couple of things... Youth Music has never *not* invested in any region in any round. It would also be impossible for us to invest in every county at every round, so we can't use that as part of a sensible distribution formula, although we of course look at what is active in each county in a region at each decision panel.

In terms of the South East, in line with our strategy to devolve some funding away from solicited single organisations to other, smaller organisations through open funding streams, we have actually seen a 48% increase in funding for the South East between 2010/11 (£786,435 granted between 14 organisations) and 2012/13 (£1,165,468 granted between 18 organisations) (2011/12 also saw £949,353 granted between 20 organisations). For comparison the East region has seen a 45% increase in the same period (£467,861 to £680,727).

This significant increase might not be how it feels for certain practitioners or organisations on the ground, but I can assure you that we are constantly driven by making the right decisions for the children and young people we can help with our funding and ensuring that the best projects across the whole country are funded at each round - in that light I would encourage any potential applicant who has identified a need to continue to raise funds from Youth Music and anyone else who might be interested in funding them, I can confirm they will always get a fair hearing and honest consideration. It's always difficult to keep everyone happy, but there is a great deal of rigour and transparency in the assessment process employed by Youth Music, certainly more so than many other funders. People are free to disagree, but I think we're doing a pretty good job in increasingly difficult times.


Dougie (Research and Evaluation Manager @ Youth Music)

Mark Davyd's picture

It is indeed a hot potato Dougie!

Firstly, we are aiming to be as constructive in this conversation as possible, because, as we have already said, we largely support the process laid out by Carol; it is the outcome that causes us concerns.

However, I do feel forced to respond that we do not think your statement that "This significant increase might not be how it feels for certain practitioners or organisations on the ground" is particularly helpful. In our role as the Musical Inclusion holder we attend five Hub meetings and nine sub hub groups. There isn't a single one of those in which these question are not raised by nearly all attendees from a very wide range of organisations - I would go so far as to say that it is unusual to find an organisation in this part of the SE region who does not feel a creeping sense of unease about the funding distribution, even those, like ourselves, who are being funded. I feel that Carol's excellent initial post, which goes a long way to explaining the process, highlighting the aim, and really clearly offering a great summary of the problems faced by Youth Music with a finite resource, is significantly undermined by the concept that only organisations or practitioners who aren't getting the money feel there is a problem with the outcome, that significant extra funding has come in, and that actually everything is fairly rosy. Carol's initial post laid out clearly that the SE region receives less than it would under a per head distribution mechanism, and is now receiving a smaller share of the overall distribution. Youth Music seems to have clear reasons for that, to which I think there is a lot of positive response. Your posting further "lifts the curtain" on the mechanism, and enables us to advise potential applicants better, so we warmly welcome the discussion. We believe that Youth Music can also learn from it, and that by hearing these response it may result in even more of your funding hitting gaps and need.

On the question of not funding any one region in any one round, I don't believe anybody has actually said that. I have said that it is an unfortunate possible consequence of the funding mechanism that entire counties might not be successful, as happened in the last round, and this obviously provokes debates like that within this thread but more importantly within the wider sector. The SE has the largest population, which is why Carol's explanation is so useful, and is also why discussions in this region are likely to be more heated when it is made clear that for positive reasons Youth Music is not adopting a per head of population distribution mechanism. When a funding mechanism results in two of the most populated counties in England receiving no funding in a round of nationally distributed funding, that is, of course, going to provoke questions, and for that reason Carol's initial posting was extremely helpful. These matters are, of course, part of a national debate about funding, a debate Youth Music is obviously taking a strong lead in.

There are pockets within the SE region, such as West Sussex, which we and other partners are very concerned about, and we would encourage Youth Music to actively look at relative and localised "deprivation", especially in Early Years and Special Needs work.

I think your post does raise a very important additional point of discussion, which is about devolving the funding. Could Youth Music clarify how (or indeed if!) you feel diversification of funding relates to the strategic aims we, as MINC holders, are trying to deliver in partnership with our Music Education Hubs? There feels like a significant clash there, which again is not necessarily Youth Music's responsibility, with our MEH lead organisations being told to think about shared services, super Hubs, smaller service teams, entrenched commissioned partnerships, whilst we, as MINC holders, are potentially looking at trying to engage a rolling stream of module funded partners? Do you, for example, have a target number of funded groups in any region? And does the policy of devolving therefore mean an existing funded group has a reduced chance of being funded in future rounds? There seems to me to be a mixed message in the best projects and work being funded and a core aim being to diversify the funding, how do Youth Music balance those aims?

Great to have open and constructive debate on these issues; Youth Music's ability to engage with it supports your statement that you are "doing a pretty good job in increasingly difficult times".