Tamara Rojo wades into bitter row over London arts funding

<span>Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

One of the ballet world’s biggest stars has accused Arts Council England of “simplistic” decision-making by transferring arts funding out of London.

Tamara Rojo, the outgoing artistic director at English National Ballet, told the BBC that “punishing” the capital would not help anyone, and expressed concern about the UK’s future as a global centre for culture.

A bitter battle has erupted over ACE’s decision to cut £50m a year from arts organisations in London in its 2023-26 settlement to fulfil a government instruction to divert money away from the capital as part of the levelling up programme.

A number of UK arts organisations have been removed entirely from ACE’s national portfolio, including English National Opera, which has had its £12.8m annual grant cut to zero and told it must move outside London – potentially to Manchester – if it wants to qualify for future grants.

ENO chiefs have disputed the decision and said it would decimate the 100 year-old company. Public figures such as Juliet Stevenson, Maxine Peake and Melvyn Bragg have lent their name to protests, accusing ACE of “cultural vandalism”.

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said on Wednesday that the ENO was not welcome in the city if it did not want to relocate there from London. “If they think we are all heathens here, that nobody would go, I’m afraid it doesn’t understand us and therefore doesn’t deserve to come here,” he said.

The ENO has said it is not against moving to Manchester, but against ACE “arbitrarily plucking a location without any consultation” and proposing an “unrealistic timeframe”.

Rojo leaves the ENB for San Francisco Ballet this week after 10 years at the helm. The ENB will experience a 5% drop in income.

The Spanish dancer, who arrived in the UK as a relatively unknown figure before becoming the principal at the Royal Ballet and then the ENB, said cultural institutions in capital cities drive creativity and bring wealth, cohesion, identity, investment and tourism.

She said she was very grateful to the UK because “everything that my career has given me has been because Britain opened its arms to a Spanish immigrant who didn’t speak any English”.

But she said post-Brexit visa rules risked preventing others like her from coming to the UK. “I would not have passed the English test. And since I hadn’t achieved anything yet, I would not have had the points” to get a visa, she said.