The good points of the Culture Pass

Paris. For the fourth consecutive year, the “Culture” mission spent more than planned. Its budget increased considerably with the arrival of Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée, then under the effect of “whatever it takes” during the crisis linked to Covid-19. This is what emerges from the analysis of this mission by the Court of Auditors, published at the end of April. The excess in 2023 – i.e. €150 million in payment credits – is approximately the same as in 2022, without however reaching that of 2021

One of the primary reasons for this overrun is the skyrocketing inflation since the war in Ukraine, which has caused a surge in the prices of energy, construction materials, and consequently wages. The Court estimates the impact of inflation on the mission's budget at 209 million euros (or 5.7%, in line with the inflation rate of 4.9%). The increase in its 2023 budget, amounting to 72 million euros, was insufficient to cover the total cost, which forced the ministry to arbitrate in favor of its operators, who were made to contribute by reducing their programming expenses or their work.

These additional costs were absorbed by unfreezing part of the precautionary reserve (the payment appropriations blocked at the start of the financial year for each program). Its rate was 0.5% on salaries and 6% on other positions (it was also increased by one point – “the freeze” – during the financial year). Of the 146 million euros “frozen” at the start of 2023, 116 million euros have been unfrozen.

The Culture Pass had to thaw its entire precautionary reserve in order to respond to the greater than expected consumption of the 300 euros allocated to each young person aged 18. As this is a so-called “window” expense, over which the State exercises little control (it cannot prevent beneficiaries from taking advantage of their pass), it was necessary to unfreeze its credits. But as this was still not enough, the ministry had to increase its budget by 32 million euros to cover reimbursement requests from suppliers. As a result, while the initial budget for the Culture Pass was 208 million euros (precautionary reserve included), it ended the year 2023 with a total cost of 240 million euros. The Court of Auditors is understandably concerned about these significant overruns and reiterates its request that the company which manages the Pass have the status of State operator in order to better control its budget. If we take into account the budget of the collective share of the Pass, i.e. 51 million euros financed by the Ministry of Education, the Pass does not cost far from 300 million euros, which in fact, according to our score, the most expensive device in the ministry. The Court must soon publish a report on this system.

Another “box office expense” also caused the accounts to slip: these are the provisions of the National Fund for Employment in Entertainment (Fonpeps), which had to be increased by 29 million euros to respond to the request. Certain hiring assistance schemes in the performing arts have been eliminated since 2023, but due to the dragging effect (delays for processing requests made in 2022), the initial envelope of 39 million euros was no longer sufficient.

Big works

Finally, for several years the Court has attracted “the attention of the Ministry of Culture on the particularly high level of the major works program. The program has reached unprecedented proportions with the recovery plan. » The President of the Court, Pierre Moscovici, once again launched an alert during the recent presentation of the report on the Pompidou Center which he insisted on chairing himself, because investments have doubled since 2018. However, they started from a weak base. If the budget of François Hollande's “Culture” mission appears virtuous in its evolution and its execution, it is also because upon his arrival this President of the Republic was able to benefit from the end of the major works launched during his mandates. previous projects (MuCEM in Marseille, National Archives of Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, Philharmonie de Paris, Picasso Museum-Paris) and that it has not launched new projects.

Next year, the analysis of the 2024 budget will present a completely different aspect: if it is positive from the point of view of public accounts, this will be at the cost of an effort required of the 72 operators of the ministry (museums, higher education schools, etc.) who receive 40% of the credits from Rue de Valois. After Bruno Le Maire's cuts decided last March, the mission's 2024 budget is lower than it was in 2023. At the Ministry of Culture, it is indicated that these cuts will be absorbed by the thawing of the precautionary reserve , but this calls for proof.

The preparation of the 2025 budget, which has already started and for which each ministry must submit its copy in May, pending the Prime Minister's decisions in July, promises to be a headache. The Minister of the Economy would like to reduce State spending by 12 billion euros, or a reduction of 240 million euros for the “Culture” mission if the proportions are respected. Behind the scenes, professionals in the sector want to reassure themselves by emphasizing the political weight of Rachida Dati which would allow her to obtain favorable arbitrations. Response in September.

PLF: finance bill.
LFI: initial finance law.
(1) 4,398 with the recovery plan
(2) 3,939 with the recovery plan
(3) 3,909 with the recovery plan
(4) 3,696 since the budget cuts of March 2024.

© The Journal of Arts

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