Arts sector applauds charity reversal

There was applause in theatres and opera houses across the land this afternoon. Not for a star turn by a matinee idol, but for a U-turn by the government.

The Chancellor, George Osborne confirmed today that he was dropping his plans to impose a ceiling on tax-free charitable giving.

The arts sector, which campaigned vigorously against the so-called charity tax were delighted with the decision. As were philanthropists such as Jon Moulton who said the original tax proposal was "a bad decision… which seemed to reflect a lack of proper consideration".

In terms of overall government expenditure the amount of subsidy given lto the arts sector is tiny, but the dames and knights who sit around the arts high table are major players when it comes to lobbying.

Within weeks of the chancellor's Budget announcement in March they had come out in force. The charity tax would cost the country dear, was the cry. Philanthropic giving - something the government had been at pains to promote - would be hit hard, as the National Theatre's Sir Nicholas Hytner told the BBC in April.

Today he was relieved, but told the BBC that the arts were a tiny part of this story.

Sir Nicholas Hytner
Sir Nicholas Hytner

"The charitable sector includes social welfare, education, foreign aid, but even in our tiny corner we were told by a philanthropist who had considering a very large donation that it would be no longer possible and money pledged over five years was also being revised by a number of donors - it is a source of great relief to go back to those philanthropists and talk to them as if these changes were never going to happen."

He had some praise for the chancellor, saying that the ''government should be congratulated. It's pretty impressive to admit to a mistake and put it right so quickly."

Last night, at Hytner's National Theatre, the Greek tragedy Antigone opened.

It tells the story of a stubborn leader who wouldn't listen to advice or change his mind. It ends in disaster.

I didn't see the chancellor in the audience, but I understand that the arts sector are delighted he got the message.