Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence



  On 14 March 2001, the Chairs and Chief Executives of the ten Regional Arts Boards were informed by the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Arts Council of England (ACE) of their plans to initiate a significant re-organisation of the arts funding system. RABs were told that the proposals had political endorsement, they were "non-negotiable", and would be pushed through regardless of RAB views. A deadline of 30 April 2001 was set for RABs to transfer their staff, assets and liabilities to ACE. The Arts Council's proposals were published the following day in A Prospectus for Change. At the heart of the Prospectus was the proposal to amalgamate the existing Arts Council and the RABs to create a single, new national arts funding and development organisation.

  The announcement was completely unexpected; the absence of detail or analysis in the Prospectus of the real causes of excessive bureaucracy in the funding system led to its interpretation by many as a centralist and hostile take-over by the Arts Council.

  The way in which ACE launched its Prospectus contravened the Cabinet Office paper on "Staff Transfers in the Public Sector" and the Cabinet Office's published code of practice on written consultation. However, RABs consulted widely on the proposals and persuaded ACE to agree to an independent evaluation of written responses; this was conducted by the market research organisation, Marketlink (see below).

  RAB Boards all agreed that there was inadequate information in the Prospectus for them to agree to a transfer of their staff and assets into the Arts Council. The original deadline for transfer of 30 April 2001 was withdrawn.

  The RABs shared the views of arts organisations, artists and local authorities that any re-structuring should be informed by a clearer analysis of the objectives and options for achieving improvements than was presented in A Prospectus for Change. The RABs completed their own analysis and options appraisal and developed an alternative model which set out a clear programme of change at regional and national level. Because of its unwillingness to test other models, ACE abandoned its original intention of developing its proposals jointly with the RABs and instead appointed consultants to draw up a second Prospectus, subsequently called Working together for the arts. The idea of a single new organisation for arts funding and development remained both central and non-negotiable in the Arts Council's thinking.


  When, on 14 March 2001, Gerry Robinson met the chairs and chief executives of the Regional Arts Boards, he told them that his plans to create a single organisation for arts funding "had the agreement of DCMS and Number Ten". The immediate political support for the changes proved to be more qualified than the chairman of the Arts Council had implied. In a letter—also written on 14 March—Chris Smith wrote that his support for the proposals was subject to his being satisfied that "the devolution of power to the regions is real and not cosmetic"; that "real savings throughout the system are actually deliverable"; and that "the proposed regional advisory bodies are credible and have clout".

  A debate on the Prospectus proposals was held in the House of Commons on 2 May. Some MPs ridiculed the proposals and MPs from all main political parties expressed concern at the nature of the proposals. The main arguments expressed were that self-determination in the regions was important and that this was best achieved by independent regional agencies, not a single national organisation. In his reply to the debate, the then Minister for the Arts, Alan Howarth, repeated the "tests" that the government would apply to the proposals as articulated in Chris Smith's letter of 14 March. In the House of Lords on 2 July, Alan Howarth's successor, Tessa Blackstone, went further: she said that the approval of the government was conditional on the Arts Council delivering "the administrative savings that would prove impossible to secure under the current structure and that it will at the same time succeed in delivering increased power and responsibility to the regions".

  Working together for the arts was published on 16 July with a statement from the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, who described the Arts Council's plans as an "excellent blueprint". In a letter to the Chairman of the Arts Council on the same day, Tessa Jowell emphasised that "this is a new organisation with regions at the heart—not just a re-invented Arts Council. The new organisation must work differently, must work well, and must attract and retain the best people".


  Disclosure of the results of the consultation on A Prospectus for Change was postponed until after the publication of the second prospectus Working Together for the Arts. On 18 July the results were posted on a poorly signposted part of the Arts Council website. There were 1,120 written responses to A Prospectus for Change. Ten times as many respondents were "completely negative" about the proposals as were "completely positive".

  The consultation period on Working together for the Arts ran from mid-July until mid-September. There were 416 written responses. Among the possible reasons why the response rate to the second prospectus was considerably lower than that to the first prospectus were fatalism, cynicism and demoralisation in relation to the change process; and the fact that many artists and arts organisations felt that they had their say on the central idea of "a single new organisation" for arts funding—an idea which was at the heart of both prospectuses—when they responded to A Prospectus for Change.

  In addition to written responses, there were two other forms of consultation. There have been about twenty consultative meetings with artists, arts organisations and local authorities—at least two held in each region—about the two sets of proposals; these meetings were attended by members of the ACE Executive Team. At most of the meetings the majority of those present have either been openly hostile to, or seriously sceptical about, the idea of a "single organisation".

  After the publication of Working Together for the Arts the independent market research company Marketlink conducted 74 interviews on the telephone with a sample of artists and representatives of arts organisations. In these, 61 per cent of arts organisations and 64 per cent of individual artists were either negative, cynical or waiting to be convinced (ie neither favourable nor unfavourable) about the impact of the proposals. Respondents highlighted the importance of achieving what is claimed in the prospectus, particularly "fulfilling the objective of delivering significant cost benefits and channelling administrative savings to support the arts". But Working Together for the Arts was a false prospectus because it is unlikely that the promised £8-10 million savings per annum will be realised within a single organisation.

  In the House of Commons on 2 May, the then Minister for the Arts said that the criticisms that had been expressed of the Arts Council proposals "have come predominantly from politicians and people working in the system. Relatively few criticisms have come from artists or arts organisations, although, ultimately, the crucial test will be how the system works for artists". In the two rounds of consultation, 533 letters were received from arts organisations. Of these 350 were completely or mostly negative about the proposals and 124 mostly or completely positive—so among arts organisations negative responses have outweighed positive responses by nearly three to one. Among individuals (mainly individual artists) across the two rounds of consultation, negative written responses (354) outweighed positive responses (55) by more than six to one. Alan Howarth's point has thus been answered. There is no mandate from artists or arts organisations for the changes that the Arts Council is seeking to impose.


  On 5 December the Arts Council's Draft Transfer Proposal was made available in the funding system. The Arts Council intends to issue the Transfer Proposal in a more developed form in January. Regional Arts Boards have been asked to arrange meetings in the second half of January at which they will be asked to initiate formal TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)) consultation processes with the intention that Regional Arts Boards will transfer their staff and assets to the Arts Council on 31 March 2002 eleven months later than originally planned. As charitable trustees, the Board members of the ten RABs will have to judge whether the creation of a single organisation is likely to result in a structure that will provide a better service for artists, arts organisations and the wider public than the present system, and whether any improvements are likely to justify the costs of realising them. On 21 December the Minister for the Arts wrote to the Chairman of the Arts Council endorsing the direction in which the Arts Council is heading in building a single system.

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