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


Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from Councillor Andrew Coulson, Birmingham City Council

  I am writing to encourage your Select Committee to take evidence on the proposals to abolish the Regional Arts Boards and to replace them with regional arms of a centralised Arts Council of England.

  The proposals have been widely derided by informed and experienced individuals in the arts world:

    —  There is nothing in the proposals that could not be achieved as well or better with the existing structure, not least because the Arts Council of England already approves board appointments to Regional Arts Boards, and they depend fundamentally on the Arts Council for funding.

    —  There will be no financial savings that could not be better made in other ways—indeed there could be substantial extra costs if the quality and range of services at local level is maintained or enhanced.

    —  No business case has been presented in a way that would justify the reorganisation.

    —  The local authority sector has already been unsettled by the proposals. Many local authorities can see no reason why they should subscribe to Regional Arts Councils which are quangos of central government. They might be persuaded to buy services from them, but that would require complex negotiating with each local authority separately. More likely they would direct the money elsewhere—with loss of a huge swathe of partnership working. [Local authority spending on the arts exceeds that of the present RABs, and local authorities helped set them up—eg by giving the building now used by West Midlands Arts.]

    —  The way the proposals have been handled gives an appearance of central control (eg continuity of ACE board, but reformed regional boards; central control of staffing and IT, etc).

    —  The present arms-length structure is much closer to the government's thinking on regions than the proposed new model based on a single quango.

  The longer the consultation goes on, the more confusion and loss of morale it engenders.

  The view put to me is that Tessa Jowell was bounced into endorsing the Single Organisation proposals without being given time to properly consider alternatives or counter-arguments, or to listen to the widespread well-informed concern at Gerry Robinson's original proposals which were endorsed by Chris Smith.

  I have no way of knowing if this is true. But David Blunkett is now on record as saying that U-turns can be beneficial. I am certain that would apply in this case.

  If continuation of the present legal structures was made conditional on any specific restructuring that is needed, the ACE could achieve all its objectives, while saving huge costs in terms of disruption, personnel costs, compensation and redundancy payments. They would also release huge sighs of relief across the arts world in the regions.

  At very least this alternative should be seriously considered before the final decision is made.

5 December 2001

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