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 waysindeed 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 elsewherewith 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 upeg
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
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