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


Memorandum submitted by Councillor Andrew Coulson, Birmingham City Council


  I am pleased that you are taking evidence from the Arts Council of England about its proposals for reforming itself.

  I am a board member of West Midlands Arts, nominated by Birmingham City Council, and a former chair of the Joint Arts, Culture and Economy Committee of the city council. I am also a Senior Lecturer and consultant at the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham.

  My points are as follows:

    —  There is nothing in the latest version of the Arts Council of England's Draft Transfer Proposal that could not be achieved as well or better with the existing structure, not least because the Arts Council 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 sectors 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 Midland Arts.)

    —  The way the proposals have been handled gives an appearance of central control (eg ability of the Centre to veto appointments of Chairs of RABs).

    —  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.

  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 payment. This would also release huge sighs of relief across arts world in the regions.

  I would of course be willing to come and give more detailed evidence if there is an opportunity to do so.

10 January 2002

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