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


Memorandum submitted by Mr Roger Lancaster

  Up until 30 September 2001 I was the Chief Executive of Yorkshire Arts Board, having worked in regional arts development for 23 years. For five months last year I was seconded to work on behalf of all the Regional Arts Boards with the Arts Council of England (ACE) on the restructuring proposals. I am writing because my experience and knowledge leads me to believe that the changes that ACE is seeking to make are not in the best interests of the arts in the regions.

  There are three main reasons for coming to this conclusion.


    —  The proposals have failed to convince both those who are affected by them in the arts world and those who will need to make them work in the current arts boards and related agencies. The consultation following publication of both A Prospectus for Change in March and Working together for the arts in July has resulted in a clear majority of responses being completely or mostly hostile to the proposals. It is significant that this failure to convince is most marked amongst individual artists.

    —  The consistent refusal by ACE to consider any alternatives to a single national organisation, combined with the lack of detail on how the proposals would work in practice, has resulted in them being widely viewed in the regions as a hostile takeover. A further consequence of the way that the proposals have been introduced has been the loss of trust and confidence in ACE by those working in the arts and by the Regional Arts Boards. The competence of ACE to actually deliver beneficial change is now widely questioned.


    —  ACE has consistently emphasised the administrative savings that they say will result from the proposals. The figure of £8 million to £10 million savings has been dangled as a cynical and attractive carrot without any substantiation of how it will be achieved. Most importantly, there has been no cost benefit analysis of what current services would have to be lost in achieving such savings and whether the arts would actually then be better off. Nobody wants to defend unnecessary administrative costs, and a significant reduction in the size of ACE is certainly possible, but any quantification of savings must be related to how they will be achieved, what will be cut, and what the end result will be.

    —  If the savings arising from the proposals are speculative, the costs are all too real—not least on the consultants engaged to present and implement them. It is now 10 months since the proposals were first published and at least a further year before the new structure can be operational. The cost of this disruption to efficient delivery by the arts support and development system is considerable although, like the envisaged savings, they have not been quantified by ACE.

    —  The insistence on a single organisation has increased rather than decreased the cost of restructuring. If ACE had been prepared to consider alternative approaches then these comparative cost benefits could have been properly examined.

    —  No independent or objective review, report or consideration of the current structure was carried out before ACE announced its "non-negotiable" conclusions. ACE plotted in secret and did not seek the view of those who were essential to the success of their ambitions. It has followed a path of fire, aim, ready—and is still not at the ready stage. It would be difficult to devise a more counter-productive way of initiating major changes.


    —  The ACE proposals do not support broader government policy relating to both culture and the regions. Independent regional media agencies are being set up as part of the Film Council's plans, Sport England is decentralising its structure, and yet ACE intends to create a single national organisation by taking over the RABs. The ACE proposals take no account of the current review of the Regional Cultural Consortiums and their relationship to other regional structures. It is doubtful that the ACE restructuring will be completed before there is a need to change again to create better cohesion within the broader cultural sector.

    —  The imminent White Paper on regional governance is likely to propose that culture is one of the core competencies of Regional Assemblies and that they should have strategic authority over cultural activities alongside other responsibilities for economic development, including monitoring of the RDAs, and the environment. Yet the ACE proposals are akin to the existing RDAs being amalgamated into one organisation that is then asked to act in the specific interests of each region and be accountable to nine separate Assemblies.

    —  ACE has asserted that it wishes to devolve increased responsibility to the regions yet insists that a prerequisite of such devolution is that it takes over the existing RABs. This cannot be devolution—and it is significant that the current ACE Draft Transfer Proposal admits—"Devolution, in its true sense, is an impossibility within a single organisation". Genuine regional development requires the strengthening of effective regional structures—not larger amalgamated national organisations. A further restructuring could be required immediately this one is complete to make it compatible with government regional policy.

  ACE's proposals provide neither an adequate analysis of the changes needed nor of how they can best be achieved. The obsession with creating a single organisation should be abandoned before further damage and costs are incurred. The main objectives for the restructuring—simplification and improved effectiveness—are not dependent on a single organisation. The retention of the RABs working with a significantly slimmed down Arts Council, with better leadership and a common sense of purpose, would achieve more beneficial change, quicker and at less cost.

  I would be happy to offer any further assistance or information that the Committee might find of use.

9 January 2002

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