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


Memorandum submitted by North West Arts

  I am writing in response to your request for a memorandum from North West Arts Board on the proposed reorganisation of the arts funding and development system. I have previously written attaching our statements and letters to the Arts Council and have little further to add. However with regard to the particular points you ask about I would add the following comments.


  We have consistently expressed concern about the proposed savings target. We believe that it is important that the exercise does produce savings which can be channelled back directly to the arts, but it is critical that the creation of the new organisation is led by an imperative to improve service delivery rather than by a notional savings target. Consultees have been clear that they do not wish to see savings at the expense of a quality service. We are reassured to see that the Transfer Proposal acknowledges that "the reorganisation will be effectiveness led and not savings led" and trust that this approach will be followed through.


  There ought to be some economies of scale, and improvements through our creating integrated administrative processes across the system. That said, early Arts Council documents overstated the extent to which officers, certainly in this organisation, spend time on bureaucratic administration as opposed to direct client support. We have already significantly streamlined our administration, for example by having three year rather than annual funding agreements with our clients and reducing the extent of information they are required to produce. There is a tension in this area between adopting a "light touch" as we have tried to do, and as the ACE document "Working Together For the Arts" espouses, on the one hand, and ensuring a proper accountability for public money on the other.

  A number of partner funders such as local authorities and regional agencies look to us, as the dedicated arts agency, to exercise judgement and monitoring controls which are not always consistent with a very light touch. A key task for the new organisation will be to develop common approaches that strike the right balance.


  Most RABs have already moved some way to simplifying funding schemes, and it should certainly be possible in the new organisation to consolidate this work. The outline proposals in the transfer document seem to build upon the structures that a number of RABs, including this one, have already adopted. Developing a consistency to this across the system will be welcome.


  It is unclear that the proposal will lead to greater, or less, financial accountability. This issue is more likely to be affected by how processes of monitoring and evaluation—both of our own performance and that of our clients—are set up than specifically by the creation of the single organisation.


  Many consultees have raised concern that this new organisation could represent a shift towards a more centralised system, which is less responsive to an understanding of regional needs, and difference. The Secretary of State has said that the new organisation must devolve real authority to the regions. It is critical that this principle is fully enshrined in the new Charter, and in the structures (in terms of Councils, staffing and budgets) of the new organisation. There will need to be clear statements of authority devolved to the Regional Councils. The Transfer Proposal endeavours to address these points, and it will be important that the culture and method of working of the new organisation fully reflect this philosophy from the beginning.

  A major benefit of the new organisation should be that national policies and strategies are developed from an understanding of common needs and opportunities at local and regional level. We will want to ensure structures and ways of working which mean that the national strategic view is developed from the regions, not imposed from the centre. If we get this right it could be a massive and beneficial shift in the way the system serves both artists and communities.


  The proposal need not, and probably will not, reduce the involvement of local and regional government, and the transfer proposal makes clear the intention that regional offices should continue to engage fully with its regional partners as we do now. It is hard to see how the proposal will in itself enhance such involvement, other than to the extent that the regional view will fully inform the national policy, strategy, and delivery of the new organisation.

  The Board met this morning and resolved to move forward in principle to a transfer on 31 March. They have concerns, but also recognise and wish to embrace the opportunity to genuinely improve the arts funding and development system. If the concerns around regionalism, and proper resourcing, are effectively carried forward in the new organisation then there are opportunities for reform here which will be working positively to effect.

1 February 2001

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