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 evaluationboth
of our own performance and that of our clientsare 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