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


Supplementary memorandum submitted by North West Arts

Letter dated 14 January 2002 to the Chairman of the Arts Council of England from the Chairman of the North West Arts Board

  Our Board met on 17 December to consider the draft transfer proposal. You asked in your letter of 30 November for feedback from the Board on what we realise remains work in progress. I hope that this response will be useful in ensuring that the final document is appropriate to allow this process to move forward.

  Clearly considerable work has gone into fleshing out some of the detail around the proposal, and this provides assurance on a number of issues. In its discussions the Board was very mindful of its responsibility to act independently and with due diligence in the interests of the charity for which it is a trustee. In this spirit, we focussed on a few key issues where greater clarity or reassurance would be particularly helpful. There are a number of detailed points also, but I will not seek to deal with all of these in this letter; they are best left to the ongoing officer discussions.

  The most critical areas we want to be sure of are around resources to do the job we are being asked to carry out, staffing and the fundamental issue of delegation and governance. On this latter point, the documentation, including the amended Charter, shows helpful progress and the Board acknowledged this in its discussion. However, it remains of paramount importance, as the Secretary of State has said, that this process protects and enhances regional devolution and determination rather than the reverse. If we get this right, and the issues of staffing and resource, then I have confidence that we can continue to carry out our remit, on behalf of the arts in the North West, within the new organisation.


  We very much welcome confirmation that we will have delegated authority to devise and set the staffing structure we feel we need to do the particular job that this regional office will have, within agreed resources. However, we are concerned about transferring without any clarity on proposed structures. It is evident, given the tasks that regional offices will be required to carry out that many current jobs in the regional office will remain as they currently are. For many, if not all, staff it should be possible to give that certainty before transfer, and we would ask that the Arts Council allow us to do so. Our legal advice, incidentally, is that "consultation with staff on proposals for reorganisation (and if possible agreeing the new structure in advance of the transfer so that it can take effect on the Transfer Date)" is possible at this stage.


  At the very least, we feel we need assurance on the resource we will have to deliver the functions we are being asked to deliver. The addition of Cumbria to our region is an exciting opportunity. It is an important area, with challenges of geography, rural issues, urban decline, and a strong base of artists, particularly individuals. Given the emerging national rural agenda in the wake of foot and mouth, it will be critical that as a system we give effective service to Cumbria, and other similar areas around the country, in the coming years. We will be unable to respond to this challenge in the North West within our existing resources for staff and overhead. We estimate that our arts budget will increase by something in the order of £1.5 million with our newly configured region. Our current budget plan provides for our reducing NWAB's total overhead, including all staffing, to 9 per cent of total income by 2003-4. We would propose provision of the same percentage overhead applied to our increased gross income, being maintained until such time as the Regional Council feels able to confirm its full structure and costs within that envelope. A guarantee on this would be immensely helpful in our satisfying ourselves that delivery of our charitable responsibility will be protected in the new organisation.


  We understand that the final document will include a clearer indication of the functions we and other parts of the organisation will be expected to carry out.

  The Board feels it is important to understand more fully the proposed functions of the National Strategic Office as this will have a direct impact on our own activity and resource needs. We feel the new organisation will need an effective and supportive centre. However, it is essential that this does not, inadvertently or otherwise, interfere with relationships and decisions relating to clients, partners and arts organisations in the regions. Again, it is critical that there is proper regional delegation, and also recognition that "national" functions could and should take place in and from regional offices and not just the national strategic office. One important point relating to this was that the Board felt it was extremely important to ensure a full separation, in terms of offices as well as organisationally, between the national office and the London office. This would help ensure that the national office is genuinely strategic and "national" in its outlook, and also as slim as possible. We would ask for as much clarity as possible, for example through an indication of structures, on the national strategic and corporate services areas, and how they will relate to the regions.


  Whilst focusing on its responsibility for the arts in the North West, the Board was also very clear that this major reorganisation must meet the aim of genuinely improving the service and funding the system delivers to the arts. The benefits, and how they will be achieved, are not dealt with in the Proposal, and we feel they should be, as we will all need to be accountable for their delivery in the new organisation.


  Finally, there are a number of important process points that will need to be gone through before transfer. These include:

    —  Ensuring that a proper legal agreement for transfer of the assets is now drafted and agreed as a matter of urgency, as such documentation will be necessary for the formal transfer to take place;

    —  Confirmation (presumably in the above legal agreement) on how the agreements in this Transfer Proposal are protected post transfer;

    —  Ensuring that the current progress on the pensions issue is satisfactorily resolved before transfer.

  Clearly there is much to be done, and we remain committed to playing our part in the process. I look forward to meeting you in January and discussing this further.

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