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
1. FAILURE TO
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
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.
2. LACK OF
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 realnot 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, readyand 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
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 devolutionand 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 structuresnot 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 restructuringsimplification and improved effectivenessare
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