THE ARTS COUNCIL OF ENGLAND "WORKING
TOGETHER FOR THE ARTS" OPINION RESEARCH: NOVEMBER 2001
Marketlink Research was commissioned by the
Arts Council of England to carry out opinion research about the
proposed new system of support for the arts in England. The research
was conducted after the `Working together for the arts' Prospectus
The research methodology was of a qualitative
nature. Research findings are based on a total of 74 depth interviews
conducted on the telephone41 with arts organisations and
33 with individual artists.
Respondents were randomly selected from lists
supplied by the Arts Council and the ten Regional Arts Boards.
"Working together for the arts" was sent (5 to organisations
and 17 to individuals) to respondents willing to participate in
the survey who had not read the Prospectus. Interviews were conducted
with the most senior member of the sampled organisations.
Quotas were set so that the sample represented
all RABs, a cross section of artforms, ethnicity, disability and
rural/urban backgrounds. Venues, touring and national arts organisations
were included in the sample (see Appendix). Fieldwork was conducted
during September and October 2001. The response rate was high,
with 23 organisations in total refusing to participate in the
NoteAttribution of Quotes
The quotes presented in this document
are selected on the basis of being illustrative of the point raised,
rather than representative of the constituencies they represent.
For confidentiality purposes the
name of the region is omitted when specific references are about
a Regional Arts Board.
The attribution to a Regional Arts
Board refers to the location where the respondent is based rather
then where they receive funding from.
Attitudes towards the proposed new system of support
for the arts in England
Among both arts organisations and individual
artists, almost equal numbers of respondents expressed either
overall favourable or unfavourable attitudes towards the proposed
new system of support for the arts in England, with about a quarter
|Neither favourable nor unfavorable||9
Reaction to "Working together for the arts"
This section summarises key opinions about the proposed new
system of support of the arts in England as well as of the reactions
to the issues and questions raised by the "framework for
consultation", which was issued with "Working together
for the arts". Information is presented under the broad headings
used by the consultation document.
Respondents were more likely to agree or to be non-committal
than to disagree that the proposals:
will meet the objectives identified for a new
are likely to deliver well across the full range
of requirements for an arts funding and development organisation
will address issues concerning regional influence
Respondents who agreed were confident in the vision of the
Arts Council and were convinced by the Prospectus promise. It
should be noted that respondents highlighted the importance of
achieving what is claimed.
Those who were non-committal about the proposals, were neither
favourable nor unfavourable about the issues raised. They felt
that more practical detail was required about the implications
of the restructuring or wanted to reserve judgement until they
experience the system in practice. The extent to which the new
organisation will meet the criteria listed above, was also thought
to be dependent on the calibre and personalities of policy makers
and regional representatives. Cynical attitudes, driven by past
experience, that restructuring will not bring change were also
expressed. It was also felt by some that structural change would
have no impact on their particular circumstances. Some respondents
were able to identify both benefits and drawbacks to the new system,
which led to their adopting a neutral attitude overall.
While respondents expressed specific objections to the proposed
new system of support for the arts in England, outlined in the
following section, the way the proposal was introduced and implemented
influenced and increased the overall negative attitudes held towards
the proposed changes.
Simplification; reducing bureaucracy and duplication; providing
greater consistency, fairness and financial flexibility across
the system; delivering cost benefits and channelling administrative
savings to support the arts
Respondents were more likely than not to believe that the
proposed system will simplify the system for the arts community
through a national policy, a reduction of bureaucracy and eliminating
duplication of paperwork. It was claimed that a national policy
would lead to greater consistency and parity between the regions,
a coherent way of applying for funds and access to a wider range
of schemes and funds nationally. It was believed that reduction
of bureaucracy and duplication would lead to cost benefits in
the future and that administrative savings would be channelled
into supporting the arts and providing greater financial flexibility.
Cost benefits were also believed to be achievable from government,
through effective lobbying with one voice and as a reward for
implementing its wish to centralise.
A significant minority disagreed that the proposed new organisation
will meet the objectives above. This was due to lack of trust
in the Arts Council's capability to deliver these objectives,
and experience of past restructures which have not delivered.
More importantly negative responses emanated from a belief that
centralisation will complicate matters, replace the existing bureaucracy
if not cause more, and result in reduced understanding of the
needs of some areas and loss of local access points and contacts.
It was thus believed that centralisation will lead to more costs
and reduced financial flexibility and fairness.
With regard to cost benefits and administrative savings in
particular, a significant number disagreed that these will be
achieved and doubts were expressed that the £8 million savings
will be made. It was felt, by the same group, that more detail
is required of how the Arts Council can meet the objectives identified
for a new organisation in general and how the money will be saved,
deployed and used in particular.
A minority of respondents, who were negatively predisposed
towards the new organisation, questioned whether simplification
and consistency is desirable or indeed appropriate for the arts.
They were critical of a need for a unified voice and regional
diversity was seen positively. A minority also expressed concerns
about the impact of simplification on the range of funding schemes
and the impact of the reduction of bureaucracy and cost savings
on service delivery and support provided. The same group held
the view that there is no need to restructure in order to meet
the objectives of the new organisation.
Devolution of funding and decision making
Beliefs about whether the proposals will increase devolution
of funding and decision making to the regions were polarised between
favourable and unfavourable. Those who thought they would were
convinced by the Prospectus promise. The same group also highlighted
the importance of effectively resolving conflicts arising from
the discrepancy between national aims and regional priorities
and of retaining regional autonomy. Those who disagreed did not
feel that centralisation and devolution are deliverable but that
decision making, particularly of a strategic nature, will be centralised,
and that the regional voice will be weak.
Making best use of resources available; meeting the needs of
arts organisations and individual artists; strengthening the services;
increasing developmental services; enabling effective partnerships.
Respondents were more likely than not to believe that the
proposals will make best use of resources available and will meet
the needs of arts organisations and individual artists, through
the reduction of bureaucracy and the administrative savings that
will be made. The proposals for a single organisation were thought
to be of benefit to artists and organisations working on a national
level. The proposed single organisation will also deliver more
leadership and enhance the central voice and the national profile
and influence of the arts. It was thought that the enhanced profile,
in addition to the savings, will strengthen services nationally,
increase developmental services and enable effective partnerships
to be developed. Some respondents said they would need to experience
the new system first before judging whether it had strengthened
services and enabled effective local and regional partnerships
to be built. Concerns were expressed that the reverse may be observed.
A significant number disagreed that the proposals will meet
the needs of arts organisations and of artists. They felt that
centralisation and the change process would lead to short-term
upheaval and loss of arts officers. This would lead to loss of
valuable contacts, which have been gradually built over the years
and loss of local knowledge. Respondents felt strongly that they
have very good relationships with and trust their RAB, whereas
they have distant links and do not trust the Arts Council. A small
number of respondents also suggested that the proposed restructure
has not taken into consideration the DCMS/Arts Council overlap.
Disagreement was also expressed by a significant minority
about the impact of the proposals in strengthening services to
the arts community and enabling effective partnerships. Respondents
felt that RABs are very efficient in these areas and that a central
system will be less effective for offering services and forming
partnerships of local interest.
A minority did not believe that the proposals are making
best use of the funding and resources available, being concerned
that the cost of restructuring will supersede any deliverable
benefits and about the danger of losing local authority support
for the arts. A minority also did not believe that the proposals
will provide developmental services to increase support of the
arts, either claiming that they will remain the same or that the
aim of the restructure is centralisation, not the improvement
The role for local and regional government on the new regional
councils and the national governing body
Half of the sample were non-committal about whether the proposals
address issues concerning the role for local and regional government
on the new regional councils and the national governing body.
The rest were evenly split between those who felt this issue had
been addressed and those who did not. Those in agreement felt
that the proposals allow for local authority representation. However,
concerns were also voiced about their involvement, in that local
authority officers do not necessarily have knowledge or understanding
about the arts, can be tactical rather than strategic and this
can potentially be destructive. Some concerns were also expressed
about the loss of the "arms length" principle. Those
in disagreement felt that local and regional government should
be more involved in the new regional councils. They were concerned
that the change process may have disenfranchised local authorities,
while admitting that "Working together for the arts"
has addressed the issue to some extent. Concerns were also expressed
about how national policies will affect relationships with local
Decision-making role for the regions in relation to regularly
funded organisations and flexible funds
Half of the sample were non-committal about the decision-making
role for the regions in relation to regularly funded organisations
and flexible funds. Those with a view were polarised, with those
agreeing being satisfied with the Prospectus promise and those
disagreeing being concerned that power would still lie with the
Arts Council and that regularly funded organisations may stagnate
and be neglected.
The appointment of regionally nominated chairs of the new regional
councils to the national governing body of the new organisation;
bringing regional and national consideration together at the heart
of decision making for the national body as a whole
Respondents were more likely to agree than not about the
appointment of regionally nominated chairs of the new regional
councils to the national governing body of the new organisation;
and about bringing regional and national consideration together
at the heart of decision making for the national body as a whole.
Those in agreement felt that the proposed structure would keep
open the channels of communication across the country and that
the national role of the regional council chairs will empower
the regions. A minority disagreed, claiming that the appointment
of regionally nominated chairs would overcome the loss of support
from local officers. Additionally some did not believe that the
regional and national considerations will be at the heart of the
decision making of the national body. A minority also expressed
concerns about the appointment of the council by the Secretary
of State and of the executive directors of each regional executive
office by the Arts Council Chief Executive.
The issue of boundaries was raised, with concerns expressed
about the cultural coherence and size of some of the new proposed
National and touring organisations, London
The position of national and touring organisations and how
the nature of London will be reflected in the new organisation
were issues of concern addressed by respondents to be affected.
A number of comments were spontaneously made about the Prospectus.
While it was thought to be well produced and presented, it was
generally thought difficult to read and understand. It was described
as being "aspirational", and using "wordy phrases".
More detail was required, both generally and specifically, the
support proposed for the individual artists and the support proposed
for smaller or minority groups and areas of work. These included
small companies, amateur groups, community arts, arts education,
"unfashionable" or hybrid artforms, rural areas, disability
groups, audience development and cultural diversity. With regards
to the latter, respondents noted the proposed emphasis on cultural
diversity, but wanted more detail as to how this will be encouraged.
Respondents representing ethnic minority interests felt that cultural
diversity has been advocated for a long time to no real effect.
Finally, clarification of what is meant by "lightness
of touch" would be appreciated. While "lightness of
touch" in bureaucracy is welcomed, respondents would be concerned
if the term implied less commitment, less accountability and less
Respondents highlighted the importance of achieving what
is claimed in the Prospectus. This section summarises a number
of criteria that were seen as critical measures of success for
the new system. These were:
1. Fulfilling the objective of delivering significant
cost benefits and channelling administration savings to support
the arts. Respondents also highlighted the importance of not compromising
the quality of the new structure and output in the process of
2. Devolution of funding and decision making. The success
of the new organisation would be judged by the extent to which:
regional and national considerations were brought
together at the heart of decision-making
effectively resolving conflicts arising from
discrepancy between national aims and regional priorities
rolling national policy out locally
empowering regional councils to influence
and to represent their constituencies
ensuring that decisions that are best taken
locally are being taken locally and those that should be taken
centrally are being taken centrally
retaining regional autonomy
acknowledging regional differences and being
able to respond to local priorities
retaining a strong centre.
3. Good service currently received from RAB should be
maintained, if not improved, with:
intervention at local level
being accessible, with approachable and inclusive
not having lower levels of officer support,
especially at grass roots level, due to cost savings and centralisation
retaining existing contacts
access to expertise at local level
having a "good ear to the ground"
and a good local network to receive and disseminate information
4. Reduction of bureaucracy and duplication.
5. Not losing flexibility and responsiveness due to the
size of the organisation.
6. Appointing high calibre regional representatives and