Memorandum submitted by the National Campaign
for the Arts
I am writing to you in advance of the Select
Committee hearing in the Arts Council of England's restructuring
plans to outline the position of the National Campaign for the
Arts (NCA) on this matter.
At the time of the initial announcement of the
restructuring, in March of last year, the NCA took up a position
of qualified support for the proposals, in spite of intense reservations
and dissatisfaction with the manner in which these changes were
sought to be introduced. This position is set out and explained
in our response to Prospectus II, a copy of which is enclosed.
The grounds for this support were several.
At the time, a general election loomed. The
NCA was concerned that any in fighting within the arts community
would damage our chances of achieving positive outcomes in election
lobbying. The NCA's campaign during the election did ultimately
achieve such outcomes in securing the adoption of over 75 per
cent of our recommendations by the Labour Party.
A further complication was the matter of the
2002 Spending Review. Whilst the NCA sought to canvas opinions
and support for a united lobby to DCMS and Treasury for an increase
in arts funding, many arts organisations, and the funding bodies
themselves, were locked into introspective wrangling regarding
structural issues of funding deliverywithout the time to
work towards increasing the overall value of funding available.
Our support also sprang from a desire to see
realised the stated intentions of the Prospectus for Change. A
reduction in bureaucracy is something that all those working within
the arts would dearly love to see, and for which the NCA has long
been campaigning. We felt it right that, especially given the
above circumstances, the Arts Council be given the time and opportunity
to demonstrate the validity, benefits and achievability of its
aims and objectives. The NCA was also active in working behind
the scenes to promote dialogue between ACE and the RABs, in an
attempt to identify a compromise or consensus model, under which
all parties would be happy to move forward.
Over the past nine months, however, we have
been repeatedly disappointed by the failure on the part of ACE
to manage this period of change in anything approaching a competent
manner. It appears that the situation which we, through our earlier
support, had tried to avoidthat of a divided and embattled
arts communityhas become a reality. The growing disillusion
amongst arts practitioners and the staff of both ACE and the RABs,
their loss of confidence in the senior management of the Arts
Council itself, has found its way into the national press. It
is the firm belief of the NCA that such negative reports are doing
immense damage to the reputation and popular image of the arts
as a whole. If these reports can be proved to be well founded,
and we have seen much evidence to support this view, then the
Department of Culture, Media and Sport should itself take action
to prevent further damage being done.
This action has none of the dangers seen elsewhere
in government, the case of Railtrack for example, as there is
already a fully functioning system in place, with the RABs and
ACE sharing responsibility. There has been no convincing business
case made for the creation of a single structure and no evidence
to prove that the widely touted savings of £8-10 million
would in fact materialise. The NCA has been actively touring Regional
Arts Boards and has witnessed the high levels of skills and achievements
which they can individually demonstrate. We have far more confidence
in the possibility of achieving increased efficiency within the
current structure than through ACE's proposed unitary structure.
The scope for making savings exists to a far greater degree at
the centre, than in the vital regional contact points, which offer
face to face support to the arts across the UK.
It is perhaps time to view ACE's proposals for
what they really are: an attempt to hold on to power by the centre
in a political climate which is increasingly concentrated towards
devolving that power to the regional and local levels. We must
not allow such ulterior motives to take precedence over the needs,
and reputation, of our rich and vibrant cultural sector.