Memorandum submitted by the Local Government
1. Local authorities make a vital contribution
to the arts in the UK, through a combination of direct funding
and strategic support. The links between arts organisations, local
authorities and the national and regional funding agencies are
extremely complex, and certainly extend beyond simple grant-giving.
2. Reform of the arts funding system, such
as is being proposed in Working Together for the Arts,
brings considerable risk in that it may disrupt successful partnerships,
as well as presenting opportunities for forging new ones. The
success or failure of the proposed reforms will be determined
by the extent to which the Arts Council foresees how changes to
its own national and regional structures will impact on the arts
sector as a whole. The LGA's interest in the process is to ensure
that reform of the funding system does not disrupt (or rather,
enhances) the ability of local authorities to encourage and facilitate
arts activities in local communities.
3. At a national level, the Local Government
Association meets regularly with the Arts Council of England at
both member and officer level. In recent months, the two organisations
have met (bilaterally and as part of a broader group) to discuss
aspects of the proposed new arts funding system, including establishing
a working group to consider the future of local authority subscriptions
and partnership arrangements, and to identify and extend existing
best practice. At a regional level, there are many formal and
informal links between local authorities and regional arts boards
and it is here that the proposed reforms will have the most immediate
impact from a local authority point of view.
4. In the Committee's invitation to submit
evidence, there are four specific questions. This memorandum is
organised around these questions.
Does the LGA support ACE's proposals?
5. The Committee's letter to the LGA (23
January) makes two assumptions about the ACE proposals which the
LGA might be thought to supportthat the proposals deliver
(a) greater local authority representation on regional arts councils
and (b) greater local authority participation on funding decisions.
6. It is useful to consider these assumptions
before going further.
(a) Local authority representation is set
to rise from 30 per cent on the existing RAB boards to 40 per
cent on the RACs. This translates to six (out of 15) local authority
places on each RAC, with the exception of the South East which
will have eight (out of 20).
In its response to Working Together
for the Arts, the LGA argued for 10 places for local authorities
to reflect the importance of local authorities in the funding
system, and most crucially the local councillor's role as a democratically
elected representative of his or her community. The higher the
level of local authority participation, the stronger the directly
accountable links into local communities. The LGA is disappointed,
therefore, that (although an improvement on the current proportion)
the number of local authority places on the RACs is not higher.
(b) As well as the local authority members
with places on the new RACs, there is a significant challenge
for the Arts Council to maintain, and build on, the links which
regional arts boards currently have with all local authorities.
In our experience of discussing the Arts Council's and RAB's work
with our member authorities, there is considerable variation in
the level of engagement. Elected members with places on RABs are,
unsurprisingly, most engaged. Other authorities in a region, however,
may be more distanced from the decision making process and although
arts officers may be engaged, and the authority may pay subscriptions,
it is not always the case that the RAB is fully in tune with the
strategic priorities of an authority and vice versa.
The reformed arts funding system will
need to ensure not only that local authorities have a greater
say in funding decisions but that local authorities are more fully
engaged in the broader dialogue of strategic planning, research
and information, developing partnerships and advocating the benefits
of the cultural services.
7. The Arts Council's proposals begin to
acknowledge this. With regards to recognising the role of local
authorities, Working Together for the Arts was a considerable
improvement on A Prospectus for Change, and discussions
with ACE since the publication of Working Together have
shown a continuing commitment on the part of ACE to explore better
means of working in partnership with local authorities. This has
8. The LGA remains to be entirely convinced,
however, that the reform of the arts funding system will achieve
this goal of greater devolved decision-making and greater involvement
of local authorities. The process is well underway but it is only
since the publication of Working Together for the Arts,
that the detail of the reform proposals has begun to emerge. The
LGA was broadly in favour of Working Together but noted
in its response that there was an urgent need to work up the detail
in most of the key areas. The LGA has welcomed ACE's willingness
to share documents and discuss issues of detail with the LGA during
the course of the transfer period. The LGA remains mixed in its
views about the reformson the one hand, keen to explore
opportunities to improve ways of working between local authorities
and the national and regional arts councils, and on the other
still waiting to obtain the full picture of how the reforms work
9. The LGA wishes to see a number of elements
in place in the reformed arts funding systemmost of which
are recognised by ACE, but which require much further work to
turn from theory into practice. Put briefly, these include:
Addressing the democratic deficitensuring
that the system is transparent and accountable to local communities,
not least through the meaningful participation of local authorities.
Maintaining and learning from the
best examples of partnership with local authorities (and not disrupting
these in the process of reform).
Moving to a more sophisticated relationship
with local authorities than the existing subscriptions system,
so that genuine strategic partnership working is encouraged and
value for money maximised.
Getting an appropriate balance between
national, regional and localwith decisions being made as
close to the local level as possible. This is the element of the
ACE reforms which provokes most scepticism amongst local authoritiesACE
has a major challenge to show that the new structures will localise
rather than centralise decision-making. As described above, communication
with the full range of local authorities (and a better engagement
with parts of the authority beyond the arts department) is key
Engaging with developments elsewhere
in the cultural sector and in regional government, such as taking
into account issues arising from the review of Regional Cultural
Consortiums and any future White Paper on regionalism.
Will this bring decisions on arts funding closer
to the regions?
10. Much of this point has been covered
in the previous section. In addition, it is important to note
that the LGA believed that the ACE's papers and announcements
on the reform of the system needed to be more forthright on the
views of the region carrying equal weight to the views of the
centre. There is still a sense that central direction will be
paramount, particularly led by the priorities of central government.
The LGA wishes to see an arts funding system which communicates
the needs and ambitions of local communities up to the national
bodies and government, and an Arts Council which is an effective
advocate for the arts, rather than an agent of central government
which merely cascades central directions.
11. This builds on the idea that the reform
of the system cannot simply be about grant-giving but also the
importance of evidence gathering and representing the local and
12. The reformed structures will need to
maintain the distinctive voices of the regions and local communities
represented through the RACs and national council. In this respect,
the ambition to have fully representative councils, which attract
a suitably diverse group of people to serve on them, is a particularly
important ambition of the new Arts Council.
13. This ambition may be let down by the
extent to which ACE is able to communicate that this is a truly
new organisation and that it is genuine in its desire to devolve
decision making to regional level. In the LGA's view, ACE has
not so far communicated successfully the scope of the new organisation
and, as described above, it is too soon to determine how far the
proposals will achieve devolution of funding and decision-making.
Will they improve efficiency?
14. Efficiency must not be confused with
making financial savings. ACE has set itself ambitious targets
to make savings of £8-10 million in terms of staffing and
overheads costs. The LGA has doubts that this can be achieved
without disrupting valuable expertise and effective links.
15. In the LGA's view accountability, responsiveness
and accessibility are most important. Efficiency should be gauged
in terms of how the system delivers these, rather than in simple
16. In striving for savings, therefore,
ACE must also balance out:
diverting resources to the arts (which,
rightly, is the ultimate aim);
maintaining appropriate staffing
levels to enable the RACs to have the capacity to respond flexibly
and quickly to local needs;
maintaining consistent quality standards
across the system;
establishing clear and transparent
lines of communication (including streamlining grant giving and
Will they create better accountability for arts
17. As argued in the previous sections,
the need for greater accountability is vital to the success of
the reformed system. The involvement of local authorities will
contribute to this, through the involvement of democratically
elected members, as will the ambition to have diverse and representative
RAC council members. The continuation of local authority-led arts
forums would enhance the extent to which local authorities are
able to participate in, and scrutinise, the decision making process.
It is hoped that the new RACs will continue to provide information
and support for these forums.
18. Like efficiency, accountability is not
simply about accounting for financial decisions. The reformed
arts funding system needs to work towards a set of published
outcome-focused priorities and be held to account in relation
to progress against these. Although the priorities will be influenced
by central government priorities, it is also essential that local
authorities, through the RACs, are able to contribute to the setting
of targets and priorities.
19. A clearer protocol on the availability
of council papers and supporting documents, with papers being
made public (unless for legitimate reasons such as commercial
sensitivity) would also be welcome.
20. ACE's proposals for reforming the arts
funding system have met with a mixed reaction within local government.
The manner in which the proposals were first put, in A Prospectus
for Change, provoked negative reactions which ACE has not
entirely assuaged, although the publication of Working Together
for the Arts and subsequent discussions with the LGA have helped
to ameliorate some of this negative reaction. The LGA has been
impressed by ACE's willingness to engage in discussion and joint
working around some of the detail of the transition, although
it is true that there is still much to do to convince the local
government sector at large that the reforms will provide them
with a more direct input into the decision-making process.
21. The LGA will continue to liaise with
the Arts Council and the RAB/RACs to argue that local communities
must have a strengthened voice in the new structures. The LGA
looks forward to working with ACE to develop the proposals beyond
the structural changes set out in Working Together towards
a more visionary and policy-oriented approach, which puts the
arts firmly within a broader context of accessibility, local regeneration
and improvements in the quality of life of local communities.
11 February 2002