Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. That is very reassuring. I wonder if I can just move on now to the South Bank. I was intrigued by the remark by Gerry Robinson when you said that the reason why the Rogers Plan did not go ahead was because there just was not the money available. Is the money available now if the Rogers Plan was to be resurrected?
  (Mr Robinson) No, certainly not money that comes from the Arts Council. It was looking for £93 million, something of that order, I might be wrong, it might have been £94 million or £92 million. The scale of the money simply was not available. I think if you look at the way that the plan is put together now it seems to me to have the right mix. You quite wrongly suggested that we prevaricated with the South Bank Centre and we were slow in our decision. Far from it, we told them no very quickly, we were very straight forward about it which is in itself important. That has enabled them I think to come up with a plan which does stand a reasonable chance of going forward in a logical way which takes account of the proper commercial opportunities available at that site. I know we have some reservations about the way that is done and the sensitivity with which that is done. It is hugely important that simply because large sums of money are available through the Lottery that we do not just fail to find other routes to back that money up and commercial money is certainly one of those areas. I think that the decision not to go ahead with the Rogers scheme was one that was very easy to make. I think what has happened since has been about getting a good team in place, getting a plan which makes sense overall, which they have been given very quick decisions on and very helpful decisions, I believe, along the way from the Arts Council and it will produce something real at the end of the exercise.

  101. You have been clearly monitoring the whole performance regarding the application for grants and developments for the South Bank. I am wondering do you have a view on Lambeth Council and, more to the point, are you prepared to express it now?
  (Mr Robinson) I think one of the questions which was asked here was actually a very important question, the relationship between the South Bank Centre and Lambeth has got to be got right. I know the South Bank Centre have been putting tremendous effort into making that happen. It is very important that you get the partnership right between the local authority and the arts venue here. I do not know what the answer is. I know that the result has been a very unhappy one because even in the latest thing we have had yet another delay on the whole quay front, which is an integral part of the whole exercise. Beyond that I am not prepared to express a view.

  102. Very diplomatic. You refer in your written evidence to a strong network of champions being the whole development along the South Bank right through probably to the Tower of London and that, of course, involves many different boroughs. Do you think there is a role here for DCMS or maybe the Mayor of London to pull together this whole thing? After all, that lovely walk which I talked about earlier from Westminster, albeit past the litter in front of County Hall down through to the Tower of London is something, surely, that the Mayor of London could co-ordinate.
  (Mr Robinson) I think Kim will pick up on this in a bit more detail. Yes, I am happy and I think it is very important that we involve anyone who can help that process in a logical way. It is very important, I think, that the people who are driving it, who are really in the seat, are themselves allowed to get on and do it. You have already discussed about the South Bank Centre, there are too many people who are involved.

  103. Could the Arts Council be more proactive then in actually approaching DCMS or the Mayor and saying "Come on"?
  (Mr Robinson) I think we work very closely with the South Bank Centre but in the end the biggest mistake you can make is to try to run something on behalf of somebody else. You must never do that in my view. You must support them, you can help them, you can point them in the right direction, but they must be the people who are going to run it. That is very much a principle of our giving money to organisations. Most disasters in projects have come because people have thought they can run it from a distance, and you cannot.
  (Ms Evans) I think, just to back up what you are saying, we have engaged very actively with the South Bank Centre since we became their landlords 15 years ago and we have engaged in a number of projects with them. Quite properly we have encouraged them to develop the artistic vision and the redevelopment plan and business plan to support that but we have actively contributed to that by commissioning research, by giving them detailed responses to the plans that they have put forward. I think we have been good partners in that. It has been work that has gone on under the surface but it is work that has certainly gone on during this 15 years. I think now there is a real opportunity with the new proposals that the South Bank Centre are going to bring to us, the options that were discussed at their board meeting in November for revised options for the Masterplan, where we can actively play our part in engaging the other stakeholders. There are up to 40 stakeholders who have an interest in the South Bank Centre. It is an enormously complex position: it is urban regeneration, commercial development, cultural development, of course Lambeth is a factor in that and it is a key factor but there are other people we want to bring on board. We have only recently had a London Assembly here. We have only recently begun to work with the Mayor on this. We actively believe that we must play our part. We do need other champions to come in. We talk regularly and properly with the DCMS about it. The questions that you have raised here as a Committee are absolutely the questions we have raised together with the South Bank Centre over the past years. There is a new opportunity coming up. We cannot do it, the South Bank Centre must lead it but it needs an active network of champions who can work with us and them to really achieve development and I really hope the Royal Festival Hall will be the first tangible sign of that development.

Mr Bryant

  104. We have heard quite a few issues over the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and today which relate to planning and architectural issues. There seems to be a feeling in Britain that we should preserve every building that we have got, whenever we have built it, in aspic. Is there anything that the Arts Council in England can do to expedite or to help organisations through this or for that matter that Government should be doing to expedite the process for arts organisations with buildings which have a public consciousness but maybe are not fit for the purpose any more?
  (Mr Robinson) That is a very good point and in truth it is not something that we have thought through in the way that you have asked the question. Certainly we have come across it again and again and again in various authorities, that planning is a problem. Again, I think at the end of the day, it continues to vary hugely across the country depending on which authority you are dealing with. It must be that as part of the project our view, which we do take a view in, is that it will be allowed from a planning point of view, because the whole project makes sense, and we are prepared to spend money in getting a good reading on that before we take the thing forward. In the larger scheme of things, I can honestly say it is not something we have really taken on board in that way.
  (Ms Evans) Although I think, as you have made clear as a Committee, there is very little consensus about where buildings should be preserved and where they should be changed in their use, I think where we can be influential is working in a proper way with the organisations we fund, the South Bank Centre and the RSC in this case, to really put forward the best case that shows the artistic benefit, the benefit to audiences and a financial case and organisational capacity to really change and develop the use of a building. In the RSC we are supporting at this stage the proposal for a new theatre in Stratford. At the Royal Festival Hall we absolutely see it as a building which, much as the public sees it, is a much loved friend, a building that many of us see—me, I was born in the year that building opened, I have a special relationship with it—as part of the London landscape. We believe it can be transformed and have a part of the future of that London landscape. That has to be seen in the context of the benefit it is going to deliver for audiences and for artists and it must have a robust financial plan to support it. Helping create that context I think is absolutely something which is important.
  (Mr Hewitt) Can I add to this by saying that as part of our handling of capital applications we do have an architecture committee made up of architectural practitioners who advise on these sorts of issues when proposals come forward. It is a model which from my understanding has worked very well in terms of the capital services part of the organisation. Also I think there is something which can be done further to strengthen the relationship which the Arts Council has with the newly formed Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment—CABE—and we are developing a good and positive relationship with that organisation.

  105. I think Lord Falconer is doing a consultation at the moment on planning processes and it would be worthwhile if there were some kind of submission from the Arts Council. I am always intrigued by the fact I think your office is in the building which used to be the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. I just wonder if you could do a bit more missionary work because when Dick Caborn answered a question on funding of arts organisations in former coal field communities in the House just before Christmas he was very proud of the fact that those constituencies now, instead of receiving 48 per cent of the national average, which was what it was a year ago, now get 60 per cent. That still seems a bit of a failure. I wonder whether your new structure is going to make it easier or more difficult for arts' funding money to get into those kind of communities?
  (Mr Robinson) In the overall scheme of things there is no doubt at all that it will make it easier without a shadow of doubt. The whole issue of pro-activity I think is important. If you take, for example, what happened, we have been spouting words for years at the Arts Council about making sure that cultural diversity is something which is real, if you look at what has happened to the money over the last 25 years, I can tell you it shows very little expenditure which would back up that wish, that genuine wish I think. In the last round of spending we deliberately went out to find organisations in the Black and Asian and Chinese communities who did have passionate and worthwhile things which they wanted to do who would never have dreamed of approaching the Arts Council and that is pro-activity as far as I am concerned. It is not about saying that in future this is the kind of art we are going to have, but we really are going to encourage people in the wider community to come forward in a passionate way and show us that they want to do things and do things in a very positive way. You will see the result of that come out of the spend. Over 30 per cent of the last spending round, 30 per cent plus, went to organisations which came from those communities. That is how I see us being proactive in that sense, finding people you can back to do things in a way which, again, really produces something rather than makes a noise.

  106. A lot of the organisations that you fund as the Arts Council for England, I would argue, are actually British institutions not just English institutions and last week one of the things I was keen to say to the Royal Shakespeare Company was "I wish you could do more in Wales". I just wonder how devolution has affected you and how relations are with Wales?
  (Ms Evans) On the issue of crossing borders, the arts have always crossed borders. We, as funding organisations, have not always been very good at enabling them to do that and we are making real changes there because in September of last year we announced a new cross-border initiative to exactly take on board the issue that you raised here when you were talking to the RSC. This year the Arts Council of England and the Arts Council of Scotland have worked together to create a joint fund of £720,000 in order to fund the larger scale organisations, such as the RSC, the National Theatre, the ballet companies to cross borders and that includes Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. We have also made it very clear that we are now absolutely open to the small and mid-scale organisations using up to 15 per cent of the funds that the Arts Council of England allocates them to do work that crosses those borders. It is a really important initiative. We live increasingly in a world of cross cultures and we absolutely must be a funding system which allows our organisations to work, I hope not only nationally but internationally.

  107. Just one final question, which is often we get obsessed with the institutions and the buildings but in actual fact, of course, the arts is primarily about the performing artists themselves. I wrote a biography of Glenda Jackson a few years ago, which is available in all good bookshops—no, it is not actually—but I remember going to see a lot of actors who had performed some 40 years ago and had been enormous names in the West End, actors who had been enormously enjoyed by many audiences, now living in penury. I just wonder what there is that the Arts Council can do in terms of making sure, perhaps, that actors do not just get taught how to light a cigarette in a funny way, but also know how to take out a pension and things like that, how you can build, also, an entrepreneurial spirit across the whole arts community?
  (Ms Evans) It is something we are very concerned about, what we would call continuous professional development in arts funding speak, which is absolutely about ensuring that artists across art forms can continue to work to the end of their creative lives. We have got a number of initiatives that we are developing and it is absolutely part of the discussions and the case we would like to make for the arts as we go into the next funding round, that we need to look after artists during the whole span of their careers and there is a lot of work going on in that area. One of the things that I know you will know we did during the Theatre Review, we absolutely wanted to help create an environment with the new £25 million that we were able to access for theatre to ensure that the conditions in which actors worked were ones which would allow them to thrive rather than to battle in the way that they had done in the past. That is not about the Arts Council itself setting those conditions but it is, as you say, funding our organisations and setting up programmes which enable our artists to have active lives.
  (Mr Hewitt) It is certainly true that if you look at the ladder that artists work through throughout their lives there are certain points in that trajectory where it is quite clear that there is limited opportunity to move on to the next stage. We are doing some serious work at the moment. For example, it is known that there are real obstacles for young artists coming out of higher education. During the first two or three years they need time, they need space, they need to establish themselves, they need to learn those skills that you referred to in terms of how they live in a competitive world and we are looking to create a scheme whereby there are incubator programmes which provide both physical space for artists to work in as well as the other assistance with how they operate in the real world more satisfactorily than has been the case in the past. It is also the case that artists quite often might get to a mid career stage and find that they need space out, they need to go abroad, they need to refresh themselves in some way or another and, again, we are looking at programmes which will provide that kind of assistance to ensure they can move on to the next phase in their development.
  (Ms Evans) The kind of bursaries and fellowships that we currently give artists are basically about buying them time. Time to develop, time to think, time to create the next piece of work, time to consider what the next stage of their career is going to be about. I think buying time for artists is often the most valuable thing we can do.

Ms Shipley

  108. I am interested in your decision making processes. Would you tell me why £50 million goes to the RSC for a £100 million project whilst the South Bank Centre gets £25 million for a £200 million project?
  (Mr Robinson) I think the one major difference between the two is the opportunity to leverage commercial funds in the case of the South Bank Centre which are far less than in the case of the Royal Shakespeare Company. That is the major difference behind the scene.

  109. That is your entire argument, is it?
  (Mr Robinson) No, it is not. There are all kinds of detailed arguments which I will happily take you through but the main difference is that there is a real commercial leveraging opportunity in the South Bank and there is not in Stratford.

  110. That suggests that if you do not give them that £50 million which they have to match—this is the RSC—with another £50 million they would be struggling?
  (Mr Robinson) Sorry, could you say that again?

  111. What you have just said suggests that if the RSC does not get £50 million, which it has to match with a further £50 million from other sources, it would seriously struggle because there are so few other outlets for it to get money from?
  (Mr Robinson) No. I think it is very clear that the Royal Shakespeare Company are going to be able to raise the sum of money, which is part of the reason for our being confident about it, that is required to match the funds that we put forward which is a huge sum of money relative to the overall budget.

  112. You are confident that they can raise £50 million, yes, that is what you are saying?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes.

  113. Are you confident then that they could not raise more and that is why you have had to give them so much?
  (Mr Robinson) It was our judgment that was the maximum—maximum is overstating it—the most realistic sum.

  114. Okay.
  (Mr Robinson) It is a mistake both ways to over supply and to under supply money to a project.

  115. In that case does this Feasibility Study give you major, major concerns? This is the RSC Strategy Development which carries your logo so you will be very familiar with it. Does it not then give you major concerns because in the document, and indeed to the Select Committee last week, the RSC argued for the redevelopment of its three venues and a theatre village and more outreach and more shops, restaurants, a whole package, which is exciting, very exciting, at a figure of £100 million which we have just discussed. Now when you come to the financial appraisal we have got the RSC pointing in the opposite direction. I quote: "It must be emphasised that a great deal more detailed appraisal is required for the scheme development to determine the precise allocation of resources and the content of the final project". It says in here that with the money that we have just discussed, £100 million, that would actually only provide the principal element, by which they actually mean the theatre, the majority, £44.6 million, and a few little bits around the edge would take up the rest of the money. Now, they would clearly be looking for considerable funding from other sources to do the rest of the project which is the bit which needs doing, which is the big selling point, but you just said actually the reason you gave them such a huge chunk of money is that they have few avenues for raising it.
  (Mr Robinson) No. The sum of money put forward was in relation to their total needs and our view as to what they could raise accordingly. Clearly depending on the type of project that goes forward—and the detail has to be finalised between themselves and us—there may also be differences which include commercial opportunities within some of the projects that they are putting forward. It has to be looked at in some detail. The overall judgment was that £50 million in relation to doing what they wanted to do at Stratford in a way which was professional and produced a wonderful end result was a sensible sum of money in our balance taking into account their commercial opportunities.

  116. What I am saying to you is that £50 million is 50 per cent of the funding, yes, but that this project, as a whole—the three theatres, the theatre village, the outreach projects, etc—the whole redevelopment of the area, will cost, if you read this carefully, this Feasibility Study, which I did, significantly more than £100 million—significantly more. When you read the Risk Assessment it says it necessarily involves a high degree of risk. There are a whole load of bullet points about the high degree of risk. So I say to you if they do not manage to raise significantly more than the matched funding, because it is going to be more, will you be bailing them out with more money?
  (Mr Robinson) No. I think we have made it very clear to them as one of the great clarities about what we do about the sum of money that we are putting towards the new projects. We make it very clear that is it in a very real sense. You need to understand that the project as put forward has not been signed off by the Arts Council. This is an in principle agreement, because I think it is very important that if people are going to spend money investigating, getting into a lot of detail about what they are going to do, they have an in principle agreement that this is the maximum sum of money that we are prepared to put forward. But that by no means means that they are going to be entitled to £50 million if they do not come forward with a project which in our view, that is a view with a lot of detail behind it, will not work. Nothing is finalised for the Royal Shakespeare Company at this stage. It is very important to know that. They know that and we have made it very clear to them that at each stage it will be looked at.
  (Mr Hewitt) The £50 million agreed was an allocation so they had some kind of planning basis on which to proceed on the understanding that the overall cost was £100 million, our judgment being that the remaining £50 million could be raised. There is now a feasibility process that has been gone through and there is documentation with the Arts Council which the Arts Council is poring over and we are assessing that material in great detail at this very minute. We will be raising a large number of questions inevitably, as we do with all projects, with the RSC over this coming period of time.

  117. Okay. So the 50 million was given on the understanding that it would be roughly 100 million, give or take five million. If you were to find that the 100 million would actually only deliver a portion of the vision that we were presented with last week, what would your response be then?
  (Ms Evans) That is exactly the point why we go through these proper discussions with the RSC about what that means. It is really important that you feel secure that the processes we have, which sometimes you say make things take too long, are absolutely the proper processes to look at a project of this scale with this amount of public money invested in it. Just to say what Gerry has already said, we received that plan in December. Quite properly, as you point out, it is an extremely detailed plan and deserves detailed attention and a detailed response. We will give it that response in March. At that point there will be discussions with the RSC about the issues that are raised in that response. If things go smoothly we then move on and they make an application for a development grant. This is not a point where we hand them a cheque for £50 million and say "there, there, tell us if you have got a problem", this is working as an active partner with them through this process. We then expect, again if things go smoothly, by October there will be a planning application to the local authority and by December 2003, again if things go smoothly and we know in the world of planning that is not always the case, planning approval could be decided. It is really important that that time frame is there, that there is a framework for having really proper and detailed discussions so that if point that you have made comes up "we cannot deliver everything that we thought we could deliver for the 100 million", we say "okay, let us talk through what you are going to deliver" and it is at this point that the Arts Council once again reiterates that it is access for audiences, artistic benefits, robust financial framework and, crucially, organisational capacity to deliver this that have become the three talisman that really guide us through that process.

  118. You said if it comes up, presumably you will raise it?
  (Ms Evans) Absolutely. We are actively engaged.

  119. The precise point that I just raised presumably you will be raising because you will be very concerned that this feasibility study suggests that actually there is a very high likelihood that 100 million will not do any more than a portion of what the vision was and what you were sold is not quite what you can get for the money.
  (Ms Evans) I am not going to pre-empt the proper review that the Arts Council is doing on this.

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