Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 129)



  120. Those are the questions that you will ask.
  (Ms Evans) The questions that you are asking are indeed the questions that we will be asking and are asking.

  Ms Shipley: Thank you.

Derek Wyatt

  121. Good morning. Under the last Secretary of State for Culture there were some Regional Cultural Forums established. What was the purpose of those given that there is a Regional Arts Council?
  (Mr Hewitt) The Regional Cultural Consortia were groupings of agencies that fell within, if you like, the DCMS envelope that were working at regional level. There was tourism, sport, broadcasting, arts, heritage, etc., who gathered together at regional level. The principal task which those bodies were given was one of writing a broad cultural strategy for the region taking into account all of those interests. I understand that many of them have done that. I think the other purpose of those consortia was to bring those interests together to take joint action where joint action was needed. For example, during perhaps the recent foot and mouth crisis those bodies might share what each of them was doing, the impact of foot and mouth within their regions in terms of impact on tourism, impact on arts attendances, etc., etc., and perhaps just ensure that they understand what each other is doing and they would learn from each other's experience and knowledge. They were the principal purposes of the Regional Cultural Consortia.

  122. Surely you do that too, you look at what the areas need and what they want. Why did we spend an inordinate amount of money doing a second job?
  (Mr Robinson) They were not funded in any way, were they?

  123. They were funded from you but surely that is one of the things that you do, you look at strategy and you look at what arts need to do.
  (Mr Hewitt) We look at strategy for the arts nationally and regionally. There are some things which go beyond the arts where a grouping of that kind at regional level might add something. It is true to say, I think, there are mixed views on the effectiveness of the Regional Cultural Consortia at regional level. In some regions the view is that it has worked well and in some they really have not got beyond a place where matters are talked about.

  124. For the South East one, which obviously I have read carefully, it is full of lovey-dovey statements but there is not a single analysis of budget or need. What is the purpose of getting these great and good people to go out there and mix with us if they do not actually understand the day to day needs of the arts people locally?
  (Mr Hewitt) I think you have just expressed very clearly one of the views which has been expressed about the effectiveness of Regional Cultural Consortia.

  125. Can we move on. The boundaries of how regional government works is going to be the subject of a White Paper shortly. "Shortly" always means within a year. The RDAs vary. In the South West, for instance, they have tourism but in the South East they do not. Is there some reason why there should not be the arts bodies from the Arts Council within the RDA or as part of the Regional Government Plans? What is your thinking here?
  (Mr Robinson) I think it is actually quite important that at its simplest level we at least line up with the RDAs and with regional government in that way. I just believe that those kinds of changes, and if you think our reorganisation takes a bit of time, take so long to become reality, something that really happens across a spectrum, that the only position you can take, and certainly it is the right position for us, is to make sure that we get on very effectively, very efficiently, with what we do now. Certainly we represent the arts in a very full way in most of the regions, that too in some ways is variable. We have a central connection wherever we can in order to ensure that the arts are represented properly to Government, particularly when it comes to funding them. As and when regional government develops, we will be very happy to work very closely, in fact as we have begun to do, for example, in London, where we believe it is absolutely appropriate we should work with the Mayor of London's department to make sure that we do things which operate together rather than either separately or against one another. We are very much of the view that our role is to go on doing what we do now in a very positive way having the central structure in the way that it is set up. If and as and when things change we will be very happy to form working liaisons and relationships with those new organisations. I am really concerned that with this, as in many other things, it does not become some kind of distraction. We have to get on now with what is real now, make it work now, and that is our main drive.

  126. Some of us were lucky in December 2001 to go to New Jersey Performing Arts Centre where we saw the impact of the most amazing regeneration programme, a vision that we would hope that we could also have in this country, not necessarily in the largeness of such a project but even in a small scale project. I have a constituency of 65,000 where we have no dance, no music, no drama, no art gallery, no visiting museum. I would not say we are a cultural desert, we are only half an hour from Canterbury and an hour from London, but actually we are. What I want to understand better is what is your regenerational thinking on what the arts can do in poorer communities?
  (Mr Hewitt) Our thinking is that the arts are absolutely crucial to poorer communities in putting facilities and opportunity at local level, in creating opportunities for young people in education, in formal education and outside of education, to participate in the arts and that is being led by our creative partnerships programme. We are very attentive indeed to the place that the arts play in terms of social and local regeneration. I think there are some very good models around the country where this has been shown to have succeeded. I think one of the further benefits of the new organisation that we are putting in place is that those models will be more easily applied to different parts of the country. I think the communications around those sorts of opportunities will be made easier and we will be able to replicate the best of what can be found in certain parts of the country to ensure that sort of regeneration is in place.
  (Ms Evans) It is very important to look at the two projects that we are discussing here today in context because 75 per cent of the capital schemes that we fund are actually for less than £100,000, they are for small organisations and that amount of money makes a huge amount of difference to those organisations and to their local communities. I think it is really important that while we are discussing two very big ones, and it is really important that we do invest in big projects as well as the small ones, that actually they are the exception rather than the reality of the capital applications that we are looking at.

  127. There are plans in the Department for Education and Skills for specialist secondary schools, one of which is the arts. Can I ask you how many schools you are in contact with and have applied for arts or whether it goes to the Department for Education and is referred on? If schools are in my community wanting that should they come to you? What is the score?
  (Mr Hewitt) The arrangement is that the granting of specialist status is, of course, something which is within the powers of the Department for Education but we are keen to establish a mechanism in future whereby we are more properly consulted over those schools being accorded that status. What has happened so far is that specialist schools have come to us after the event and said "We want to work with a Regional Arts Board or with the Arts Council" and perhaps there was not the relationship there that there should have been had there been an earlier dialogue. So we are very keen to work closely with specialist schools in that way. We need to strengthen the approach to them being granted that specialist status at an earlier stage and make sure that the arts funding system, support system, is involved in that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Derek. We will have one final question from Alan Keen.

Alan Keen

  128. You heard me ask the previous people about their involvement with the community. Have you got criteria when you are making awards? Obviously you want them to manage it properly and the scheme to be delivered, can I ask you more about that? Kim Evans did not mention that when she was answering Debra.
  (Mr Robinson) The first thing is to look at the Council itself where certainly forever it has had the largest number of active artists on the Council. We think of ourselves, obviously, as supporting the arts community which in turn has effects on community in general. At the most senior level we are very well connected to the community we serve in that sense. I know that at the time there was an enormous fear that if somebody joined, like myself, from business, there was going to be a whole kind of suits approach to it. It has been absolutely the opposite to that. I agree with what you were saying earlier on about that connection with the community is very important. If you have not got that artistic connection at that level it is very hard to see it replicated further down the system which we very much encourage and will encourage in these structures at regional level, to have that artistic involvement.


  129. Thank you very much, Mr Robinson. We are most grateful to you for coming. Could I say that although you will never expect us to endorse everything that you have done, at the same time I think you have done a fantastic job at the Arts Council. You have transformed its work for the better. Thank you very much.
  (Mr Robinson) Thank you very much.

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