Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 2




  Marketlink Research was commissioned by the Arts Council to carry out an analysis of the responses to the Arts Council document "Working together for the arts". A total of 9,455 copies of the Prospectus were sent out. The Arts Council of England directly mailed out 1,847 and the remainder were despatched by the Regional Arts Boards. The Prospectus was also made available via the Arts Councils and Regional Arts Boards' websites.

  416 letters, sent to the Arts Council of England and the Regional Arts Boards, were analysed. Letters were received from a variety of constituencies: arts organisations; individuals; local authorities; regional bodies (eg Regional Cultural Consortia); educational institutions; trade and umbrella bodies; MPs; commercial organisations.

  When interpreting the result of the analysis, it should be taken into consideration that the sample is self-selected. It was not constructed to be representative of those who would be affected by the proposed changes and it is not possible to know whether the views reported in this document are representative.


  Percentages on scales may not total 100 per cent due to rounding.

  "Neutral" responses were those which raised an equal number of positive and negative points, or those who were unwilling to commit themselves either way.

  Each response took the form of a letter, which often contained several points. Percentages for the issues raised will therefore not add up to 100 per cent, as the vast majority of respondents made more than one point.

  All percentages are based on the total number of responses (416).

  Letters with an overall negative rating could include positive comments reported in the "Key positive issues" section, and letters with an overall positive rating could include negative comments reported in the "Key negative issues" section.

  If the same issue was raised as a dislike and a concern it would be coded as either a dislike or a concern, according to where the response was best reflected. If the same issue had two separate nuances reflected equally well under dislikes and concerns then the two nuances were coded separately.


Constituencies represented in the responses to the Prospectus

  Local authorities (31 per cent) and arts organisations (30 per cent) were responsible for the majority of responses received. A comparatively high response rate was also achieved from individuals (18 per cent).

Regional Arts Boards represented in the responses to the Prospectus

  The highest number of responses was received from respondents in the Southern Arts Board are (21 per cent). The lowest numbers of responses were received from South Eastern and Eastern Arts Board areas (4 per cent each).


  The response were mixed in tone. 32 per cent were very favourable or favourable towards the proposals, while 49 per cent were very unfavourable or unfavourable. 19 per cent of respondents were neutral.


  A number of points were raised in the letters. These were classified into key factors influencing positive reaction, key factors influencing negative reaction, and key concerns and reassurances required. They are examined more fully in the main body of the report. This Summary presents the issues raised under the headings given by the document "A Framework for Consultation", which was issued with "Working together for the arts".



Reducing bureaucracy and duplication; increasing resources

  A great deal of scepticism over the potential for the restructuring to deliver cost cuts was expressed. Respondents said that this was because the last major restructuring in 1998 had promised savings and increases in efficiency that did not materialise, and that there is no reason to suppose that this one will be any different. Doubts that the Arts Council of England is competent to manage change was expressed. The Arts Council was also criticised for initially promising savings of £8-10 million and then changing the promise to a target. Some respondents made the point that, far from decreasing bureaucracy the proposals had the potential to increase it. Excessive bureaucracy is more associated with the Arts Council of England than the Regional Arts Boards by respondents. It is generally felt that the Regional Arts Boards are currently very efficient—some respondents also criticised the Arts Council for not justifying their claims of excessive bureaucracy on the part of the Regional Arts Boards. It was thought that more time would be taken to make decisions in a centralised organisation, as everything will have to be approved through the centre—this would add an extra layer of bureaucracy to the existing structure.

Centralisation and control

  Centralisation was opposed. It was thought that it is not always the case that it is appropriate for all regions to follow the same policy, and that a single system cannot cope with regional diversity. Respondents feel that centralisation generates rigidity, which is bad for the arts—the arts are said to thrive on variety. The proposals are seen as a "take-over bid" for the Regional Arts Boards, and the tone and method of delivery of "Working together for the arts" is said to show an arrogant assumption of authority on the part of the Arts Council of England. The implication is thought to be that resistance is futile, and that the decision appears to have already been taken. Respondents were satisfied with the current semi-independence of the Regional Arts Boards, which also allows them to make decisions based on local circumstances. It was felt that this would not continue once the systems of Regional Directors, reporting to a central body, is in place. The proposed Regional Director is thought to have no independence because he or she would have to report to a Director for the Regions. The point was also made that centralisation would mean that the whole arts funding system would be put in the control of the government of the day if the proposals were implemented, and that this could have a negative effect on the arts according to the policy being followed.

  Respondents also feared that the proposals would result in tension between local and national remits. It is felt that the chairs of the regions would be torn between conflicting priorities, as they would have loyalties to both the centre and their regions. The central councils could also become battlegrounds for conflicting regional demands.

  The opinion that the proposals did not offer true regional devolution was expressed. The proposals state that regional decision-making may be revoked if it is unacceptable to the central body, and this proviso is disliked. Doubts were expressed over whether the proposals offer devolution and the capacity to make funding decisions, or merely a delegation of administrative work related to funding decisions already taken at the centre. The point was made that the process of change so far has not increased confidence that decision-making will be devolved.

  The view was expressed that the proposals ran contrary to current Government initiatives, and those of other organisations, for which it was said that the emphasis is currently on decentralisation—the point was made that the Film Council is currently regionalising, and that this is the opposite of what the Arts Council of England are doing. It was thought to be important that the name, brand, and regional reputation of the Regional Arts Boards should be protected, and respondents said that these are currently a very valuable asset to the arts in the regions.



  Respondents, especially those affected, were negative about the proposed changes to the regional boundaries. Boundary issues centred around two themes: cultural coherence and size. It was thought that Cumbria more naturally belongs with the North than the North West, and that the South does not belong culturally with either the South East or the South West. The proposed new regions were also thought too be of to a great a size to function efficiently. Furthermore, the proposed new regions were said to be unwieldy and difficult to travel over, which respondents think would increase travel costs and lessen contact with arts officers. Respondents said that administrative convenience is not a good enough reason to disrupt the relationships that have built up over time. The point was made that if there have to be two SEEDA offices then there might just as well be two regional councils.


  It was pointed out that effective partnerships are already taking place within the existing structure, and respondents feared that these might be disrupted. The emphasis on partnerships in the document was not felt to be new to the Regional Arts Boards, and the point was made that the Arts Council of England has comparatively little experience of forming partnerships, whereas this is an area in which the Regional Arts Boards are strong. Worries that relationships and partnerships with local authorities in particular could be affected by the implementation of the proposals were expressed. The relationship between Regional Arts Boards and local authorities is said to be an important one, as Regional Arts Boards can persuade reluctant local authorities to support the arts, and a national body may not be able to do this. Local authorities' support for the arts is discretionary, and respondents believe that they may not want to subscribe to a national body. Some, it is said, may reinvest the money thus saved in the arts, but some may not, and there would therefore be a net loss of funding to the arts which would be impossible to recoup.


The proposals and the change process

  Respondents were negative about the lack of options presented in the proposals. Only one option was presented for serious consideration, and other options were thought to have been dismissed without proper examination. It was emphasised that the changes the Arts Council of England wishes to make are achievable within the present system, and respondents said that if the Arts Council of England has identified serious problems (eg enough bureaucracy to be wasting £8-10 million a year) then it should have eliminated it already. The rapid pace of change was criticised, and it was emphasised that time must be allowed for consultation, as there is a need to get the system right and thus have a period of stability in the arts funding system. The Arts Council of England was said not to have heeded the response to "A Prospectus for Change". It was said that press comment has generally been hostile and that the Arts Council of England have taken no notice of this. Respondents also pointed to previous published research showing that most people were opposed to the new funding system. The tone of the document was thought to be patronising.



Reducing bureaucracy and duplication; increasing resources

  Respondents generally looked upon bureaucracy as being an unwelcome fact of life in applying for funding, and appreciated any moves to reduce the extent of it. It was thought that a reduction in bureaucracy, centralising services so that they would not be duplicated across the Regional Arts Boards, and reducing costs, would mean that more money would be available to spend on the arts. It was claimed that the proposals would result in less duplication. However, respondents highlighted the importance of not making the promised savings to the detriment of getting the system right. It was stated that the Arts Council of England might feel bound to make the savings and therefore cut staff at a local level, which would impact on delivery.

Providing greater consistency across the system

  Respondents thought that the system was due for a change in order to become more logical. Respondents generally recognised that there were inconsistencies between the Regional Arts Boards in terms of funding policy and criteria. It was believed that one system, applicable nationwide, would help eliminate these. It was also thought to be logical that the boundaries should be coterminous with those of RDAs. However, it was said that if this were to be done, work on the subregional structure might also be required. This is because the proposed regions in the South are thought to be too large, and it was further proposed that Cumbria might need its own office.

Increasing devolution to the regions

  The proposals were thought to result in increased devolution to the regions. Respondents appreciated that they would be allowed to make their own decisions about funding.


Enabling effective links and partnerships

  Respondents said that they welcomed the proposal for regional offices to develop links with regional agencies, as this is thought to be logical in the light of the increasing governmental emphasis on regionalisation. It is also thought that this would respond to the growing importance of Regional Cultural Consortia. The idea of bringing together of local authorities and regional agencies to discuss areas of common concern was appreciated. The proposals' recognition of the role of local authorities was welcomed. Local authorities in particular thought that "A Prospectus for Change" had underplayed their role as arts funders and providers, and they were glad to see this recognised in "Working together for the arts". A minority of respondents also said that local authorities that currently do not do a lot of work in the arts would benefit from the leadership a national body could provide. A small minority of respondents also said that their relationship with their Regional Arts Board was unsatisfactory or could be improved, and believed that the proposals offered them the chance of doing this, as they would be forging a new relationship with a new body. A nominal number also approved of the proposal for working more closely with other grant-giving bodies.

Improving services

  A small minority of respondents raised these points. The new body was thought to be well placed to deliver national support services, such as research, and the proposed changes were thought to offer an opportunity to increase public awareness and appreciation of the arts and the work of the Arts Council of England. For the arts community, it was said that the proposals would speed up grant processing. The idea of the Arts Council of England identifying and applying best practice nationwide was appreciated. Respondents felt that communication would be improved by the proposed new structure. A small minority of respondents thought that a stronger regional or national body would have more of a voice in relation to Westminster. A minority also liked the proposed system of having art form officers available across the country.


  A national policy, informed by local decision making, was approved of. One policy to be followed in all regions was thought to be logical; however, it was also thought to be important to retain local input. It was thought that there had hitherto been a failure to address tensions between local and national issues, and that the proposals offered a chance of doing this. The creation of regional councils was thought to meet previous concerns about centralisation. Small numbers of respondents also raised accountability issues—that the new body would be more accountable and that it was positive that the public was being consulted, as they pay for the arts.


   "Working together for the arts" was said by respondents to be a significant improvement on "A Prospectus for Change". The feeling was that notice has been taken of the points raised in opposition to the first Prospectus—local authorities have gained recognition, the tone is more conciliatory, and there is more detail. It was felt that there is more of a spirit of consultation than was evident in "A Prospectus for Change".



Bureaucracy and reducing costs

  Respondents are concerned that change will be expensive, perhaps more so than the Arts Council of England anticipates, and that this may impact on the savings the Arts Council of England is able to make. A small number were concerned by the emphasis on cost-cutting as a reason for the changes. Substantial cuts in the Arts Council of England's staff as well as those of the Regional Arts Boards were called for, as the Arts Council of England's bureaucracy is thought to be particularly heavy. A small number of respondents feared that the new organisation might increase bureaucracy, or that it was unclear whether the new organisation would fit in with Best Value.


Maintaining relationships and levels of service

  Respondents expressed concerns that they may lose out on the relationship they have with their Regional Arts Board. They trust their Regional Arts Boards and in many cases wish to continue the personal relationships they have with their Regional Arts Board officer. Respondents said that they were very happy with the service they receive from their Regional Arts Board. They cannot imagine that the new structure will improve things and fear that it may make them worse. There is a feeling that staff are professional and that regional services (eg information) are good. A small number of respondents also said that they were happy with the service they currently receive from the Arts Council of England and that they did not want this to change. Respondents opposed anything they felt might be likely to lead to a reduction in contact time. Worries were expressed that the light touch promised by the Arts Council of England would lead to less contact with arts officers. Small arts organisations and individuals especially value the help they currently get from their Regional Arts Board, and would like more contact, not less. More details on how art form advice would be delivered were requested. Those expressing this concern were not sure that a nationwide system would be adequate. It is thought that having nationwide advisors might lead to contact time diminishing. A small number said that there was nothing in the document that safeguarded existing good practice. The worry that a two-tier funding system might be created was expressed. A small minority would like to know which Regional Arts Board would be judged to have the best practice that would be standardised across the system.

Regional delivery and accessibility

  Concerns that the savings made would be at the expense of regional delivery were expressed by respondents. It was feared that as the Arts Council of England has said that it will make the savings, they will therefore become a key performance indicator, and change will absorb more money than is expected. It is feared that, forced into making these savings at all costs, the only way for the Arts Council of England to make them will be to cut staff. Moreover, it is feared that cuts will be made in the regions and not at the centre, and that this will have a direct impact on arts delivery. Concerns about accessibility issues were also expressed. There was a feeling that accessibility has not yet been fully addressed, which is felt to be especially important in rural areas—areas which the emphasis on a dialogue with the Core Cities is thought to marginalise. A small number stressed that visits should be made to performances to keep the Arts Council of England up to date with what is happening, as the Regional Arts Boards currently do this and it was felt that this should continue. It was said that the proposals did not adequately recognise the role of the voluntary sector and amateur organisations. A small number of respondents thought that each type of art should have equal access to funding. A nominal number worried that cross-art form planning will not happen.

The transition period

  It was feared that transition might bring a loss of service, especially to respondents that have regular contact with their Regional Arts Board. Respondents said that artists and arts organisations need continuous funding—they stressed that there must be no loss of funding during the transitional period, and that existing funding agreements must be protected. Worries were expressed that valuable staff might be lost during the period of uncertainty.


Local authorities

  The arrangements for linking with local authorities elicited expressions of concern from respondents. It was thought to be important that local authorities should have a place on the national council. Respondents also emphasised that any representatives used should come from a representative selection of local authorities, for example rural, urban, unitary and county authorities. Moreover, it was felt that representatives should have relevant skills and qualifications to fill the job. Respondents wanted more detail about the ways in which local authorities would fit into the new structure and a clarification of the role they would be expected to play. Evidence that partnerships will happen is needed.

Regional diversity

  Respondents emphasised that the new system must maintain regional diversity. It is thought that this is something the present system allows to thrive, and it is believed to be important that this should be carried over into any new system.

  Respondents believe there to be genuine regional differences necessitating flexibility in the new system, not blanket policies. It was also stressed that local issues need to be taken into account when formulating policy. It is feared that the proposals have the potential to deliver a monoculture, which is said to be threatening to the health of the arts. A small number said that there should be flexibility on the size of regional councils according to the size of the region.

Reginal involvement

  An adequate degree of regional involvement in the new structure was thought to be essential by respondents. It was said that there needs to be an emphasis on starting with the region and moving into central policy when planning policies, and that decision need to be a bottom-up process. The proposals are thought to be unclear about whether policy will be made nationally or locally. Concerns were expressed over the role of the Regional Executive Directors. Respondents felt that standards of devolution and the role of the chairs must be enshrined in a new Royal Charter, and that Regional Executive Directors should be at the heart of planning (ie on the senior management team), not on the periphery. It was said to be important that the regional directors should be selected by the regions and not the centre. An essential point was that the post should exist to carry the regional view into the centre, not the central view into the regions, as would be the case if the centre appointed people to lead the regional councils. The local input of the Regional Arts Boards was also said to be key to the formulation of a national policy for arts development. It was felt to be very important that local input must not be lost under the new system. Respondents thought that decentralising some of the new system's functions would be symbolic of the Arts Council of England's willingness to truly involve the regions. A small number of respondents also said that the "single voice" should be made up of many voices, stressing that the regions should be allowed an equal say.


  Worries that the new structure would be dominated by London were expressed. It was thought that centralisation might lead to London organisations being favoured, and might mean that provincial issues would be ignored altogether. However, respondents also emphasised that provision for London's special status should be made in the document.


  There were thought to be some accountability issues inherent in the proposed system. Effective monitoring is said to be essential—to local people as well as to Parliament. Controls to measure effectiveness were thought to be needed, and it was suggested that the structure should be given a trial period in which to prove itself. Respondents said that accountability needs to be balanced with the "light touch" the Arts Council of England wishes to apply.


  The policy on touring was thought to need rethinking. It was said that devolving responsibility to the local Regional Arts Board would be problematic, as companies might be based somewhere where they do not work often, and the Regional Arts Boards would thus be reluctant to fund for work done outside the area. Respondents said that touring should be dealt with by a national department. A small number of respondents also wanted to know how regional funding would work with organisations that have more than one regional base.

The proposals and the change process

  Concerns were expressed about the level of detail in the proposal. This was because there were no costings and few details about how the system will work and what its effects will be. However, the point was made that "Working together for the arts" is much better than "A Prospectus for Change" in the amount of detail it contains, although there are still omissions. Respondents felt that "A Prospectus for Change" has damaged trust in the Arts Council of England, and that this will need to be rebuilt before the new system is put in place, as if there is to be any chance of it working properly it needs to inspire loyalty. It was said that standardisation should be delivered by identifying best practice and applying it nationwide, as this would bring failing Regional Arts Boards up to the standards of the best without loss of standards in better Regional Arts Boards. Small numbers of respondents thought that the document was short-term in focus, that the new name should avoid any suggestion of gimmickry or change for change's sake, that the proposals need to have more of an international emphasis, that it is important to warn staff in vulnerable positions as soon as possible.

February 2001

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