THE ARTS COUNCIL OF ENGLAND "WORKING
TOGETHER FOR THE ARTS" ANALYSIS OF RESPONSES: NOVEMBER 2001
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'
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
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"
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
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
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 efficientsome 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 centrethis 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 artsthe 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
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 decentralisationthe 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
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
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
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 issuesthat 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 Prospectuslocal
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
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 areasareas 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 fundingthey 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.
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.
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.
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 essentialto 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
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.