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


Memorandum submitted by Black Country Touring


  This submission represents the views of Black Country Touring and of a range of other arts organisations and practitioners in the West Midlands region.

  We object to the proposals of the Arts Council of England to abolish the Regional Arts Boards and to create "a single organisation" with national responsibility for arts funding and development. ACE has been unable to make an adequate case for such fundamental structural change.

  We nevertheless recognise that radical change is needed. However, the rationale for change cannot be based only on objectives relating merely to supposed administrative benefits. Structural change requires a much more fundamental analysis of the answers to three key questions:

    —  In today's society, what range of activities and interests should "the arts" comprise?

    —  In that context, what is the arts funding system for?

    —  What does it therefore need to be able to do?

  The Arts Council does not yet have answers to these key questions.

  Whatever is to be the structure of the arts funding system, we believe that any single system that claims a unique lead role in the arts must start from a breadth of vision that includes all forms and levels of creative activity in England. That range of activity extends far beyond the Arts Council's narrow traditional concern with what it describes as the "arts community". It also includes the role of the arts in education, in the creative industries and in the voluntary, community and amateur sectors.

  If the role of an arts funding system is to promote quality, innovation and access, it should therefore be far more broadly interested not only in the quality of professional work but also the quality of arts education, the quality of training, the quality of creative enterprise, the quality of youth arts, amateur arts, community arts, etc etc.

  This does not mean that it must fund everything. It does however mean that it should be structured also to be able to promote good practice, to influence public policy, to undertake or commission appropriate research, and to advise and convince others of the value of the arts within other programmes for educational, social, economic and environmental renewal.

  We believe that a national structure with such a remit for funding and development is not best achieved by the creation of a single organisation. In line with other structural changes based on increasing regional devolution, we need a single integrated system built on a federation of independent regional bodies.


  This submission has been prepared by Black Country Touring. It reflects the views expressed in the course of discussions within Black Country Touring's management committee, with staff, and with schools, community centres and other local partners in the Black Country (Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton).

  A range of other organisations and individuals in the West Midlands region have additionally asked to be specifically recorded as joint signatories to this submission. They include:

Dorothy WilsonDirector mac arts centre
Bev HarveyDirectorJubilee Arts
David FineCo-ordinator Lit-Net
Glyn EdwardsSecretary Midlands Puppet Forum
Guy HutchinsArtistic Director Moby Duck
Lee Griffiths and Sandra HallCo-directors Funding Pending Live Arts
Jenna KumiegaConsultant JK Arts Management
Mary EdwardsChairPuppetLink
Harold WonhamWriter & founder member Eccleshall Poetry Group
Ellie ParkerDirector New Theatre Works
Clive ChandlerPuppeteer
Judith CutlerNovelist
Mary CutlerRadio scriptwriter
Pamela WellsArtist

  The first section of this paper addresses general issues in terms of: underlying assumptions and issues of principle; the wider context and rationale for change; and our preferred principles for an alternative model.

  The final section then addresses each of the main issues as they are listed in a consultation paper prepared by West Midlands Arts in the summer of 2001.


Objections to ACE's underlying assumptions

  Having initially attempted to force through immediate change, the Arts Council was subsequently forced to accede to a limited period of consultation.

  However, that consultation continued to insist on a number of "givens" which we would strongly oppose. These include:

    —  the creation of "a single organisation";

    —  the relegation of regional bodies to "advisory" status only;

    —  the continuation of a central Council with new responsibilities for overall governance and "national" policy.

  We wish to record our objection to the Arts Council's insistence that the above are "non-negotiable". To seek to preclude debate on these issues of principle not only undermines the credibility of the consultation process but is also an abnegation of public accountability.

  We object to these underlying assumptions on the grounds that:

    —  no case has been made to demonstrate that these fundamental changes are necessary to achieve the intended improvements and benefits;

    —  no amount of "spin" or fine tuning can alter the reality that this would represent a re-centralisation of power within the arts funding system;

    —  a centralised organisation operating a top-down approach to cultural development is entirely inappropriate to the way culture actually works today and to the opportunities emerging for the future.

The Need for Change and for Consistency with Wider Government Priorities

  We nevertheless recognise that change is required. Relationships between the regions and the centre have too often been compromised by a lack of transparency, by conflicting priorities, and by over-bureaucratisation. This in turn has inhibited real accountability to artists, promoters and other stakeholders.

  We therefore endorse the call in the DCMS Green Paper for "a single integrated system of funding offering artists and arts organisations a much simpler framework". A single integrated system is not the same as a single organisation.

  The Government has also made clear its aspirations for improvements in a wide range of other public services. Many similar objectives have been set — for cutting red tape, for regionalisation, for devolution of power, for re-directing resources to frontline services, etc. Yet the proposed structural changes in health, education and regional government etc are entirely the opposite of those proposed by the Arts Council. The NHS is abolishing its central executive and closing its own regional offices while ACE proposes to strengthen the role of the Council and turn the RABs into regional outposts. Even the Film Council is busy creating new, independent regional bodies while ACE proposes to abolish them—all purportedly to improve "consistency" within the arts funding system.

  The Select Committee may therefore not see consistency as just an entirely internal issue. The Committee may be unimpressed by ACE's insistence that the arts need "an entirely new model", unlike any other. The previous Secretary of State had already warned Gerry Robinson that ACE's final proposals will need to be tested against other approaches and priorities in other services and that "there may be some issues on which we may need to engage colleagues within Government".

The Need for a clear Rationale

  We also endorse the view in the Green Paper that "Over time funding systems can become over-complicated and lose sight of the objectives for which they were originally established". We agree that structural change therefore needs to begin with, and be based on a much clearer and more fundamental analysis of the system's core purposes.

  That reassessment of core rationale and purpose has not yet been undertaken.

  The arts funding system does not exist simply to be "arts-friendly", have "bold ideas", "speak with one voice" or "reduce administrative costs". These are not fundamental purposes. Any argument for radical structural change needs to be based on more than that. Fully developed answers are therefore needed to two key questions:

    —  In today's society, what is the arts funding system for?

    —  What does it therefore need to be able to do?

  Only when there are clear answers to these questions will it then be possible to propose a structure that will achieve those purposes and fulfil those roles in an efficient, innovative and accountable way.

Developing an Alternative Model

  The greatest failing of the Arts Council's current Prospectus is its lack of imagination and ambition. The Arts Council remains narrowly focused on its traditional pre-occupations with the professional subsidised sector and the work it already funds directly.

  How can any organisation legitimately claim a unique, lead responsibility when its view of "the arts" remains blind to the vast majority of creative activities taking place in England today?—Activities by young people, activities in schools, in colleges and universities, in the voluntary sector, in black and Asian communities, in local authority services, in the commercial and private sector, in broadcasting and in the creative industries.

  It is this narrowness of view that allows the Arts Council to presume blithely that Head Office will be in a position to determine so-called "national" arts strategies, while relegating other major providers such as local authorities to the roles of junior partners in a marginal "local partnership" scheme. The Arts Council is trapped within a Keynesian patrician model that is 60 years out of date.

  Today's society and practitioners need an alternative model that recognises and champions the full range of creative arts activity at all levels of involvement. We need an integrated system which recognises that it is uniquely placed to maintain a comprehensive overview, and that has the courage and ambition to act strategically in promoting a healthy ecology for all the arts.

  That does not mean that the commitment to quality must be sacrificed, or that everything must be funded. But it does mean that the integrated system also needs to take a much greater interest in the quality of art in education, the quality of training, the quality of voluntary arts activities, the quality of urban and rural regeneration, the quality and sustainability of creative enterprises, etc etc. It will then be in a position to be able to play more than just a funding role and also to develop other forms of intervention including research, advocacy, advice, information, dissemination of good practice, kite-marking, and so on.

  Especially since the resources and strategies of other key partners are being increasingly focused at the regional and local levels, the development of arts strategies and their subsequent delivery similarly need to be undertaken within the region. It would otherwise be impossible for centrally-determined strategies to be sufficiently flexible to respond to distinctive regional needs and changing opportunities.

  In reviewing the model required, the principle should therefore be:

    —  What responsibilities for policy development and implementation can be fully fulfilled entirely at the regional level?

    —  What does that leave as a role for the centre?

  Our own view is that a streamlined system could be most easily and effectively achieved by retaining independent regional bodies within a new federated structure and reducing the central operation to a minimum.


Benefits of change

  Do you support the stated benefits? And, based on your reading of the Prospectus, do you believe the proposed changes will deliver them?

  The stated "benefits" in no way represent an adequate justification for fundamental structural change. A much more detailed analysis and rationale is required.

  Among the benefits should be:

    —  a much more inclusive breadth of vision that recognises the great diversity of creative activity beyond what ACE currently understands as "the arts community";

    —  development of new roles to help ensure that public money is spent by the arts funding system and others to achieve the maximum possible public benefit;

    —  "more genuine power to the regions" to give them real "credibility and clout" as required by the previous Secretary of State.

A single organisation and "freeing excellence"

  Do you support the creation of a single organisation? Do you have any concerns about the loss of regional independence? If you do, is it your view that such concerns are outweighed by the potential benefits of access to increased resources?

  The creation of a single organisation would be a disaster. As the Green Paper proposes, we need a single integrated system. That system should be built from autonomous regional bodies, accountable to their regions and to the DCMS.

  Under ACE's current proposals, the supposed increased regional access to resources is illusory. The result would be a new form of two-tier system. Most of the increased resources will be tied up in new initiatives to benefit "the best arts organisations" (ie the biggest). Those initiatives will be determined at the centre, leaving the regions to distribute the scraps and deal with "the many not the few".

  Whether managed from the centre or, as we would propose, at regional level, "freeing excellence" requires a clear and explicit statement of the criteria for excellence. It should be clear that "excellence" may apply to organisations of all scales. It is often the smaller scale organisations that are best fitted to deliver excellence of arts activities in education, at community level, in youth provision and in other areas of high priority set by Government.


  Do you think this proposal is adequate? How do you think regional voices should be represented on the Council? What relationship do you think should exist between any Regional Advisory Bodies and the Council?

  We have no need for an Arts Council.

  The DCMS is increasingly clear about its broad policy priorities. There is no need for an Arts Council to pass on the message. The continuation of autonomous regional bodies would preserve the arms-length principle. Quality assurance and policy monitoring can be entirely managed by QUEST.

National roles and regional roles

  What roles do you think should be carried out nationally? and what regionally? Do you think this redefinition of roles should be resolved before further structural change takes place? Or do you think it is better done within the proposed changes?

  See 2.3 above: a much clearer understanding of purpose and rationale is of course needed first.

  See also 2.4: the key questions should be: What responsibilities for policy development and implementation can be fully fulfilled entirely at the regional level? What does that leave as a role for the centre?

  Our view is that we absolutely do not need a central tier with responsibility for "national leadership", "national arts strategy" and "national budget and resource planning". This is also an opportunity finally to get rid of those extremely expensive national posts with unnecessary responsibilities for "art-form leadership". Art-form specialism in frontline services at the regional level is the system's distinctive strength. Narrow art-form specialism in the senior management team is the root of its greatest weakness. In a single organisation, in the case of conflicting priorities, who would have seniority — the national Art-form Director, or the Regional Executive Officer?

  We believe that a federated system of regional bodies could fulfil all of the key roles of policy and strategy development, budget planning and service management. As a single integrated system, there would also be increased capacity to act together in national advocacy, national resource development and cross-regional initiatives. The only "central" role might then comprise jointly commissioned services in eg touring co-ordination, research, communications, training, and IT.

Regional Advisory Committees

  Are you satisfied with the current relationship between West Midlands Arts and local government? What is your view of the proposals in the prospectus regarding the creation of Regional Advisory Bodies?

  This region has consistently demonstrated the value of strong working relationships with its local authorities. The only problem with the RAB is that it is not an RAA.

  To reduce any regionally representative structure to advisory status would:

    —  wipe out any residual accountability to the region;

    —  run directly counter to the previous Secretary of State's requirement for the devolution of "more genuine power";

    —  destroy any credibility with artists, arts organisations and other stakeholders;

    —  fail to attract members of real calibre, influence or ability;

    —  encourage ill-considered and unnecessary conflict in that members would be uninhibited by any real responsibilities;

    —  remove an important professional discipline requiring officers to be able to account formally for their priorities, decisions, and the quality of service;

    —  leave officers exposed to unchallengeable requirements from Head Office;

    —  and provoke regional interests to seek more genuine power, influence and clout by other routes.

Values and effectiveness

  What values and objectives do you think the new organisation should espouse? What measures do you think should be used to test the effectiveness of a new organisation? Based on your experience of how West Midlands Arts and the Arts Council operate now, what changes—in policies, procedures or approach—would you hope to see? Are there things which you would hope would be retained?

  See 2.3, 2.4 and 3.1 above.

January 2002

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