Memorandum submitted by Black Country
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
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:
|mac arts centre
|Midlands Puppet Forum
|Lee Griffiths and Sandra Hall
|Funding Pending Live Arts
|JK Arts Management
|Writer & founder member
|Eccleshall Poetry Group
|New Theatre Works
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"
the continuation of a central Council with new
responsibilities for overall governance and "national"
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
We object to these underlying assumptions on the grounds
no case has been made to demonstrate that these
fundamental changes are necessary to achieve the intended improvements
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
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
themall 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
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
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
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
What responsibilities for policy development and
implementation can be fully fulfilled entirely at the regional
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.
WMA CONSULTATION QUESTIONS
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
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
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
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
destroy any credibility with artists, arts organisations
and other stakeholders;
fail to attract members of real calibre, influence
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
changesin policies, procedures or approachwould
you hope to see? Are there things which you would hope would be
See 2.3, 2.4 and 3.1 above.