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


Memorandum submitted by Helix Arts


  We are writing in response to a request for written evidence from any interested party on the plans for the proposed reform of the Arts Council's document titled "Working together for the arts".

  We are very concerned about the proposal for a single national agency for the arts, in particular in relation to the potential loss of regional autonomy. We fear that power over national policy and strategy could still be retained by the national office, and that the term "devolution" could be meaningless without safeguards to protect regional autonomy, in particular:

    —  At Board level—will local authorities feel the same sense of "ownership"?

    —  In decision-making—with common investment programmes throughout England, will each region be in a position to develop its own distinctive policies and programmes? For example, how does their commitment to devolution equate to the fact that they are already suggesting priorities for the allocation of flexible funds?

    —  That regional advisers could be led by the priorities of an advisor from national office?

    —  How central Arts Council officers could obtain an adequate regional knowledge-base to agree regional priorities and grants?

  Has no cost benefit analysis been undertaken before such far-reaching decisions were made? We have not seen evidence on the proposed savings in operating costs by the new organisation nor an evaluation of the alternative costings on retaining and reforming the Regional Arts Boards.

  We feel that this proposal runs counter to the direction of other government policy, which is encouraging regional self-determination through the creation of Regional Assemblies. We are concerned to preserve the continuity of Northern Arts—both its brand name and its specialist artform staff, who give invaluable support to arts organisations and artists in the region. We need that continued partnership and collaborative working with Northern Arts' staff for the region to continue to maintain its effective promotion of regional identity through the arts.

  Consultation has provided evidence that the majority of artists and arts organisations do not believe that a single organisation will benefit them or the development of their work.

  If, however, these proposals are to proceed, and whilst we note that "the governing council will delegate significantly more powers to regional councils than are currently assigned to the quasi-autonomous RABs", we feel it would be essential for assurance to be given that:

    —  There will be a similar appointment system for the National Strategic Office's Chair and Chief Executive posts, as there will be for the equivalent regional posts.

    —  Each region will have discretion in determining its own regional priorities: in policy direction, funding allocations and staffing; that this discretion will be detailed in the Royal Charter for the new organisation.

    —  That the function of the "centre" will be clearly detailed, and the limits on its powers set out in the charter.

    —  That there will be clearly devolved budgets, managed regionally.

10 January 2002

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