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


  The Association of North East Councils, the representative body for local government, and the North East Assembly, the Regional Chamber for the North East, welcome the opportunity to feed in views to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the Arts Council's proposals for change.

  There has been (and continues to be) some significant concern in the North East about the proposals. To summarise the points made in greater detail below, we have some fundamental concerns that the Arts Council is essentially proposing to create a single national organisation, with regional outposts, which does not sit well either with the hitherto successful functioning of the regional arts board in the North East, or with the broader devolution agenda. By their very nature, regional agencies should be able to deliver regional priorities, agreed by the regions. The Arts Council would do doubt argue that this will happen under the new proposals. There is real concern, though, that under the proposed new arrangements, the regional arts boards will always be looking to the centre, rather than the region, because that is where their funding and powers will come from. We have been urging reconsideration of the proposals, particularly in the light of the forthcoming white paper on regional government.

  The following are the points which Members raised:

    —  the proposals revolve around a single organisation model. No other options have been, in our view, properly considered. This is a missed opportunity to position the arts strongly at the centre, with a slimmed down, focused central organisation, and equally strong in the regions (with an arrangement, for example, similar to the RDA/Assembly model), thus positioning the arts with the emerging regional devolution agenda. In the light of the Government's proposals for devolution to the English Regions, the medium-longer term sustainability of these proposals must be in doubt;

    —  evidence of real devolution was requested by the Secretary of State. We consider that the proposals offer delegation rather than real devolution, with a "national policy framework", and reference is made in the proposals to powers of the national organisation to revoke decisions;

    —  there needs to be an ability to allocate funding according to regional priorities. Clarity is needed on the nature and scale of the funding to be devolved, in particular, how much lottery funding is to be devolved;

    —  the Arts Council has suggested that savings of £8-£10 million will be achieved but there is concern how realistic these figures are and there is little detail on how they will be delivered.

    —  there needs to be greater clarity and improved arrangements for input by Assemblies and local authorities. Local authorities play a critical role in arts and cultural provision at the regional level and not just as funders. The proposals do not really deliver this. Any real ownership is removed, which is currently delivered through company membership and subscription to RABs;

    —  whilst the proportion of local authority members in relation to the Board is increasing (one third to two fifths), the number of seats is reducing (from eight plus two observers to six and this includes representatives from the Assembly). The two should be separate, with the Assembly seats being additional (serving different purposes). Northern Arts Board is pressing for there to be flexibility on this issue;

    —  in relation to links with local government generally, there is reference to links to the "Core Cities" Group. There are regional associations of local government, like ANEC, in all English Regions and strong links should be developed with them as well as regional assemblies and other bodies; and

    —  the regional brand of Northern Arts needs to be protected—it is well-known and respected.

15 January 2002

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