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


Memorandum submitted by South East Arts


  On 15 March 2001 the Arts Council of England unexpectedly announced its intention to initiate a major re-organisation of the arts funding structures. These proposals were published in the document Prospectus for Change and followed up in Working Together for the Arts. At the heart of the Prospectus proposals is the creation of a single, new national arts development organisation. The change would be achieved by amalgamating the existing eleven organisations—ACE plus the 10 Regional Arts Boards. This would create a new single organisation to support the arts.

  It is the intention to replace the currently independent RABs by nine regional offices of the national body. These would be based on the Government Office regions in line with cabinet office directive. In southern England, this change would result in the existing Southern Arts area being divided between the South East and South West regions.

  South East Arts recognise that the initial announcements and developments demonstrated a far from perfect process. However it is the duty of the Board to fully investigate such opportunities to ascertain whether they are in the best interest of the company. South East Arts is not averse to change. We have not been substantial beneficiaries of the status quo, despite recent improvements, and we are therefore more than willing to consider alternatives. This view has been echoed by our regional colleagues, artists and arts organisations who also recognise the potential benefits of the Arts Council's proposals to the region.

  The south east is a creative region, but it is not a region with the traditional portfolio of resources. It is a region of small companies and creative individuals, or unconventional approaches and unexpected interventions. The fact that its profile is so different from other regions is both a strength and a weakness. The artistic context of the region is thriving in many ways, but it is thriving against the odds. The current funding climate works against the region, leading to "institutionalised arrested development" in many cases. We are doing so much, but there is so much more we could do.

  This under investment in the creative infrastructure of the south east has been recognised by government and more recently by the Arts Council of England. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport acknowledged the following at the opening of South East Arts' offices in November 1998:

    "There has been an historic under proportion of funding going to the South East region . . . We are putting more money into the arts over the course of the next three years and insisting that a considerable proportion goes to the regions, and the south east gets at least its fair share."

  Yet as we approach 2002-03, despite attempts to shift the balance, SEA remains more than £3.2 million poorer, in cash terms, than the next-worst funded RAB. We acknowledge that regional allocations have been built up historically, and that regional funding is not amenable to straight division by 10. However, attempts in the current system to address the situation in relation to core funding have not yet made a real impact on the differentials. We believe that a new arts funding system, with increased regional delegation and refigured boundaries, will enable the southeast to positively address regional inequalities with greater authority.

  Independent research has been commissioned by Southern Arts, South West Arts and South East Arts to look at the proposition of making arts development agencies boundaries coterminous with the standard Government office boundaries. This research, undertaken by the Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) at Birmingham University, in association with Professor John Mawson, Warwick Business School and David Gregory, supported the Arts Council's proposals in regard to the making the arts regions coterminous with the government planning regions, and further recommended one regional council within the south east. The Government office of the South East boundary (with the land-mass of Kuwait and the population size, and GDP, of Austria) is indeed a large region, but one with tremendous opportunities for development. The research reported that realignment of the regional council to this boundary would be enormously beneficial. For the first time the south east would have a strong voice on regional strategy, a far more authoritative national voice, much improved co-ordination and authority with Government regional offices, the Regional Development Agency and other regional partners, and the potential for greater specialist expertise and quality of service.

  A further impetus for change is the need for the arts to relate effectively to the wider social agenda. Though regional arts boards have for many years been successful in supporting projects which have tackled social and cultural inequalities, the record of the funding system as a whole has not been as coherent or effective as it might have been. Though the new system is still untested, we are optimistic that within a single organisation, cultural diversity can be better celebrated and social inequities more effectively tackled. New projects such as Creative Partnerships (supporting the arts in education) and the Diversity Project will be early tests of the effectiveness of the new organisation in this regard.

  At the time of writing South East Arts Board has not taken a formal decision on the proposed merger. However, since the announcements last year South East Arts has been constructively working with the Arts Council and its regional and national colleagues in order to have as much input as possible into what has come to be known by the working title of "FutureOrg". It seems apparent that were the current system working effectively to the benefit of the Boards, their artists, arts organisations and audiences, then neither the Arts Council nor any of the Regional Arts Boards would have invested so much time and energy into developing a alternative system—irrespective of how this initially came about.

16 January 2001

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