Memorandum submitted by South West Arts
THE ARTS COUNCIL AND THE REGIONAL ARTS BOARDS:
THE ARTS COUNCIL'S PROPOSALS FOR RE-ORGANISATION OF ENGLAND'S
ARTS FUNDING STRUCTURES
1. SOUTH WEST
South West Arts has consistently raised concerns
about the benefits, practicality and cost-effective of the Arts
It is not a position that South West Arts has
taken lightly. However, given the strength of opposition expressed
in the region to the proposals, and South West Arts' legally prescribed
position as an independent charity, we did not feel able simply
to abandon the principles and beliefs that have guided our work
for 50 years.
We do not reject the need for change or improvement.
We re-affirm that commitment here. But our position to date has
been that diversityin funding as much as in the artsis
fundamental to our cultural and social health. The arts are constantly
finding new means of expression and new voicesat times
so new that the arts funding system has been slow to recognise
Large singular structures, no matter how much
they delegate certain functions, run the risk of succumbing to
fashion, blandness and centralised political imperative rather
than deep cultural substance. It is why regional distinctiveness
is so real, and significant.
For half a century we have believed that it
is the diversity of independent and public arts funding sources
that protects and enhances the system. At our regional consultative
meeting in September, Arts Council Chief Executive, Peter Hewitt,
referred on numerous occasions to Regional Arts Boards that he
thought he had advanced particular causes that the Arts Council
had neglected. No doubt the opposite is also true. Our fear is
that all this could be in danger of being lost.
2. AREAS OF
From the outset we have argued that a single
organisation is neither the only, nor necessarily the best, way
of achieving reform. The Arts Council remains certaindespite
the fact that no alternatives have been "tested"that
this is the correct way to proceed.
The proposals were originally described as a
merging together of the existing Arts Council and ten Regional
Arts Boards to create an entirely new organisation for the funding
and development of the arts in England. It was one of the earliest
"selling points" advanced by the Arts Council to reassure
RABs that this was not a "takeover".
However, even this is now not going to happen.
There will be no new legal entity and the situation, at least
in practical terms, is, in effect, not a merger but a takeover
in which we are being asked to transfer to an amended Arts Council.
More positively, we welcome the commitment to
developing a new approach to governance to be enshrined within
a revised Royal Charter.
Image and identity
South West Arts has expressed the desire to
see the "new" organisation with a new name and visual
Given that we will be asked to transfer staff
to the Arts Council of England (not a new legal entity) the symbols
of newnessrevised Charter, new mission, new identityare
felt to be essential.
Consultants are engaged to look at "brand"
and identity, and we await the results of their work. It will
be a challenging assignment. RABs have strong "brands"
within their regionstheir distinct visual identity is one
of the key ways that they demonstrate that they are of, and for,
their regions. Arriving at a strong identity for a single new
national organisation that can also accommodate a sense of regional
"ownership" will be quite a task.
The draft Transfer Proposal contained a clear
statement on this issuethere cannot be devolution within
a single organisation, only delegation. And whilst this fails
one of the key "tests" set out by the Secretary of State,
the position is at least clear. What is now needed is a much clearer
specific explanation of the additional funding and decision-making
responsibilities at regional level.
The "fit" with broader regional policy
We are not clear how the Arts Council's proposals
fit with broader issues of regional policy. Museums and libraries
have re-affirmed the importance of independent regional agencies,
and there is a view that Sport is decentralising to be more like
the current arts structure. A DCMS report on the future of Regional
Cultural Consortia is expected soon.
We question why the Government seems to be strengthening
regional self-determination through Regional Assemblies and Regional
Development Agencies whilst allowing the dissolution of specialist
regional agencies like the RABs. It has been difficult to reconcile
DCMS approval for the proposals with other Government departments'
approach to regional development. If, for example, the regional
White Paper identifies culture as a key responsibility for regional
assemblies, where does this leave the current proposals?
The original proposals dealt inadequately with
the contribution of local government, the importance of its partnership
with the RABs and the role that local government might play in
the new organisation. These issues have now been more carefully
explained in the Arts Council's most recent version of the proposals,
although practical detail is still somewhat lacking. But as far
as it goes, this is a positive development of the original proposals.
The precise nature of any future financial relationship
between local authorities and the Regional Arts Councils is yet
to be clarified.
Regional Arts Boards currently receive funds
from local authorities through subscription. This reflects the
"membership" relationship that local authorities have
with their Boards. As a consequence of the proposed changes there
is a concern that this financial arrangement might not survive.
If removed, this investment could represent a loss nationally
of some £3.6 million and fatally compromise any savings that
the Arts Council hopes might be achieved.
3. SERVICE, EFFICIENCY
It is difficult to provide a definitive view
of the likely effectiveness of the Arts Council's proposals.
Regional Arts Boards have asked the Arts Council
to provide, at the very least, outline information on the new
structure into which regional staff would be transferring. The
Arts Council has not felt able to provide this information.
As a consequence, we can have little real sense
of how a new regional council will deliver the services expected
The £8-10 million "savings"
We wish to feel confident that the service offered
in the future will be at least as good as that currently available.
To date we have been sceptical of the rationale for, and desirability
of, the proposed savings of £8-10 million. Some level of
savings are both possible and desirable, not least through a reduced
"centre". However, savings overall must be realistic,
well founded, and not at the expense of service delivery. The
Arts Council has provided no detailed explanation of how the £8-10
million figure was arrived at.
A "light touch"
A simpler and less bureaucratic approach to
arts funding and developed has been promised by the Arts Council
as one of the most important benefits of the re-organisation.
However, it is less clear how this will be achieved.
The Arts Council's previous statements on these
issues have been misleading and confused. We should certainly
seek to minimise unnecessary bureaucracy and look carefully at
our management of funding programmes. We should also accept that
artists and arts organisations would greater simplicity.
However, funding is just one aspect of our work.
Arts development over a region the size of the South West requires
informed and attentive involvement. Our experience demonstrates
conclusively that the majority of those with whom we work want
more of that attention, not less.
Those who we work with value their access to
expertise across the wide range of arts, cross-artform and technical
disciplines that we are able to offer. We are concerned that any
moves to "centralise" service functions might result
in a diminution of important, locally accessible expertise.
The business case
There is insufficient specific information in
the Arts Council's proposals to make the case for this restructure,
either in financial or organisational terms.
Although a variety of assertions have been made,
they lack substance and any basis in evidence. Our position has
always been that the benefits of any restructuring must demonstrably
outweigh its costs. If this is to be achieved, we need a rather
more convincing explanation of the benefits than has yet been
We remain concerned about the deliverability
of transfer in the given timeframe. The number of outstanding
issues not yet resolved is large, and combining eleven organisations
into one on such a tight timetable is high risk.
4. REACHING A
At the time of writing we have yet to make a
final decision in relation to the Arts Council's transfer request.
As we face this decision, we have accepted that
much of what we originally argued for we will not get.
There is no structural option open to us other
than that insisted upon by the Arts Council. There will be no
merger of all parties into a new organisationwe are being
asked to transfer into the existing Arts Council. There will be
no new Royal Charterinstead there will be amendments to
the existing Charter. There will be no devolution of funds or
responsibilities, only Delegation. There will be no cost benefit
analysis that justifies the disruption and expense that re-organisation
On the evidence of the draft Transfer Proposal,
we shall have no firm information on the funds that are likely
to be available to the regions in the future.
We will have no clear information on staff structures
nationally and regionally. We will have no clear information on
the level of staffing resources that the new regional offices
will have, or that they will be adequate to meet the needs of
what will be required.
However, we must face up responsibly to the
very real prospect that a decision not to transfer may result
in the Arts Council withdrawing funds from South West Arts. Withdrawal
of Arts Council funding would leave us with little or no funds
with which to deliver South West Arts' charitable objects. That
negative reason alone may oblige us to agree a transfer under
charity law, however unwillingly and however unconvinced we might
feel about the benefits that have been promised.
28 January 2002