NORTH WEST ARTS BOARD RESPONSE TO "WORKING
TOGETHER FOR THE ARTS" 31 OCTOBER 2001
North West Arts Board has considered the Arts
Council's document "Working Together for the Arts",
and the response to it from partners in the region.
We share the Arts Council's aspirations for
improvements to the arts development system. The proposed reorganisation
is not the only means of achieving improvement, but, if carried
out in the right manner, it has the potential to deliver to artists
and communities a better service.
We remain committed to working with DCMS, the
Arts Council and fellow RABs, as well as with our partners and
clients in the region, and playing a full part in creating the
The Board recognises that there are a number
of improvements to the proposals for a new organisation, which
have been made in response to the feedback from the first Arts
Council paper, "A Prospectus for Change".
However, we have a number of concerns, most
of which have come through in the consultation period. Whilst
committed in principle to working towards a new single organisation,
any final decision to transfer into one can only be contingent
upon these concerns being fully resolved.
Many consultees have raised concern that this
new organisation could represent a shift towards a more centralised
system, which is less responsive to an understanding of regional
needs, and difference. The Secretary of State has said that the
new organisation must devolve real authority to the regions. It
is critical that this principle is fully enshrined in the new
Charter, and in the structures (in terms of Councils, staffing
and budgets) of the new organisation. There will need to be clear
statements of authority devolved to the Regional Councils.
A major benefit of the new organisation should
be that national policies and strategies are developed from an
understanding of common needs and opportunities at local and regional
level. We will want to ensure structures and ways of working which
mean that the national strategic view is developed from the regions,
not imposed from the centre. If we get this right it could be
a massive and beneficial shift in the way the system serves both
artists and communities.
We welcome increased links between regional
Councils and the national Council. We are concerned that Chairs
and regional Board members must be appointed through the region,
and that the region, through its Council, in consultation with
other regional agencies and with artists, has a full role in the
selection of the Chair. It would not be acceptable to have a Council
Member from the region imposed as the Regional Council Chair by
the Secretary of State. A proper process for recruitment of Chairs
will need to be agreed, and it should include processes for drawing
the best likely candidates from the region including open advertisement,
use of recruitment consultants as necessary and consideration
of candidates by the Regional Council.
The Regional Council should appoint its own
members through an agreed process. It is particularly critical
that we maintain the current balance of arts community, business
and voluntary sectors, and local government on Councils. Many
consultees have expressed the view that the regional Council must
be genuinely accountable to its region, not simply to the national
Council. The Board is very concerned about the transition period
and believes that we must confirm the proposed new Chair and Council
members as soon as possible. There must be a process which ensures
we have the new skills that will be needed, whilst also building
on the expertise which exists on the current Board.
We are concerned to ensure that the new organisation
has the necessary structures to deliver at national and regional
level. With increased responsibility, and geographical area, this
is likely to mean an increased staffing allocation in the North
Ensuring the right structure, reflecting regional
needs, is critical both for the future health of the organisation,
and also in terms of our responsibility to our existing staff.
Their expertise is our greatest asset as an organisation and we
wish to retain and build upon that strength. We wish to clarify,
as a matter of urgency, the processes whereby staff would be transferred
into the new organisation and how they will be placed into the
Many consultees have sought assurances that,
to quote one of our local authorities, "the current level
of professional arts development support will not be reduced."
Our structure will need to reflect a continuing presence of expertise
in the region, reporting through regional management and the regional
We see the need for an effective centre which
facilitates and supports but does not direct work in the regions.
It should be the focus of national policy and of contact with
Government and national agencies.
The regional offices must develop and support
the arts in their region, including representing them on national
and international stages. The must develop the overall direction,
policy and strategies of the entire organisation, co-ordinated
by the national office. We will want to ensure that these roles
are articulated clearly in structures and proposed ways or working.
We are extremely concerned about the proposed
savings target. Consultees have been clear that they do not wish
to see savings at the expense of a quality service. Whilst financial
savings are desirable, the key driver in this process must be
improved service delivery.
The North West Region has two proposed boundary
changes, with Cumbria to come into the region and High Peak out
of it. We understand and support in principle the rationale in
this. We feel that to have Cumbria within the North West will
offer real opportunities to the region, to this organisation,
and to Cumbrian artists and organisations. Cumbria has been very
well served by Northern Arts over many years and we recognise
the importance of building on this in the new organisation.
We regret the prospect of losing High Peak from
this region. Many arts organisations have stressed their links
with Greater Manchester and expressed concern at the changing
region. However, we are confident that they will be well served
by East Midlands and that there will be opportunities available
to them by being within their RDA boundary.
The proposals to change boundaries must have
no negative effect on artists or local authorities. They will
need undertakings about on-going commitments. In the short term,
at least, there will need to be additional resources devoted to
facilitating transition in these areas. And the North West office
will need additional staffing and resources to serve the very
particular needs of Cumbria.
Increasing concerns are being raised by local
authorities, arts organisations and staff about the impact of
transition on quality of service, long term planning and morale.
We wish to agree clear processes for resolving a number of key
matters to reduce this impact, including, for example, confirming
Chairs, Council members and staff in post as soon as possible;
and agreeing ongoing long term planning commitments, particularly
in areas affected by the boundary changes.
Both DCMS and the Arts Council have been very
positive in making a number of statements offering reassurance
on most of these matters. There has been explicit commitment to
ensuring genuine regional devolution and influence in the new
organisation, and also to recognising the importance of the arts
in delivering other key agendas such as social inclusion, equality
of opportunity and regeneration. We endorse these commitments
and will work positively to ensure that the proposed new organisation
can deliver them.