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



  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 new organisation.

  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 West.

  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 new structure.


  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 Council.


  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.

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