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


Memorandum submitted by Dance UK


  Thank you for your invitation to Dance UK to comment on the Arts Council of England's plans to create nine regional offices of a single body.


  Some 15 million people engage with professional dance artists each year, as audiences of participants in dance activity. Dance audiences are growing faster than audiences for any other art form (TGI statistics), and there are 10 times more dance companies working today than there were in the 1970s.

  Dance is the least well-funded of the performing arts. Central government funding through ACE has been unable to keep pace with the growth in activity, and the lack of dance spaces and buildings means that local authority support is significantly lower than for theatres, concert halls, galleries or libraries. With the exception of the Royal Ballet, all dance companies tour the UK extensively and so engage with communities regardless of regional boundaries. Only the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet have "home" theatres, and these are shared with other arts organisations. Dance is an excellent cultural ambassador for the UK, with no language barriers and particular strengths in its diversity, quality, education, training and community work. The national network of dance agencies and centres provides local opportunities for dance creation, production and education, enabling artists and communities to engage with each other in a myriad of exciting and innovative activities.

  For these reasons, Dance UK welcomes in principle the move towards a more integrated arts funding system. Current administrative boundaries are unhelpful to a mobile art form, and mean that dance companies may have to negotiate different priorities and arrangements with up to 11 different bodies. They also inhibit the ability of dance agencies and centres to determine their own catchment areas, to work locally and nationally or to cross regional boundaries.


  Arts Officers being freed from administrative tasks and releasing more funds for the arts. At this stage, there is insufficient detail to substantiate the claim that officers will be freed from administrative tasks. A single body should reduce the time spent in internal debate between the various parts of the system and reduce managerial time and costs. Examples include single finance, HR and communications departments rather than the current 11 separate departments, and cost savings resulting from single logos and stationary items.

  The roles and responsibilities of arts officers in the new single system are, as yet, unclear. On what basis is it assumed that arts officers will be able to lever more funds for the arts? This would be a new role, and there is no evidence that existing staff would be appropriately skilled, capable or interested in such a role.

  While it is appreciated that there will be some costs attached to change, it would be helpful to have an indication of the projected costs, the point at which administrative savings might be available, and an indication of the priorities for the allocation of the newly-released funds.


  The proposals would seem to offer the only means of simplifying funding schemes, and this is a welcome change. To an extent this claim could be at variance with that for greater decision-making responsibilities at regional level. Simplifying and unifying application procedures would represent time and administration savings for artists and arts organisations, and free them from administrative tasks to concentrate on creating and promoting their work, and engaging with the public. However, if the assessment priorities and procedures remain regionally determined then there will be only a partial simplification.


  The proposals are convincing on this count, in particular in terms of national financial accountability. There is a danger of excessive accountability and the associated bureaucracy undermining the administrative savings referred to previously. There needs to a clearer line of ultimate accountability to avoid endless negotiations about whether regional or national concerns should prevail.

  Greater funding and decision-making responsibilities at regional level, greater regional input at national level, and greater involvement of regional and local governments. This is not an entirely beneficial ambition. There is no evidence that achieving this objective would not result in the same old system under another name. It would be possible to achieve this situation under the current arrangements, and there have been various attempts to do so. They have always failed because of competitive, territorial behaviour between regions and the centre. The proposed new structure may inhibit such tendencies, but it cannot guarantee to change hearts and minds.

  A single organisation has the potential, over time, to find a balance between regional and national interests. How much more relevant and appropriate would it be for decisions to be made in the best interests of the arts and the public, rather than on the basis of needing to balance regional and national powers?

  The need to refresh and revise systems in all areas of life is self-evident. However the course of this particular debate and discussion has become dominated by politics. It might be expected that the voice of local authorities would be most strident, and that this would strengthen the position of regional funding bodies in their desire to resist the giving up of power. Appeasement measures are in danger of undermining the benefits of change.

  The alignment of regional offices' areas of responsibility with those of the government offices would seem eminently sensible. The boundaries between areas must be permeable and allow the free-flow of artistic activities.


  The evidence contains nothing to substantiate this claim. Ambitions for reduced bureaucracy, consistency and simplicity are, of course, welcome but do not in themselves promise better communication with artists and arts organisations. There are hints of a rather patronising attitude to the "arts community" in the evidence that does not promote confidence in potential to deliver better communication.

  We need a funding system that is better at listening and less inclined to dictate or to duplicate the services it funds other organisations to deliver. Will the stronger, modernised partnerships include partnerships with artists and arts organisations, in particular umbrella bodies? These exist in all the art forms and are positioned to be faster and cheaper at delivering services such as training, general information and networking directly to their art form practitioners.

  There will be a continued need for specific art form expertise in the system to promote better communication. This will need to be distributed geographically, but focused on working as a countrywide team, for example, of dance officers. This would allow for enhanced expertise in specific areas, such as dance education, digital dance, and the full range of dance forms, and would allow for this expertise to be shared effectively by artists and communities wherever they may be located.


  The various parts of the English arts funding system has achieved much, and contains many good people. In recent years new responsibilities have brought additional layers of administration and bureaucracy, a greater concern with individual organisations having distinct identities and unhelpful competition for profile and power.

  The proposals for change could bring great benefits, but they remain at too general level of detail about how the new body intends to engage with artists and arts organisations in order to promote an ever more lively, dynamic, vibrant, relevant and excellent artistic life for the country.

  Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further information or explanation.

6 February 2002

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