Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Stephen Boyce (arts 189)

1. Basis of this submission

1.1. I write in a personal capacity drawing on the following relevant experience:

Eight years as an actor/teacher, director and writer in Arts Council subsidised theatre companies 1973 - 1981.

Theatre Officer, Director of Arts then Deputy Chief Executive at Southern Arts Association / Southern Arts Board 1981 - 2000.

Programme Manager Awards for All, Community Fund (now Big Lottery Fund) 2000 - 2001.

Deputy Director of Operations, Heritage Lottery Fund, 2001 - 2010.

Currently a freelance arts and heritage consultant and adviser to emerging young artists.

Trustee of Arts Research Limited and Chair of Nuffield Theatre Southampton, an Arts Council regularly funded organisation (RFO). Former Trustee of ArtSway contemporary visual art gallery and of Artswork, youth arts development agency.

Chair of advisory Board for Creative Partnerships, Portsmouth, Southampton and Hampshire.

2. Summary

2.1. This submission considers some of the strengths, weaknesses and complexities of the current structure and concludes that clarity of purpose and function of the key bodies, rather than the number of bodies, is most likely to lead to efficiency and effectiveness. In particular it takes the view that a fundamental review of Arts Council England’s role and functions is necessary.

2.2. However, in a world in which the UK’s cultural ‘offer’ is recognised as outstanding, internationally and at home, and the creative industries are acknowledged to be of increasing value to the economy, there is also a case for considering direct funding of some major cultural institutions by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

2.3. It also includes brief reflections on the National Lottery and on business sponsorship and philanthropy.

2.4. Finally, I call for government to allow sufficient time for informed debate on this once in a generation opportunity to ensure that robust decisions are made on the future provision of support for this increasingly prominent and important area of public life.

3. The current system, and structure, of funding distribution

3.1. Weaknesses of the Arts Council in its current form

3.1.1. The arms length principle is a sound one, but to operate effectively arms length bodies need credibility based on the clarity and fitness of their strategic approach and the expertise and knowledge of their staff. They also need stability of purpose and structure.

3.1.2. ACE needs to review its core functions. Over the last ten years or more it has increasingly focused on its role as a "development agency" at the expense of providing expert - i.e. authoritative, knowledgeable and skilled - advice and leadership, combined with clear, strategic use of funds to enable the arts to develop.

3.1.3. ACE will always be a powerful organisation if only because of the financial ‘clout’ it wields, but it needs to develop a greater sense of humility and perspective. The arts world has a tendency to be inward looking, but the world of the Arts Council is especially so and the failure of ACE (and other NDPBs) to develop more effective partnerships with local government is one indication of this.

3.1.4. It has an increasing tendency to try to manage the arts by intervening, but without the authoritative and informed capability this would require. It has developed a superficial obsession with "innovation" in the form of novelty for its own sake. Innovation develops from creative practice and it is the role of the Arts Council to foster the conditions in which creativity can flourish rather than artificially manipulate novelty into being and then attempt to replicate it. In this respect ACE has become an arbiter and follower of fashion rather than an intelligent appraiser of promise and potential.

3.1.5. ACE has become more remote from funded organisations and local funding partners with a consequent lack of local or sectoral intelligence. Frequent organisational change, loss of experienced and knowledgeable staff and failure to focus on core functions have de-skilled the organisation so that it lacks understanding of professional arts practice and day to day arts management. This has further undermined its authority.

3.1.6. There is clear evidence that, in some quarters at least, ACE has not learned the lessons of the MacIntosh report (2008) or begun to fulfil the undertakings of its Chief Executive to build trust and mutual respect with RFOs and local government. In some cases its decision making has become personalised, inconsistent, non-strategic and certainly not based on evidence or a sound reading of previous decisions. Moreover, it is apparent from recent experience that, in the South East, the current Regional Arts Council lacks influence and its members are not informed about key strategic decisions.

3.1.7. Arts Council needs to set clear, realistic and explicit criteria for all aspects of its grant making, to apply them consistently and to make judgements based on sound reasoning and evidence.

3.1.8. In facing up to the forthcoming reduction in its core funding there is a risk that ACE will sacrifice some of its own most valuable achievements because they are not seen to follow a mainstream arts agenda. For instance, ACE has been a key proponent of creative learning through the establishment of Creative Partnerships, now supported through Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE). This major initiative has transformed the nature of teaching and learning in many schools which have embraced a process of whole-school change. It offers considerably more than simply an arts in schools programme and its achievements and legacy need to be protected along with other initiatives aimed at inspiring young people to engage with creativity and creative learning. As Professor Sir Ken Robinson has argued cogently, this is the way to develop the workforce that 21st century employers are seeking as well as citizens who are able to adapt to and influence the rapid pace of technological and social change.

3.2. How can these issues be addressed?

3.2.1. Like any organisation that has lost its way ACE needs to focus on doing a few things well. Its core functions are grant making, national champion (adviser to government, promoter of good practice), and partnership facilitator.

3.2.2. To do these well ACE needs to fulfil its promise to build trust and mutual respect with RFOs and with funding partners, notably local authorities. Specifically, ACE needs to:

restore its authority by recruiting at all levels of the organisation individuals who have demonstrable expertise in arts practice and/or arts management;

fulfil its commitment (following the McMaster report 2008) to re-introduce peer assessment - and not let this become a victim of the need for administrative savings - so that its judgements about funding are informed and credible;

articulate a clear, straightforward strategy for the long term development of the arts in England aimed at creating a climate in which the practice of the arts can flourish and in which partnerships can be fostered without assuming that ACE itself has to be at the heart of these;

review its devolved regional functions ensuring that regional councils have genuine meaning and influence, and are empowered to make decisions based on local knowledge and informed by expert advice and peer review;

through this devolved structure, exercise an enabling role, not duplicating the work of other bodies and ensuring that informed decisions are taken as near to the ground as possible;

review its funding programmes to ensure it has clear and consistent funding criteria, simple processes and helpful guidance.

3.3. Structures for the Heritage - some key issues

3.3.1. The key consideration in reviewing the effectiveness of structures to support the heritage should be the appropriate distribution of functions rather than the number of bodies involved.

3.3.2. For example, the National Heritage Memorial Fund/Heritage Lottery Fund (already effectively a single body) has considerable expertise in grant making, that is its ‘USP’ and it has a strong track record of achievement and organisational efficiency. English Heritage, on the other hand has great strength in depth regarding conservation practice in the historic environment and experience of relating this directly to planning and development.

3.3.3. However, any decisions on the redistribution of functions also need to take account of the breadth of the heritage. HLF has been acclaimed for broadening the concept of heritage, something it has achieved by resolutely declining to define the heritage and instead inviting applicants to say what is important to them about the past and how this should be shared with future generations. But the heritage sector, by any definition, includes significant areas of activity that fall outside the immediate remit of DCMS, such as the natural heritage of landscapes and habitats. This needs to be acknowledged and facilitated through appropriate channels between government departments.

3.3.4. No discussion of support for the heritage should overlook the important contribution made by the sector to Britain’s economy through tourism, and any re-distribution of functions needs to avoid undermining the capacity of the sector to continue to generate significant tourism revenue. The UK-wide distribution of Lottery funding through HLF allows projects in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as in the English regions, to bid for far larger sums than would be possible were the funds to be allocated to the devolved governments. It would be unwise to unpick the long term economic benefits of this strategy, and structure, to the economy of the UK as a whole by, for instance, simply merging HLF and EH and apportioning limited Lottery funds to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

3.3.5. The former area museums councils and their successors provided an important and often effective service in supporting and stimulating local museum development, albeit on limited resources. The museums sector continues to need support, especially at a time when the likelihood of serious cuts to local government discretionary services becomes ever more apparent. Any suggestion, however, that MLA’s functions should be merged with those of Arts Council England should be treated with great caution as ACE struggles to deliver its core functions (see above). Moreover, in the current structure, museums and galleries have a much better fit with the heritage sector than with the arts.

3.3.6. Renaissance funding for museums has undoubtedly served the sector well in enhancing the capacity of museums to provide better access and wider learning opportunities, often supplemented by Lottery funding for improved display and other facilities. But the benefits have, perhaps inevitably, been patchy and are under threat from the general economic climate and the need for public expenditure savings. This will undoubtedly add to the pressure on National Lottery funds.

3.3.7. The notion that all these varied functions - grant-making, strategy and development, stewardship - can neatly be accommodated within one body, a Heritage Council as it were, is simply not persuasive for four reasons.

Firstly, because the heritage is so diverse as to encompass the historic built environment; oral history; local customs and cultural traditions; industrial, maritime and transport heritage; natural landscapes; habitats and rare species; parks, museums and their multifarious collections; archives; monuments; churches and cemeteries, and archaeology.

Secondly, the functions of any such overarching body would need to include statutory advice, conservation expertise; listing, planning and guidance; grant-making; sectoral development, strategy and scrutiny across the whole of this broad range of what we think of as heritage.

Thirdly, this would create a large and unwieldy body prone, like the current Arts Council, to constant re-organisation and to gradual erosion of expertise.

Fourthly, because of the potential to undermine the effective distribution of funds, especially National Lottery funds, across the UK as a whole, and the legislative complexity of merging or de-merging bodies with different national (UK or country specific) remits.

3.4. Key functions

3.4.1. Stewardship of the major cultural institutions whose remit and standing are of clear national and international significance - bodies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal National Theatre, Royal Opera, British Museum, V&A, Tate Galleries, etc. - is a potential function of a re-vamped DCMS. Such bodies, not exclusively based in the capital, form a kind of ‘premier league’ defined by their long term guardianship of great collections, bodies of work and cultural traditions, whilst having obligations to share their expertise and their work with others throughout the nation(s) and internationally.

3.4.2. In a mature society, where the case for culture is more widely accepted and respected, the argument for an arms length relationship for these bodies has less force. Moreover, they form a peer group in which resides the very expertise that would be required in an arms length body.

3.4.3. Grant making for purposes of development, experimentation, programming, broadening access, learning and participation should be carried out by bodies whose remit, like that of NHMF/HLF is specifically to make grants for clear purposes and who specialise in the advice, assessment and monitoring roles that are required to ensure effective grant making and scrutiny of public funds.

3.4.4. There is a case for considering an overarching cultural grant making body that is largely application led. But it would be essential that such a body was able to encompass the wide range of knowledge and expert advice necessary to deal with the breadth of activity covered by large historic building projects, digital art, endangered species, parks, choreography, archives, circus, the many forms of music, etc.

3.4.5. My personal view is that small is not only beautiful but can be a great deal more efficient as HLF has demonstrated, and that larger bodies have a tendency towards self interest and self preservation which can lead to inappropriate expansion, inefficiency and a lack of humility. There is no doubt scope for smarter working through more consistent use of shared back office support between grant-making bodies. However, it is essential to avoid the inclination to turn such bodies into remote, centralised processing units. This is the direction in which the Big Lottery Fund has gone (and ACE’s Grants for the Arts is moving) and it has undermined the essential need for this kind of grant making to be informed by local knowledge, and responsive to local need.

3.4.6. There may be a case for bringing together under one umbrella body regulation in the form of cultural planning, conservation expertise, protection of sites and monuments and other expert advice on, for instance, historic ships or theatre buildings. But there would need to be clear commonality of purpose in any such grouping and it should not usurp the expertise that already resides in established institutions such as the British Library, National Archive, V&A and various professional bodies. Instead, such bodies should be given the encouragement and wherewithal to share their expertise more widely.

4. The National Lottery

4.4. Changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds

4.4.1. The National Lottery has been a colossal success, regenerating towns and cities, building communities, fostering volunteering and skills and giving the nation(s) a powerful sense of pride and self esteem. The popular support for the 2012 Olympics is one significant indicator of this.

4.4.2. The government’s proposal to re-distribute National Lottery Funds to the original pillars of the Lottery will be welcomed by the arts and heritage communities. However, the pressure to simply use this additional funding to make good reductions in public funding at all levels will be very substantial for the foreseeable future.

4.4.3. A key objective for the foreseeable future should be to sustain and consolidate the exceptional gains brought about by National Lottery funding over the last 16 years through further investment of capital and revenue funding.

4.5. Policy directions

4.5.1. There is no strong case for DCMS to review the Policy Directions to Lottery distribution bodies. The general encouragement to bodies to enable access to funds, to ensure their use for public benefit, to support learning and participation, together with the Financial Directions, provide scope for appropriate sectoral differences, whilst avoiding accusations of political interference.

4.5.2. As an example of the effectiveness of a light touch approach it is worth citing the Heritage Lottery Fund whose decision not to define the heritage has proved one of its great strengths and successes in so far as it has enabled and encouraged communities to determine what from the past has significance and how that should be shared with future generations. This approach has led to wide ranging public involvement in intergenerational projects, townscape regeneration, learning, skills development and active volunteering, impacts which it would have been harder to achieve through policy edict.

4.5.3. The concerns of some elements of the media regarding "unspent" Lottery funds have been firmly challenged by the reduction in funds in the National Lottery Distribution Fund in recent years and by growing recognition of the need for funding bodies to be able to commit funds to capital projects ahead of drawdown. This forward commitment is a significant factor in giving partner funders the confidence also to invest.

5. Philanthropy and business sponsorship

5.4. The economy of the arts has become a great deal more diverse over the last 10-15 years with increased business sponsorship and individual philanthropy playing their part alongside public subsidy, earned income and other sources of funding. Every effort should continue to be made to continue to expand the contribution of private sources by developing the capacity of organisations to raise funding and especially by creating further incentives for businesses and private individuals.

5.5. However, a number of key factors need to be recognised if a realistic approach is to be taken.

It is unrealistic to expect private funding to make good reductions in public subsidy. The interests and motives of sponsors and philanthropists are different to those of public funding bodies. The purpose of private funding is complementary to the public role and a valuable augmentation of financial support which can be directed to specific projects and activities.

Opportunities to attract private funding vary significantly across the country with a clear advantage to institutions in London. Many organisations based outside London raise private funds in small sums but do not have the market ‘clout’ to attract major sponsors.

The American model of philanthropy exists in a different climate of giving and is at odds with the culture of public service in Britain. For instance, whereas a sponsor or donor may look to have personal influence over a US cultural organisation by effectively ‘buying’ a seat on the Board, in Britain the requirements of public scrutiny of charity trustees make such a situation unacceptable. If we are to encourage increased philanthropy in Britain it will take time to develop a culture that sits comfortably with other valued and respected traditions, and other European models may provide a better fit for the UK.

6. Conclusion

6.1. There is much to be gained from this welcome review, and especially the opportunity to take a long term view of the needs of an increasingly mature cultural sector. There is not room in this brief submission to deal adequately with all the issues, but the importance of a serious national debate about appropriate and effective structures to support the arts and heritage, defined by their functions, cannot be overstated. This is a once in a generation opportunity and, I would suggest to the committee, deserves a sufficient period of reflection and debate to ensure sound and sustainable choices are made.

September 2010