21.We asked the Department to tell us how it would be evaluating the success of the fund and its value for money, for example measures of the impact on jobs, freelancers and supply-chain organisations. The Department told us that it had awarded a contract to Ipsos MORI, BOP Consulting and Ecorys for the evaluation, which would be completed this financial year. The evaluation would be both a value for money assessment and a process review, to learn lessons about the fund and what it had achieved.
22.The Department said it wanted to satisfy itself that organisations in need were supported and that it achieved its objective of supporting a significant proportion of the cultural sector through a very difficult time. It also told us it wanted to test the fund’s regional impact, how far the Department had reached organisations it did not normally have a relationship with, the long-term impact of the fund, and the impact of its support on what it described as “the wider ecosystem and cultural ecology”. It advised that it could not yet share with us the details of the questions that the evaluation would cover, but would write to us once they had been settled.
23.We queried whether the Department ought to have set its value for money criteria for the evaluation earlier in the process. The Department told us that it had been assured of the value for money of its spending at all times, and never doubted that the funding had been value for money. Sir Damon considered the fund “has achieved its goal”. The Department said its evaluation would assess the extent of value for money, rather than whether or not the fund was value for money. Its firm contention was that the fund’s fundamental impact was to offer at least some assistance to all the organisations that met its financial and cultural significance criteria and that it had been critical to the survival of “many thousands” of organisations. It believed that no organisation that was approved for funding had subsequently become insolvent.
24.We asked ACE what it had learned about the sector. It told us that for round one of the fund, about 40% of those organisations it funded were new to it, and for round two of the fund, 23% were new to it. The Department also told us that the fund had been able to support a broader, larger proportion of the sector than it had anticipated at the beginning. In its view, one of the few silver linings of the pandemic had been the depth and breadth of the relationships that it and its arm’s-length bodies had built with stakeholders in the sector, which it wanted to build on.
25.We questioned the Department about the future of the sector and what it saw as emerging risks, given the pandemic situation exceeded the worst-case assumptions when it set up the fund. The Department replied that it did not want to see its investment wasted, and it was now supporting organisations’ reopening and restart costs. ACE told us it was seeking to understand how it could best channel its ongoing investments to make sure that arts organisations, museums and cultural organisations would thrive as they came out of the pandemic. It also said it was concerned about consumer behaviour, where it needed further work and data. It told us that cultural organisations had shown flexibility in their planning to engage with audiences in different ways over the last 14 months, and some organisations had looked at restructuring and worked towards more sustainable business models coming out of the crisis.
26.We asked what plans ACE had for its funding in future years and how its future funding could build on innovation, given the effect of the pandemic on the sector. ACE told us that it was very interested in the shape of what it described as “the cultural ecosystem” of the sector across the whole of England, with large, small and different types of organisations, including supply chain organisations. It said it had a 10-year strategy which it would deliver between now and 2030. It explained that it was optimistic yet realistic given the challenges and wanted to take learning from the pandemic and organisational learning about new technology, live performance and digital performance.
27.Nationally, the sector contributed £34.6 million to the UK economy in 2019. We therefore challenged the Department about its role in overseeing the business aspects of the sector and what it was doing to build the sector including exploiting its export potential. The Department told us there was “food for thought” in how it built on some of the new links it had developed, including with the more commercial end of the arts sector. It considered that the Department and its Ministers were “the biggest cheerleaders for the creative industries across Government”. It told us it was very proud of the sector’s successes and was committed to promoting the significance of the creative industries as an export industry and for regional economic growth.
57 Qq 9, 59, 60, 65
58 Qq 60, 65
59 Q 65
60 Qq 59, 64
61 Qq 15, 16, 62
62 Q 48
63 Q 68
64 Qq 48, 74
65 Qq 67–69
66 Qq 69, 70, 73
67 C&AG’s report, para 2
68 Qq 74, 79