Welcome to this fortnightly edition of TaitMail from the Arts Industry
10.10.2014

Found wanting


They’re at it again. The chaps who produced the report last year, Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, that set the row at boiling point over the disparity in arts subsidy between London and the regions, have got a new report out this morning that appears to show that, despite the Arts Council’s attempt to demonstrate how fair it really was in the settlement for 2015-18 announced at the start of July, nothing much is going to change.  In fact it’s going to get worse, they say.
 
The new report, rather smartly called Hard Facts to Swallow, says that in the coming three years London will get 43.4% of all the arts subvention, £81.87 a head, while the rest of England will get £19.80 a nob. So the balance will be 4.1 to 1 in favour of the capital. It concludes that ACE just can’t help itself, that “the forces of custom, practice and vested interest are just too strong”, that ACE “repeatedly demonstrates a systemic inability to reform itself without external intervention”. In other words, the Arts Council needs a clip round the ear and to be told to do it again, and do it right this time!
 
But it’s not, of course, anything like as simple as that. The problem is that the balance of arts subsidy in this country has been based on the historic support of local authorities, which has been catastrophically cut in the last four years and will be cut still more in the next three and beyond. And the Arts Council can do nothing about replacing it.

As it happens, there’s a new blog from ACE’s out-going CEO Alan Davey which tries to skew the argument away from the grammar school master’s approach. He’s looking towards what he calls “The Devolution Opportunity”, the growth of powerful regional cities, with partnerships brokered by cultural organisations and public bodies to shift cultural spending higher in their central budgets. He sees the need for local flexibility, transparent accountability for the likes of ACE and local authorities, and adaptability to the enormous changes that might – should, if our doltish politicians can see past their own poll ratings – be in the offing (like the suggested combining of some county councils). It's not about London versus the regions, he argues: “We need to realise the value of having one single cultural conversation”.
 
Which will interest Deborah Bull, director of the newish Cultural Partnerships department at King’s College London, and her new bestie Jane Ellison, a commissioning editor at the BBC, who is going to head up an enquiry for King’s which will examine the role partnership can have in “enabling publicly funded cultural institutions to enhance the quality and diversity of their work”.
 
And the BBC, Davey’s new place of work, can be part of that: “For arts organisations partnerships can mean bigger and better projects, and for the BBC they are a great opportunity to bring audiences closer to some of the UK’s best cultural institutions” says Tony Hall, CEO of the Royal Opera House – as metropolitan as you can get - before became the Beeb’s DG last year. “This project will explore how we can all work more closely together, right across the cultural sector”.
 
Which seems, chaps, rather more the point, don’t you think?
 

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