A four-year Memorandum of Understanding outlines a potential model for collaboration between Arts Council England and local authorities if devolution progresses.

Photo of the Mayor of Bristol and Peter Bazalgette signing the memorandum
Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson (left) and Sir Peter Bazalgette sign the Memorandum of Understanding

Arts Council England (ACE) and Bristol City Council (BCC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, setting out key objectives for collaboration between the two bodies in what has been termed by ACE “the first such agreement between a local council and the Arts Council”.

The memorandum renews an original agreement, which ran from 2012 to 2015, although this is the first time the official document has been published. It intends to improve knowledge sharing, efficiency measures and the availability of funding for arts and cultural providers in the Bristol area. New processes to avoid duplication of effort are to be created, “particularly in relation to monitoring and support to co-funded providers,” and the parties are to consider the development of a self-evaluation framework for arts and cultural providers.

The document states that ACE and BCC will account to each other for the performance of their respective roles and will meet quarterly, but it emphasises that no joint funding arrangements will be created. It names ‘lead officers’ who will ensure that collaboration is effective and states that a joint action plan will be established, to ensure “activities are delivered and actions taken as required”. A commitment to collaborative and open communication is also envisaged to address potential issues “arising from the different policies or priorities of each party.”

Phil Gibby, Area Director for the South West at ACE, said: “We understand that local authorities are facing a difficult challenge and that they may not be able to maintain the same level of financial investment during the next few years, but by working to shared priorities and within protocols to create efficiencies, we will be able to maximise opportunities for both development and engagement.”

Chief Executive of Bristol Music Trust Louise Mitchell echoed this favourable assessment, saying that the memorandum had been useful in giving ACE “a deeper understanding of the issues we face as a city”. She continued: “From a BMT perspective the relationship has been particularly useful in steering for our £45m capital campaign for Colston Hall.

“The ambitious plan is the largest arts capital campaign that Bristol has seen, and, as such, is far beyond the resources of any one agency. It’s been really helpful for me to be able to demonstrate the united support of BCC and ACE and I’m sure that this united approach was instrumental in Bristol Music Trust being given an exceptional grant of £5m for our new building directly from HM Treasury.”

The original memorandum was highlighted in ACE’s submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group’s inquiry into ‘Better Devolution for the Whole UK’ in October, as an example of a shared approach that could be “adapted and taken further as devolution progresses”.

In its submission, ACE outlined how the agreement gives BCC access to ACE’s “artform expertise” when making its own investment decisions. “Having a well-established forum to jointly consider strategically the local cultural infrastructure means that we and the local authority are able to identify regional and national opportunities which can secure Arts Council support,” it states. It gives special mention to the cultural programme aligned with Bristol’s year as European Green Capital.

The new memorandum will expire on 30 November 2019.