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Contract for Illuminate data platform ends in March 2026, a year ahead of the end of the recently extended National Portfolio for 2023-27, raising questions over its future.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers logo on the side of a tall building
PricewaterhouseCoopers has a three-year contract with Arts Council England to run the Illuminate data platform


Arts Council England (ACE) will hold talks with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) ahead of making a decision on how arts and culture organisations will be required to report audience data for the 2026/27 period, the public body has said.

Last week ACE extended the 2023-26 National Portfolio investment by an additional year in response to "external challenges" the sector is facing.

But the £1.6m contract for the Illuminate platform comes to an end in March 2026. A spokesperson for ACE told Arts Professional that the organisation is "continuing to consider the impact of the Investment Programme extension" and will "liaise with the relevant contractors as required in due course".


"We’ve been in touch with PwC to inform them of the extension to the portfolio," the spokesperson said. 

"As we work through further details of the portfolio extension, we are also considering next steps for this contract. We will be in a position to confirm the outcome of this work later in 2024."

Data insights work was previously carried out by The Audience Agency which ran the Audience Finder platform for the duration of the 2018-22 National Portfolio as a sector support organisation.

When ACE extended that portfolio for the 2022/23 year due to the impact of Covid, The Audience Agency's work was extended as part of that.

However, PwC's three-year contract is not eligible for automatic extension. Should a new contract be necessary for the period beyond March 2026, whether that be for one year or longer, a competitive tender process would likely be required as the value of the contract will exceed £50,000.

Sector concerns

The situation comes on the back of a series of issues with the Illuminate platform. After launching late, figures in the sector expressed concerns about its useability.

In September ACE informed National Portfolio Organisations and Independent Sector Support Organisations that it was temporarily dropping some of the reporting requirements that are a condition of the combined £445m-a-year funding they receive.

As a result, box office data covering the 2023/24 period will not have to be submitted until July 2024, and the requirement to undertake audience surveys will be suspended until 1 April 2024.

In an open letter to ACE this week, NPO leaders said they felt PwC "had no idea what it was in for" when it won the contract. 

"The platform seems to have been designed chiefly for large, ticketed venues - though they don’t seem thrilled with it either. Everything else seems to be a bit of a workaround," they said.

"We were disappointed that PwC won the contract - as a huge commercial company, without any particular expertise in the arts, that hoovers up contracts and thus is able to undercut quotes from sector specialists, whose experience and expertise is sorely missed.

"And sure enough, PwC’s Illuminate is less user-friendly or useful on audience analysis than what we had before."

Positive dialogue

Andrew Burke, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of London Sinfonietta, said he hopes an open conversation between the sector and ACE can take place around data reporting issues.

"New systems are needed, or we will spend more and more time counting and reporting and less time doing the transformational work that the arts can deliver," he said.

"No doubt ACE or government want more quantifiable evidence for the impact of the arts. But many of us are are simply asking them to listen to the sector they are supporting and trying to nurture. 

"Goodness knows how particularly the smaller organisations, with so few staff to process the work, are coping. What would also help would be if ACE could convey more information about what difference all this data collection is making. Is it winning an argument to government for funding (or even more funding)? Otherwise it feels like more oversight, which can demotivate.

"I hope that a positive culture can be maintained between ACE and the sector and speaking up about what is not working results in a positive dialogue.

"Surely we are in this game together."

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ACE has ever been a sucker for awarding contracts to these sorts of commercial mega-companies. They appear to think it will impress the government’s department more than sector specific agencies that actually know and understand what they are dealing with. On reviews and the like the ‘Big Fours’ of this world can undercut by using keen young graduates - who haven’t a clue about the sector - to do the legwork, let them interview a variety of professional operators, and then feed what they’ve been told back couched in the latest bullshit management language with a few recommendations. ‘Value for money’? Ho, hum…