In his introduction to Arts Council Englands (ACE) accounts for the last financial year, the Chair, Sir Christopher Frayling asks How many public bodies can honestly say, hand on heart, that they combine national policy and regional delivery in such efficient, effective and creative ways? And the question has to be asked is ACE one of them? Overspend on an IT system is not a new phenomenon (p1); any NHS manager would tell you that. But a 30% overspend is pretty big in anybodys book. And an overspend of £1.9m for an organisation of less than 1,000 staff is a lot of money. The irony of an ACE representative describing the project as part of our investment in improved efficiency will not be lost on those arts managers having to moderate their ambitions and expenditure in the face of standstill budgets.
Funding the arts should be about just that putting money into the arts. Obviously, this takes administrators and administration, and requires muscular and effective lobbying, all of which costs money. But, in an era where all arts organisations, large and small, are required to prove their value by submitting reams of data ranging from the profile of their audiences to the evaluation of their education workshops, shouldnt the same level of scrutiny be applied to the body which administers the arts budget? It would be interesting to hear more about the justification for a 7.5% increase in overall administrative costs, the seemingly never-ending increase in staff numbers and the fact that ACE still maintains a costly property portfolio despite repeated promises to reduce this. A couple of years ago, when the in DCMSs arts funding for 200508 was first announced, Tessa Jowell argued that ACE was capable of saving significant sums on bureaucracy and investing this in the arts. Writing in The Guardian, she declared, I want artists to hold politicians and administrators feet to the fire. Every bureaucracy, no matter how benign, risks losing its edge, especially after periods of increased funding. As arts bodies prepare to mount their defence of arts funding in what is an even harsher climate (p3), the question remains can ACE honestly still claim that it is working in efficient, effective and creative ways?
Liz Hill and Brian Whitehead