Liz Hill responds to Cluny Macpherson about ATTL Yorkshire
I take great exception to the assertion in your letter that our news item in AP257 makes “unfounded but serious allegations of corruption and bias against a volunteer selection panel”, and am replying with an open letter to make our position clear.
ArtsProfessional goes to great lengths to secure documentary evidence before we publish a story of this nature, as our policy is and always has been not to publish stories based on unsubstantiated opinion or hearsay. Indeed, our assertion, based on the many documents obtained while investigating Carol Lee’s claims, is not one of corruption among the panel that made the final decision on the ATTL project, but that Arts Council England failed to apply its own selection criteria and procedures in drawing up the shortlist of eligible projects for consideration. Contrary to the implication of your letter, we do not pass judgement on the quality of the project ultimately chosen or the integrity of those individuals who made the final decision.
We have read ACE’s own guidelines to applicants which say that projects should be artist-led, and I quote, “We cannot accept ideas from organisations which are not led by artists, such as local authorities or higher education institutions”. Having also seen the application made by Leeds Canvas, we fail to see how a bid led by a consortium of arts organisations which included three representatives from public sector organisations but failed to include even the name of the artists who would eventually lead the project (who were in fact appointed only after the short-listing process was complete) could possibly be eligible for consideration. You do not explain this.
In your letter you defend certain omissions in the declarations of interest made by panellists, yet the manual ACE supplied to its volunteer panel members said, and again I quote: “When considering what to declare, the golden rule is: If members of the public could reasonably conclude that your interests might have an influence on an approach taken to an application or contract, then you should declare. In other words, it’s better to be safe than sorry... Artistic communities are small and it is likely you will have knowledge of artists being discussed and may have prior links to emerging projects. You have been recruited because of your knowledge and expertise and you should bring all that is relevant to the discussion. You should however raise any links at the earliest opportunity...” One member of the public, Carol Lee, has, in our opinion, reasonably concluded that direct trading and board relationships between panel members and grant applicants have the potential to influence decisions and should therefore be declared. Our readers will be very interested to learn that ACE feels this is not the case. In our view it constitutes zero “degrees of separation”.
Finally, you point out that the Arts Council has a complaints procedure for anyone who feels that their application for funding has not been fairly handled. Based on Carol Lee’s experience, potential complainants could be forgiven for fearing that pursuing a complaint may be a fruitless exercise. On this point, in my own editorial comment, I do speculate – and I’m sure you will have read my blog on precisely this.