Doubts expressed about the accuracy of a damning report into the activities of the failed Centre for Visual Arts (CVA) in Cardiff, where financial shortfalls forced closure in November 2000, just 14 months after its opening, have been firmly refuted in a statement by report author Sir John Bourn, the Auditor General For Wales.
His report, published by the National Audit Office of Wales in November last year, included a swingeing attack on the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) for its handling of the Lottery grant awarded to Cardiff ?s ill-fated CVA. The latest statement by the Auditor General has been made in response to questions raised about the accuracy of his earlier report at a meeting of the Audit Committee in December last year, involving four former staff at the Arts Council of Wales. The four, Sir Richard Lloyd Jones, Emyr Jenkins, Joanna Weston and Robert Edge, whilst accepting the Auditor General?s overall conclusion that the Centre for Visual Arts project had failed to achieve its visitor targets and that this had led to its closure, objected to a number of the criticisms made of ACW?s handling of the project. They subsequently took issue with five of the criticisms made. At the heart of these was the observation by the Auditor General that the artistic programme displayed by the Centre for Visual Arts differed markedly from that envisaged in the 1992 feasibility study. In defence of their actions, the four made the point that the original concept for the Centre for Visual Arts was for exhibitions by contemporary artists, and that was what had happened, but rejecting this argument, the Auditor General said ?The original concept for the Centre for Visual Arts... which underpinned the forecast visitor numbers contained in the first application for Lottery grant, was that the Centre for Visual Arts would include blockbuster exhibitions by world-renowned artists of the sort likely to attract large audiences. In the period that the Centre for Visual Arts was open it did not display such works, which undoubtedly contributed to the shortfall in visitor numbers.? He cited evidence taken from the author of the feasibility study, consultant Adrian Ellis, who said ?the visitor number projections were kept for their convenience in legitimising a funding case, but the assumptions underpinning them were progressively abandoned.?
Another disputed issue was the former ACW management?s failure to act in response to warnings about weaknesses in funding applications. The Auditor General has remained unconvinced at the four witnesses? assertion that ACW did take action. He said ?My view remains that the development of a new business plan after 87 per cent (£3.24m) of total Arts Council funding has been awarded does not constitute swift action in response to clear and repeated warnings about weaknesses in the grant application.?
In summary, he said ?The reservations expressed by the witnesses were wide-ranging and of a diverse nature. For the most part, the issues they raised are points of detail which do not, in my view, present a challenge to the overall conclusions that I drew.?