Grant-makers owe it to their staff and those they fund to operate a fully transparent process that leaves no room for allegations of misfeasance, says Liz Hill.
Call me old fashioned, but I take the view that all Government-funded grant-making bodies should have sufficiently robust and transparent systems in place to protect both themselves and those who receive public money from allegations of misfeasance. Grant-giving is a serious business. Many recipients of public funding build their lives and livelihoods on the back of it, and losing a grant, or being turned down for one, can be both a personal and professional tragedy for those involved. Any suspicion that grants are being handed out improperly, or that favoured suppliers are being given preferential treatment, will always touch a nerve in the arts sector, even though few are ever willing to put their heads above the parapet to report suspicions of impropriety (and my blog Feel the fear gives my pennyworth on why this is the case). However much everyone hates the paperwork, dispassionately applying a set of rules offers the only chance of avoiding individual favouritism and institutional bias, and it is in the interests of both the grant-maker and grantee for these rules to be rigorously applied. Lobbying, off-the-record conversations and informal arrangements should never contribute to the process, as therein lie the potential for speculation as to how decisions were made.
Of course, allegations of ‘jobs for the boys’ are part and parcel of a grant-maker’s burden, and however honourably and even-handedly it tries to behave, unless it is also transparent and people can see the logic in the selection of certain artists, consultants or companies for particular grants or contracts, then questions are bound to be raised. If those questions are met with obfuscation and specious argument, then accusations of foul play are all the more likely to circulate. The duck test will be applied: if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then chances are it is a duck.
In the case of the ATTL programme, the fact remains that in the North West (and apparently across the country), some selection panel members were also appointed to work on the very projects they had chosen for the £500,000 grants; the appointment process under which they were offered the paid advisory role is shrouded in mystery; and in the North West – and possibly elsewhere – one of the people paid to do the work of advising on the project and presumably keeping it on track, is also the full-time Director of a major Arts Council funded organisation. Given that 85% of the ATTL project money for the North West region has now been spent without the artwork having actually been created, ACE must be the only body unable to see why eyebrows have been raised and questions are being asked. Chances are, of course, that those involved in the project behaved honestly, honourably and professionally, and are all tearing their hair out over a set of unfortunate circumstances that led to the situation they now find themselves in. It’s just that shadowy explanations and stonewalling leave space for doubts to creep in, and that does no one any favours.