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Independent Society of Musicians warns that Arts Council England's last-minute decision leaves staff and freelancers "in the dark" about their future employment.

Orchestra instruments

Music hubs across the country were informed on Monday (8 April) of the outcome of the Arts Council England-administered Music Hub Investment Process but applicants have been banned from sharing the information publicly until May to avoid the risk of influencing forthcoming local elections.

ACE’s timeline for the programme, which awards successful hub lead organisations (HLO) a share of £79m of DfE investment and an additional £25m to buy instruments, has been in place since June 2023. An embargo to its planned April announcement date was added on 28 March.

The Independent Society of Musicians (ISM) has criticised the move, calling it “poor practice” for keeping existing music hub staff, particularly freelancers, "in the dark" about decisions that will impact their future employment.


Writing on X, ISM said that the funding process has been “blighted" by an “alarming lack of transparency" from the Department for Education (DfE) and ACE with an "overriding commitment to never explain or justify actions”.

During pre-election periods, or purdah as it is known, there are often restrictions on what councils, civil servants and the government can announce. A number of councils will have elections on 2 May, with the pre-election period beginning on 26 March at the latest. 

The Local Government Association advises that for council elections, officials should not issue any publicity that "seeks to influence voters" and that publicity relating to policies and proposals from central government should be "balanced and factually accurate".

In a post last July about the Music Hub Investment Process, ACE warned that if a general election were called it would expect the Cabinet Office to advise it not to make any new public announcements within the pre-election period.

However, it made no mention of any anticipated impact of local elections in early May. 

Explaining its decision, ACE said heightened sensitivity before the local elections restricts both its and local authorities' ability to make funding announcements about the music hubs, which are often run by or work closely with councils. 

ACE said the embargo on the announcement was added once the government issued guidance on the period of sensitivity for upcoming local elections. As guidance varies for each election, ACE said it could not make assumptions about when it could make the public announcement before that guidance was published.

DfE said that both itself and ACE are bound by pre-election period restrictions ahead of the local elections. 

September deadline

During the interim period, ACE has advised hubs they can confirm the outcome of their application with consortium members and other partners named in their application who expect to receive part of the grant as long as the information is kept confidential.

They can also communicate with the support organisation Music Mark.

ACE did not comment on what the outcome would be for an organisation should its application decision be made public during the embargo period. 

The funding body said it was sharing the outcome privately despite the pre-existing election clash to allow hubs to begin communicating with stakeholders as soon as possible so they can meet ACE’s deadline of having their new arrangements in place by September.

The Music Hub Investment Process forms a key part of the government’s National Plan for Music Education (NPME) and will see the number of music hubs fall from 116 to 43. The bidding process to become a new HLO ran from July to October 2023.

While the ambition of the plan, which sets out the government’s vision for music education from 2022 to 2030, has generally been well received by the sector, its implementation, particularly the scale of the reforms and complexity of consolidation within the allotted timeframe, has come under fire from some sector leaders.

Speaking at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education last year, Stuart Whatmore, Head of the Tri-borough Music Hub in London, said the process of creating a brand-new working model across seven local authorities in the four-month application window had been “immensely challenging”.

'Under serious threat'

Meanwhile, in an open letter to the Minister of State for School Standards, Damian Hinds, ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts warned that delivery of the plan was under serious threat because "many of the practicalities have simply not been thought through" and called for the investment process to be paused to allow an investigation to take place.

The government established an advisory Monitoring Board for NPME in June 2023 to oversee the implementation of the plans and monitor progress on delivering commitments, but it was recently revealed that Hinds, who was appointed in November, had not yet attended any meetings.

In her letter to Hinds, published on 5 April, Annetts also raised concern about the distribution of the £25m for new instruments, claiming it was geographically allocated before the decision on new HLOs was made.

She also queried the requirement that HLOs spend 90% of the £25m allocated for instruments in the first year and restrictions that prevent the use of funds for maintenance and repairs of existing instruments, calling it “contradictory and environmentally damaging” given that sustainability was one of five strategic functions applicants had to respond to. 

DfE and DCMS did not respond to a request for comment on the concerns raised in Annett's letter but noted that more information will follow in May.

A headshot of Mary Stone