The national funder has reported stagnating numbers of BME and disabled staff at national portfolio organisations, which have failed to collect data for large swathes of their workforce.

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Arts Council England (ACE) expressed its disappointment at under-reporting of diversity data among National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) this week, calling high proportions of unknown data for disabled and BME staff “not good enough”.

Less than half of NPOs with over 50 members of staff reported ethnicity information for all their staff in 2015/16, and only 40% of these organisations reported the same information for disability.

The latest workforce figures, released in a new report presented at an event on Monday, suggest efforts to increase diversity in the arts are not working.

People from Black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds and disabled people remain “significantly under-represented” in NPOs. Just 11% of the workforce in 2016/17 identified as BME and 4% identified as disabled – the same figures as 2015/16 – compared with a working age population that is 16% BME and 20% disabled.

“The key message we wanted to deliver on Monday both with the report and the event is that ‘unknown’ just isn’t good enough,” Abid Hussain, ACE’s Head of Diversity, told AP.

“Quite often an organisation will say ‘we want to provide better data – how do we do it?’. By developing new resources we’ve pre-empted that, and now it’s about pushing hard.

“If an organisation is repeatedly not doing it and providing information, we need to get to the bottom of that.”

Missing data

ACE has published data on the age, sexuality, ethnicity, gender and disability status of staff at all levels in its NPOs and major partner museums for the past three years.

The number of NPOs choosing not to reveal diversity information remains a major issue, with ACE unable to collect disability data for half of the NPO workforce in 2016/17, and ethnicity data for over a third.

For the first time, ACE included an ‘unknown’ option for respondents alongside ‘prefer not to say’, allowing the funder to distinguish between organisations that have not collected such data and those that would rather not reveal it.

ACE has been clear that it cannot force people to reveal information about protected characteristics, and will therefore not remove a ‘prefer not to say’ option, but ACE Chair Nick Serota has told NPOs that failure to capture reliable data could place public funding of the arts at risk. He warned: “Making the case to government for public investment in art and culture means presenting a credible picture of who we are and what we are doing. We need you all on board, if we are to make a compelling case for funding at a time when the competition for resources is fierce.”

An ACE spokesperson said: “While we will be expecting further progress on the [diversity] figures for this year, it is clear that we also have more work to do in prioritising data collection and sharing.

“Without more comprehensive returns, we can never be sure of the full picture and cannot truly evaluate the impact of our work.”

Hussain stressed the funding agreements for organisations supported through the National Portfolio for 2018-22 will require them to engage in reporting and improving diversity in their workforces.

“I think the funding agreement that we are developing with organisations are much firmer than they were in the past,” he said. “You are signing funding agreements with the Arts Council and those agreements are not about expectations - they are about the conditions of your funding and a big part of that is about providing good quality data.”

NPO diversity

Just 4% of all NPO staff were disabled in 2016/17 and 11% were BME. The proportion of BME staff dropped to 9% among permanent and voluntary staff, but increased to 12% among those employed on a contractual basis, including artists and creatives.

2% of the working age population identify as LGBT, and although this group is slightly over-represented among NPOs – where they make up 4% of permanent staff – they are under-represented among major partner museums, with just 1% of staff identifying as LGBT. In both types of organisation, sexuality data was not collected for around 75% of the workforce.

The proportion of women in key leadership roles has increased since 2015/16, but women remain under-represented among artistic directors and chairs.

People who identify as BME and disabled also remain underrepresented in senior leadership positions, but the proportion of disabled chief executives, artistic directors and chairs increased by one person point each between 2015/16 and 2016/17. In addition, the proportion of BME Chairs increased from 9% to 10%.

Published diversity

Changes in workforce diversity have been recorded at some NPOs. York Theatre Royal, criticised for having 3% BME staff and 0% disabled staff in 2013/14, improved to 5% BME and 2% disabled staff by 2015/16.

By comparison, Sheffield Theatres was 3% BME and 1% disabled in 2013/14, yet 2% BME and 0% disabled by 2015/16. Although changes to the survey questions mean these figures are not directly comparable, a spokesperson for Sheffield Theatres told AP it was “not proud” of the most recent figures, and was “determined to do everything we can to improve them”.

“Our recruitment changes include anonymised shortlisting, advertising through our new community connections which include a raft of groups in areas of low engagement in Sheffield and utilising specialist agencies for recruitment,” they said.

Black Country Living Museum, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Customs House, Tyneside Cinema, and Oxford University Museums failed to report any information about the ethnicity of their employees for 2015/16.

Creative case rating

All NPOs have been given a diversity rating of ‘good’, ‘met’ or ‘not met’, based on their progress against their artistic and social objectives.

Last year the percentage of organisations rated as ‘good’ increased from 33% to 45%. ACE revealed five NPOs received a diversity rating of ‘not met’ in 2016/17, some of which are among the ten organisations having to make improvements before their 2018-22 funding can be confirmed.

Hussain told AP that these organisations had received support from the Arts Council and have until the end of January to demonstrate their progress.

Disability report

Speaking at the conference where the report was launched, Andrew Miller, now a member of ACE’s National Council, said he thought almost a third of NPOs were inaccessible for disabled people.

He called for ACE to introduce an “access audit” on NPOs, saying: “I want unreasonable adjustment, or to give it another name – equality.”

Alongside the report, ACE has published a research paper, Making a Shift, which examines why disabled people are underrepresented in the creative industries workforce and suggest ways to bring about change.

It urges the Arts Council and the arts sector to properly budget for access needs, and to adapt recruitment, training and monitoring practices to be truly inclusive.