Arts Council England is preparing to make its funding data more accessible as the National Audit Office reports on Government grant services and a Public Administration Select Committee turns its attention to the accountability of quangos and public bodies.
ExeterAnna (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Arts Council England (ACE) is making plans to publish a searchable database of all the grants it makes, AP has discovered. ACE asserts that it is “committed to openness and transparency and this includes being clear to applicants and the public about how we are spending public funds and how we make our decisions”, but its data publication practices do not currently conform to the Government’s Public Data Transparency principles or the recommendations of the Institute for Government. Unlike the DCMS, which publishes a categorised searchable database of all Lottery recipients, ACE does not publish a single list of all grant recipients: earlier this year it initially refused to name recipients of its Strategic Grant in Aid awards on the basis that this “…would require a manual cross-referencing of lists that include over 1,000 grants.”
Asked whether payments to suppliers will in future be more transparent, as well grant payments, a spokesperson told AP: “…we do currently publish every contract over £10k on contract finder but we are looking at what we will do in the future to make it more searchable… these are ongoing conversations and this element hasn’t been finalised.” ACE also publishes monthly lists showing items of spend worth over £25k, but the data is not searchable and does not apply best practice guidelines, which state that public bodies should consider publishing their spend data over £500.
ACE’s move to make its funding practices more transparent coincides with a National Audit Office (NAO) investigation into Government grant services, which has reported that the effectiveness of Government grant-giving is being undermined by a lack of coordination. The NAO found that obtaining information on grant funding activities was challenging because levels of information and transparency vary across departments. Different parts of Government are providing grants to the same recipients, but the lack of a shared system means there is no mechanism for identifying how much funding goes to each recipient. The report warns: “The Cabinet Office, departments, and arm’s length bodies with responsibility for detailed grant allocations will have to work together to address these challenges before Government’s use of its grant funding as a whole can demonstrate value for money.” An ongoing Public Administration Select Committee on the accountability of quangos and public bodies is also concerned about the transparency of public bodies. Giving evidence at a hearing earlier this week, former Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd admitted: “We are just not where we need to be in terms of changing the culture around transparency.”