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National Portfolio Organisations must diversify their programming to access ACE funding, but there will be no naming and shaming or sanctions applied if arts organisations fail to achieve workforce and governance objectives.

Men dancing
Phoenix Dance Theatre

Workforce diversity will not form part of National Portfolio Organisations’ (NPO) ‘diversity ratings’, the funding-conditional benchmarks that must be achieved in order to avoid financial sanctions, Arts Council England (ACE) has said.

These ratings will focus solely on programming and will be based on an NPO’s “progress against the relevant objectives in [its] business and associated plans”.


ACE’s guidelines for its 2018-22 investment round, released last week, state that NPOs will have their contribution to the Creative Case for Diversity rated by ACE as ‘not met’, ‘met’, ‘strong’ or ‘outstanding’.

The ratings will assess:

  • The work produced, presented and distributed
  • Programming or collections
  • A demonstration of how work is accessible and relevant to local communities.

All NPOs will be encouraged to reach a target of ‘met’ by 2017/18, and the organisations receiving in excess of £250k a year must diversify their boards and have a diversity rating of ‘strong’ by 2021.

‘Prescribed action’

An NPO’s contribution to the Creative Case for Diversity is one of just two funding requirements on which ACE will take “prescribed action”. It will take a “range of steps” in the event that an NPO scores ‘not met’ during the next funding period. Sanctions may include placing extra conditions on grant payments, withholding payment, or withdrawing investment.

ACE told AP that if NPOs are given a diversity rating of ‘not met’ in the 2016/17 annual feedback process, any offer related to the 2018-22 funding round will be conditional on it putting a “credible action plan” in place to improve its rating to at least ‘met’ for 2017/18.

Diversity objectives

But improvements to workforce diversity will form no part of ACE’s rating.

Workforce and governance will instead by monitored in relation to each organisation’s ‘diversity objectives’. These will be set in conversations between ACE’s relationship managers and NPOs, which will be asked to “identify aspects of their work they want to improve on”.

“We want to ensure objectives are smart and appropriate for each individual organisation,” an ACE spokesperson said.

Publishing data

Although ACE publishes other NPO annual survey data “on a company-by-company basis”, diversity ratings for individual NPOs will not be published. Instead, data will be released on an “aggregated basis” across the portfolio, which will include “additional aggregated data” on the diversity of leadership across the arts and cultural sector.

More detail will be published by June 2017 in an ‘equality action planning good practice guide’.

This is not the first time ACE will have produced practical Equality Action Plan guidelines. In 2005, coinciding with ACE’s Race Equality Scheme 2004-07, a resource called ‘Respond’ was produced to help “embed race equality within your organisation as a value that everyone adheres to,” and to assist programming, advertising, and encouraging engagement from people from diverse backgrounds.

The 2005 resource said: “Future funding may include considerations on the ability to meet your race equality targets.”


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