Arts Council England – a catastrophic failure of judgement and nerve

Two key figures leap out from the UK government’s spending review and its relation to the arts economy. National museums have suffered a 15 percent cut and will continue to offer free admission.

Arts Council England has been slashed by almost twice as much – 29.6 percent – a loss of £100 million over four years. In real terms the loss is £350 million, a sum that neatly equates to the ACE’s residual budget. It’s a horrible symmetry. Over four years arts funding will be halved.

The ACE has also been ordered to cut 50% off its admin costs – something many of us have been urging it to do for years, as it became one of the nation’s biggest paper factories.

The two stats together – 15% off museums, 30% off performing arts – represent a massive failure of strategy, intelligence and manoeuvrability at the top of ACE. While museums cleverly used every business trustee on their board to argue with top Tory and LibDems politicians, the ACE is chaired by Old Labourite Liz Forgan and managed by New Labour lackey, Alan Davie. Neither of them read the runes correctly and neither could get past the gatekeepers of the national purse.

A price needs to be paid. When the ACE meets next week to discuss the allocation of cuts to clients around th country, both chair and chief executive should offer their resignations for presiding over the worst reversal in the UK’s history of state funding for the arts. Resignation is the honourable course of action in defeat – and this has been a catastrophic defeat for the ACE and its leadership.

By contrast, the British Museum is almost jubilant. Its director, Neil MacGregor has just said: “We are pleased that Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey have recognised the unique role museums play in the world today and reaffirmed their support of free admission.  We are also particularly encouraged that they have reconfirmed the government’s support of the British Museum’s planned new World Conservation and Exhibition Centre, a crucial investment in the British Museum’s future ability to work across the UK and the world.” 

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  • Serve them B well right. The number of non-jobs in the ACE defies belief, the number of jobsworths who have to be consulted by people of genius… good for the BM, good for everyone who bypasses this load of useless bureaucrats. The literature departments do f all and are entirely unnecessary. I only wish Hunt had had the nerve to shop the whole of the ACE. Now hear them squeal and fight to save their own skins.

  • This bureaucrat bashing is all very well, but it’s just pointless displacement activity. The real culprits are the government, and the arts organisations that are now going to have to try to survive (many won’t) with these massive cuts won’t thank you for a diatribe about the arts council. If you think any amount of lobbying by the ACE would have actually melted Osborne’s heart on this issue, you must be very naive. Ranting about this or that official being ‘New Labour’ or ‘Old Labour’ plays right into the government’s hands. They’ll be loving this article.

  • Robert is absolutely right. What a misdirected article. Why isn’t it targeting the government who have failed to accept that the Arts may a unique role in placing Britain on the map as one of the world’s leading cultural Arts destination and all the revenue that generates.
    I’m not saying that there is a degree of veracity on display here but the main thrust should have been aimed at the people making the decision – i.e. the Government who are continuing the legacy of previous Conservative governments. The preservation of the Arts is never safe in the hands of this party.

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