Breaking: Arts Council waves white flag over English National Opera

Breaking: Arts Council waves white flag over English National Opera


norman lebrecht

February 12, 2015

After almost two years of demanding human sacrifice in exchange for extra cash, Arts Council England capitulated this morning beneath the weight of public outcry and its own incompetence.

The ACE will give ENO an extra £30.5m over two years as part of ‘a special funding arrangement’. The extra grant reverses last year’s £5 million cut to ENO’s budget and adds £10m a year for strategic improvements to the company’s business model. The figures are slightly confusing but, at the very least, they restore every penny that the ACE punitively cut from ENO last year.

It marks a total surrender by the ACE, which had been demanding the head of John ‘the Berry’ Baptist, ENO’s director, before it released another penny to the loss-making company. Much is wrong internally at ENO, but its artistic progress is unmatched and its world reputation, as a feeder of new shows to the Met, Munich and elsewhere, is uncontested.

It’s not yet clear what provoked the ACE turnaround, but the departure of ACE’s chief executive, Alan ‘Widmerpool’ Davey, to head BBC Radio 3 has made it easier for the council to allow ENO more time to put its troubled finances in order. And a huge wave of collegial support for Berry has defeated a campaign of polonium leaks against Berry from the ACE, where the new chief executive, Darren Henley, has many fences to mend.


coliseum eno

UPDATE: Official statements here.

UPDATE 2: Why ENO has nothing to fear from ACE here.




  • Mark Pemberton says:

    Norman, I am looking at the ACE press release, and I cannot see how you have arrived at your interpretation. As it makes clear, ACE is simply confirming that ENO will get £12.38 million per year plus £6.13 transition funding, as previously announced in July. The big news is they are not including ENO as a National Portfolio Organisation through to 2018. Instead they are only guaranteeing funding for two years. In effect, ENO has been put into ‘special measures’, and presumably if ENO fails to move to a sustainable business model by 31 March 2017, it stands to lose all further funding. To give ACE their due, this is a case of ‘red flag’ not ‘white flag’.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Mark, there is much here that calls for forensic accounting, and much that is creative accounting on ACE’s part. But they have completely abandoned their furtive campaign to have John Berry sacked – as pernicious a head-hunt as I have ever seen – and they have restored every penny they have cut. The rest is just face-saving, paper-pushing flummery. In two years time, possibly under a different government, things will look quite different.

  • James henshaw says:

    I too can’t quite see how it is as good as you make it sound. They’re still maintaining their cut from £18 million a year to 12 and a bit million and eno will still have to do fewer shows a year. Or is there something I’ve not understood