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Mar 29 / Simon

Commons selective committee

Blog/28/3/11

The report from the Commons culture select committee published today is predictable, supremely unhelpful coming as it does two days before the Arts Council has to announce its salami slices, and potentially dangerous.

It is predictable because it conforms to the individual niggles of its members. There was criticism of DCMS for making its cuts to deep and too quick (Paul Farrelly), for abolishing the MLA and the UK Film Council without considering the consequences (Alan Keen). The report has a go at ACE for wasting money on The Public (Tom Watson, in whose constituency the arts centre is), the recommendation that the Arts Council should sell its art collection (I think that must have been Therese Coffey, who likes to be called Doctor).

But the dangerous one is the assertion that ACE spends too much money on itself, Louise Bagshawe’s thing. I know she was there when Liz Forgan and Alan Davey explained in single syllables how the statistics they were working to were two years out of date and millions had been saved since in admin costs, but she either didn’t hear them or assumed they were lying, because here it is in the report untrammelled by any updating. It is dangerous because in their Comprehensive Spending Review decisions Hunt/Vaizey demanded a 50% cut in admin costs by ACE, and my understanding is that if that had been front-loaded Liz Forgan would have resigned. As it was, they were given two years before the cut by half was supposed to be the end result, two years in which ACE might be able to convince Hunt/Vaizey that such a massive extra cut was simply impossible if ACE are to carry out all the extra tasks they have been given. But if the select committee are seen to endorse that demand, Hunt/Vaizey may decide to insist on it forthwith and be answered by the summary resignations of Forgan and quite possibly Davey as well, the only two people willing and able to get ACE and the arts through this catastrophe.

Meanwhile, Hunt/Vaizey insist that the cut to the Arts Council announced in the CSR isn’t 30%, it’s only 11%. Why didn’t they mention it then? Because they hadn’t thought of it. It’s something that they have been working up only since Christmas, and it’s based on the extra lottery money the good causes are expected to get over the next few years. Apart from anything else, that assumes that the rule of additionality established with the National Lottery Act 17 years ago – the rule that says lottery money cannot be used to substitute for funding normally and properly provided by the government from taxpayers’ money – no longer applies. The government’s response is that these are not normal times, and the answer to that, as the arts leaders said so clearly at the Young Vic on Friday, is that they are only abnormal because you made them so.