United Kingdom/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

Historically, the UK system of support for culture has been regarded as the archetypal "arms-length" model, with successive governments choosing Non Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) as the instruments which administer the disbursement of government funds for culture and determine who the beneficiaries will be. Arguably, the arm's length principle is essentially a "convention" between government and the various cultural agencies, and the terms of these relationships are set down in management standards. Certainly, the nature of the relationship between central government and the arm's length agencies has changed since the early 1980s, with government being seen as more interventionist on issues such as setting broad policy objectives or the reorganisation and restructuring of such bodies. Although the initial direction of policy after 1997 was towards decentralisation, the New Labour Government sought to embed its key political objectives (e.g. social inclusion and employment generation) in lower tiers of English governance and cultural support agencies through the provision of conditional resources and methods to monitor performance. The effect of this was to bind the delivery of cultural policies more closely to central government agendas, which gave some agencies (e.g. Arts Council England) the opportunity to recentralise their own structures.

Government intervention has also been given added impetus by the creation of devolved government administrations in Scotland and Wales, both of which have developed their own cultural strategies. Criticism has grown from the arts community on the criteria NDPBs use to decide who to fund; and the onus placed on supported organisations to deliver government led objectives.

Museums, Libraries & Archives Council

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has been the government's lead strategic body for the museums, galleries, libraries and archives sectors in England. In common with the arts, it has undergone a number of policy and structural changes in recent years. Originally set up in 2000 as a body with nine regional agencies, the MLA has recently completed a restructure to become a unified agency operating from a central office in Birmingham with a number of regional field teams. Intended to make the MLA move effective, the restructuring also sought to deliver savings in resources.

The aim of the MLA is to exercise strategic leadership in its sectors, locally, regionally and nationally. It leads and champions the Renaissance in the Regions programme, the government's main investment in England's regional museums, and co-operates with local authorities and their partners to increase public library participation. It has also contributed to raising standards in the management, care and documentation of collections. However, the newly elected government of May 2010 announced that the MLA is to be abolished in 2012 and indicated, in December 2010, that many of its museum and library functions are to be transferred to Arts Council England.

Arts Council England

In 2002, the Arts Council of England merged with the 10 Regional Arts Boards that existed at the time to create a new single arts funding and development organisation, Arts Council England. Integral to the new organisation were nine regional offices to match the nine regional planning areas that form the basis of the government's regional structure. Each of the nine regional offices had its own regional council and the chairs of each served on the national Arts Council. It is fair to note this development was contentious, not least the fact it appeared to conflict with the government's strategic approach to decentralisation. Nevertheless, in the Arts Council's view, the principal benefits of these changes were: to have a simple, quicker, more arts-friendly service; the ability to speak with one voice on behalf of the arts; a more flexible funding decision process and simplified grants system at regional level; a reduction in administrative costs and bureaucracy; a greater capacity to address arts needs throughout England; and a greater potential to develop partnerships with local authorities and others.

Five years on from the reorganisation Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts programme was reviewed, leading to an overhaul and re-launch in an attempt to improve efficiency and consistency. The main aims were to simplify the application process, speed it up for smaller grants and reduce the administrative burden on officers. The Review provided momentum for significant changes at Arts Council England, restructuring the national office and focussing on strategy.

During 2007, following criticism by the Culture Minister of the failure of NDPBs to make a sufficiently strong case for a public mandate in support of culture, Arts Council England organised a public value enquiry, the Arts Debate, a process that included qualitative research and open consultation events about the public value of the arts, arts funding and the role of Arts Council England in it. A summary report, What people want from the arts, can be found at: http://artscouncil.org.uk/about-us/research/public-value-programme/arts-debate-findings/. The findings and proposals of this public exercise fed into ACE's plan for 2008 to 2011, though they came before the Arts Council England announcement to cut the funding of some 200 arts organisations (equivalent to approximately 20% of its regularly funded companies) in December 2007. This decision provoked considerable criticism by the arts community and subsequent requests to review the individual decisions and in particular the criteria used. Arguably, the funding cuts were not a direct consequence of lack of government funding at the time.

In March 2006, Arts Council England started a review of the location and staffing of functional areas across its offices. In 2008 a new centralised grant application logging team, together with human resources, information technology, regional and national finance and business support services were relocated to Manchester.

ACE announced another restructuring in July 2009, leading to the rationalisation of the nine regional offices and their grouping into four geographical areas covering London, the North, the Midlands & South West, and the East & South East. A key driver in the changes was the need to achieve administrative savings and, inevitably, there has been a reduction in personnel (see chapter 2.2).

As a consequence of an interim emergency budget imposed by the new Coalition Government shortly after its election in May 2010, ACE had its grant for the 2010/2011 fiscal year reduced by 4% (equivalent to GBP 19 million). This followed a GBP 4 million cut imposed by the previous government earlier in 2010.

UK Film Council

Following its creation in 2000, one of the UK Film Council's first moves was to set up the Regional Investment Fund for England (RIFE) to increase investment for film directly in the English regions. This, in turn, led to the creation of the Regional Screen Agencies (RSAs) in England, which have subsequently engaged in a new set of partnerships with other stakeholders in film. The RIFE is used to invest in production, education, film heritage, exhibition, training and location services. The funding and strategy of the RSAs and National Screen Agencies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has resulted in increasing opportunities for talented individuals to develop careers in film, and the creation of networks of cinemas, film clubs and societies allowing people and communities the chance to see and enjoy the widest range of films in rural and urban areas.

The UK Film Council has sought to maximise the contribution of major broadcasters, particularly the public service broadcasters, to the extension of audience choice. A 2006 agreement with the BBC potentially doubles the Corporation's commitment to UK film production, not only by increasing in-house activity, but by buying the best of the UK's independent feature production for screening on network television.

A merger of the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute was to have taken place in 2010 to achieve better co-ordinated support for film and spend less on infrastructure, as well as bring together the economic and cultural aspects of the two bodies. However, this has been overtaken as a result of the new government's decision to abolish the Film Council. The following UK Film Council's functions will be transferred to the British Film Institute: the distribution of National Lottery awards for films made in the UK; support for film in the UK nations and regions; certification of the cultural test for film tax credit; and administration of the UK MEDIA programme desk.

Scotland

After much debate, the Scottish Government established in 2010 a new agency, Creative Scotland, which has absorbed the functions of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen. The new body has functions in relation to the arts, culture and creative industries and other activity, with a focus on the application of creative skills. However, responsibility for funding the national arts companies is being assumed by the government. Creative Scotland will also be expected to work as an effective partner with Scotland's 32 local authorities.

Wales

The Welsh Assembly Government provides an annual grant to the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) to give the public the opportunity both to experience and to take part in arts activities. The ACW decides how much funding an organisation or individual will receive. The Welsh Assembly Government does not seek to intervene in this process. Funding provided supports activities at home and overseas.

Following a ministerial review in 2004, the then Welsh Culture Minister proposed the review of a number of arm's length agencies including the Arts Council of Wales. In the case of ACW, the intention was to examine whether strategic planning and some direct funding functions might be more appropriately handled at government level. The Arts Council expressed concern about the implied separation of grant-giving from strategy formulation and the separate treatment of six national arts companies, which the Minister proposed should be funded directly by the Assembly in future. This led to heated debate and criticism from those who perceived the arm's length principle was under threat. Subsequently, in 2006, the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sports invited an independent review panel, under the chair of Elan Closs Stephens, to investigate the arts funding and management in Wales, including the role of ACW. In November 2006 this panel delivered its findings and recommendations to the Minister, many of which have been implemented (http://new.wales.gov.uk/topics/cultureandsport/arts/artsreview/?lang=en). The report recommends how best to manage and grow national ambitions for the arts throughout Wales. One of the recommendations was to set up an Arts Strategy Board.

The Arts Strategy Board is advisory and has no decision-making powers or formal voting procedures. It first met in November 2007. Its purpose includes provision of advice to the Minister on the development of arts policy and to play a key role in challenging, informing and shaping future arts policy, including overseeing the development of strategies for the arts and ensuring a coherent approach across the sector, maximising the cultural value of the arts spend by linking initiatives with wider social, economic and cultural objectives, and promoting collaboration and the sharing of intelligence between Welsh Assembly Government Departments, ACW, the Welsh Local Government Association, local authorities, arts organisations and other partners. http://new.wales.gov.uk/topics/cultureandsport/arts/strategyboard/?lang=en


Chapter published: 15-04-2011


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