United Kingdom/ 7. Public institutions in cultural infrastructure  

7.3 Status and partnerships of public cultural institutions

In recent years at a regional level in England, there have been considerable number of public, quasi public and some private sector agencies co-operating to develop regional economies, inward investment and further broaden social and cultural agendas. For instance the regional offices of Arts Council England (formerly the Regional Arts Boards), the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and the Regional Cultural Consortia, whose task was to develop an integrated regional cultural strategy, could be expected to co-operate with the:

  • regional government offices in relation to European Union funds;
  • the regional economic development agencies in relation to cultural employment, the cultural economy and quality of life in the area;
  • UK Trade & Investment in relation to the export of the products of the creative industries;
  • the regional tourist boards on inward tourism.

Cultural organisations and creative industries could be co-operating with commerce and industry through relationships with chambers of commerce, who organise trade visits overseas or so-called Business Links that can provide advice for cultural SMEs.

The previous government's requirement for Regional Cultural Consortia and local authorities to develop regional and local cultural strategies respectively provided, probably for the first time, the mechanisms for the government's broader cultural agenda to be met. In the past, national priorities could lose their impact because they were filtered through various national and regional agencies and tiers of governance that had their own agendas and priorities, whereas they too are expected to meet government objectives and targets.

However, the Regional Cultural Consortia have now been abolished. Moreover, the new Government has announced the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies, the Government's Regional Offices, the Business Links offices, as well as several cultural quangos, including the Museums. Libraries & Archives Council. Arts Council England has also been forced to reduce its regional offices to save administrative costs. In the absence of such bodies there is likely to be a major vacuum at regional level and a reverse of the policy for establishing regional partnerships.

In Northern Ireland, the Forum for Local Government and the Arts (FLGA), formed in 1994, brings together the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the district councils to co-ordinate arts activity, build partnerships, raise awareness of the arts and act as a lobbying body for the sector within the local political arena. This initiative was set in partnership with the Local Government Association's Office (NILGA), a key mechanism for building links between the Forum and elected representatives from district council areas. See: http://www.flga.org.uk/home.asp.

In Scotland, a complex network of partnerships across and within sectors plays an important part in the delivery of cultural provision. One example is Cultural Pathfinders, a pilot project that explores effective and practical ways to widen access to, and participation, in cultural activity through partnerships with under-represented communities and links with cultural provision and community planning processes.

In relation to the historic environment, Historic Scotland has worked closely with local authorities and the voluntary sector to set up City Heritage Trusts and the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS). The Trusts are a vehicle for the delivery of historic environment policy and they also complement wider efforts to promote cities as economic drivers, tourist attractions and a focus for services, culture and quality. The CARS provide financial assistance for area based regeneration and conservation initiatives undertaken by local authorities.

"Every Child Matters: Change for Children" was an initiative of the previous government that brought a wide range of stakeholders together (such as hospitals, schools, police, voluntary groups service agencies) to share information and find innovative ways to work together to protect children and young people from harm and help them achieve what they want in life. One of its stakeholders, the DCMS, has been working through its sponsored bodies to mobilise the national culture, sport and play networks to deliver change for children. The future of this initiative is uncertain in view of planned reductions in public expenditure.

In its first six months in office, the new UK Coalition Government signalled both financial reductions and structural changes to a number of institutions that provide or distribute cultural support (see chapter 4.2.1 and chapter 6.1). Public expenditure cutbacks are affecting both national and local government, as well as intermediary agencies.

As part of its programme to achieve savings in government expenditure and also the desire of the government to reduce the number of quangos, a number of such cultural agencies are to be abolished, most notably the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. From April 2011 several responsibilities of the former will be transferred to the British Film Institute, These functions are:

  • distributing Lottery funding for films made in the UK;
  • support for films in the UK nations and regions;
  • the certification (endorsement) of the cultural "test" that determines a film's eligibility for tax credit; and
  • the EU Media programme (information) desk.

The BFI - which is responsible for the National Film Theatre and National Film Archive - is to reform its governance and management structures to assimilate these new tasks. It will also participate with the DCMS in a joint review on the building of a more sustainable film industry and the development of audiences.

Film London - one of the Regional Screen Agencies - is to assume the UK Film Council role of encouraging foreign filmmakers to shoot and post produce their films in the UK. The other English screen agencies in England will form a network, Creative England, which is to have three geographical hubs to continue support for film talent and business and also, apparently, the encouragement of a wider range of creative industries.

Certain functions of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which is to be abolished in 2012, will be assumed by Arts Council England, in particular:

  • the Renaissance in the Regions programme;
  • the Regional Museums improvement and development agenda, including the Accreditation Standard and the Designation Scheme for museums;
  • the Libraries improvement agenda; and
  • export licensing, the government's indemnity scheme for museums / arts objects; the acceptance in lieu arrangements (whereby cultural / heritage objects / properties are donated to the state in lieu of the payment of death duties) and security advice.

As the Arts Council has no experience in these areas, it will need to recruit staff with relevant expertise. No doubt such considerations form part of the discussions it is involved in with the MLA and the DCMS. The transfer of functions will be accompanied by a budget of GBP 46 million a year from the DCMS, which represents a reduction in real terms.

As there will no longer be responsibilities at national level for running libraries and regional museums, such functions are to be devolved to local government. However, there are questions about the wisdom of this at a time when many local authorities are closing libraries and reducing support for museums because of significant cuts to their budgets.

Responsibility for funding the BBC World Service is to be transferred from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to the BBC in 2014, but with less money. Meanwhile, reductions in the coverage and output of the World Service are underway.


Chapter published: 15-04-2011


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