Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Spare us the cutter




I should probably have been talking about the CSR for a while, but to be honest, I've been a combination of too busy and not motivated to do so. I have been thinking about it, but have not found, at the right time, anything I thought was useful to say. (At times, I'll admit, I had that old saying 'if you can't something nice say nothing' in my head.) You can read about the results for the arts
here and see if you recognise your reality in the government's version here.

It seems as if the campaigning has had some, limited and potentially side-effect-inducing, effect. Jeremy Hunt wants ACE to restrict the hit to 'front-line' to 15%. Unfortunately this means ACE taking another hit on the costs of skilled people, premises, and operating well across England, even bigger than the one given by the last government. I know how hard it was to design a structure with a reasonable chance of delivering the service artists, the public and partners need, such as working with local authorities who might be thinking of withdrawing funds. In the last restructure - mainly savings-driven - we saved around 15% - the new team now have to save 50%, whist redrawing that frontline, reshaping the portfolio of organisations and working with local authorities to maximise whatever they have left to invest. It is a devil of a challenge, and will take a very clear, very focused view of what can best be added to the arts ecology by a funding and development agency. (Or, as someone just tweeted, magic calculators.) I would suggest another close look at the principle of 'building' and buying', I outlined in my paper Making Adaptive Resilience Real and here, and thinking about where most influence can be had. (CSR suggests that may not be Westminister, sorry.) I would also recommend the thinking in MMM's latest publication Capital Matters. It will inevitably look different from what we now have, in terms of how it works and how it is delivered. The accompanying challenge is for the sector to adapt how it relates to ACE and other funders. There will be an understandable temptation to 'simply' fund as much art production as possible, but that should not be at the expense of long-term developmental activity.

I have not returned to my South African trip yet, but will. I am reminded today though, that when I first visited the Eastern Cape in 2006, I said to Peter Stark of the Swallows Partnership that I had actually enjoyed spending in a time in a country that was still political - where there was genuine ideological debate and difference. At the time it felt like Britain had moved on from that. This just goes to show I am not only daft but also stupid, sometimes. (Although the feebleness of Labour's failure to talk about the Coalition's ideologically driven approach to dismantling the ways the state supports those the market would let rot perhaps suggests I might have had a point: we prefer to talk about house-keeping, not politics.)

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