Many things strike me as very positive, even brave. Some things strike me as unfortunate and worrying for the future but understandable given the numbers (bumping the the audience development agencies en masse seems like a 'bugger, the budget still doesn't balance' moment kind of decision - I can only sympathise with people having to make out it's strategic and logical to not have those agencies in a portfolio that contains Faber & Faber). Some individual decisions are disappointing, a small number just odd. (I include in that one or two of the decisions to put organisations in, by the way.) I think individual artists' interests - in literature, digital and visual arts particularly - have been hit disproportionately. But that's the nature of making a portfolio - you can't please all the people. In not taking on the theatre lobby that stuck it to ACE so effectively last time, and in the general communications, it has been much better handled in PR and relationship terms than last time.
I do, however, want to pose a question I've not heard put in this way yet, and which I think ACE need to consider. In the After Action Review that will inevitably be carried out at Great Peter Street, the assessment process which placed such a burden on relationship managers will no doubt be considered. But the burden - and benefit - of the application process for applicants also needs to be looked at. This is the first time those who wanted to be regularly funded had the chance to put their case properly, having thought through themselves what they wanted to do. I favour some kind of application process, and I also know the reflection most organisations went through is likely to have been a useful process whether they were funded or not.
However, there is a cost to this. At a time of restricted funding, and intense need to work hard on businesses, what was the cost of the NPO process to the arts sector as represented by the 1333 applicants? And what was the benefit - did it produce demonstrably better results for either ACE or the sector than previous processes, for instance? (It certainly didn't produce any great shift of resources from one region to another.) The back of the envelope on my desk says that if 1333 applicants spent 20 days staff time on this, at an average salary of £25,000 a year, the process cost applicants (or the sector) more than £2.5M. I suspect this is a highly conservative estimate, especially given the money spent on research, publications and consultants.
This investment by applicants - almost half of whom were unsuccessful - could be described as what the social -ecologists call an 'unpriced ecosystem service’. At least it's unpriced for ACE. I suggest they look carefully at this cost, what value it brings, and what impact it has on the resilience of the sector.