Sir Richard should resign as a matter of principle should resign

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The Independent Culture
IMAGINE a local authority which awarded a multi-million-pound contract to a private company employing its own vice- chairman. There would be questions in the Commons at the very least, writes David Lister.

Which is why we must be concerned about recent monetary awards by the Arts Council. Last Thursday the council awarded the largest tranche of lottery money yet - £980,000 to the South Bank Board, which runs London's Festival Hall complex. The money is for a feasibility study on its planned redevelopment. Now, it just so happens that the redevelopment will be supervised by the architect Sir Richard Rogers. And guess what? Sir Richard is deputy chairman of the Arts Council. If the full development goes ahead, which I'm sure it will, the Arts Council will eventually give Sir Richard's project £45m from our national lottery.

Sir Richard told the council chairman Lord Gowrie, who appointed him last year, that he would continue to run his practice and enter architectural competitions. And he leaves the room whenever the South Bank project is discussed.

When I have challenged the council in the past about grants to institutions headed by people on the council or its panels (there are at least three examples from the visual-arts panel) I have been told that they too leave the room when their institutions are discussed. The Arts Council must be a study in perpetual motion. Lord Gowrie and the National Heritage Secretary, Stephen Dorrell, have defended Sir Richard's dual role, saying they must have good people on the council and good people are inevitably involved in arts projects.

Sorry, chaps. It's not good enough. It should be a simple enough principle that no one in receipt of Arts Council money should sit on the council. Certainly they should not have the role of deputy chairman when they're up for a £45m contract.

Sir Richard's plan for a glass "crystal palace" over the Hayward Gallery and QEH is marvellous, as radical in its way as his Pompidou Centre.

Last Wednesday night he showed me around and explained how he was going to build a link between the Festival Hall and Waterloo International Terminal. He also plans a "travelator" bridge over the Thames. This is a wonderful scheme, and Sir Richard is an honourable and honest man.

But perceptions of correct behaviour and good public practice are important. Sir Richard has been neither corrupt nor dishonest in taking his Arts Council post while being part of a £45m bid for lottery money. But both he and Lord Gowrie have been foolish in not concerning themselves with the public perception.

He should resign from the council, so that he can concentrate on doing what he does so brilliantly, without any fingers of suspicion being pointed.

Thank you, thank you, darlings

I'M LOOKING forward to the Laurence Olivier theatre awards, which are presented tonight - speeches by luvvies tend to produce memorable performances. Etched forever on my memory is Vanessa Redgrave breaking down in tears as she thanked the stage carpenter. Will she ever be equalled? Bob Carlton, writer and director of Return to the Forbidden Planet, came close when he settled for a safe "thank everyone" speech, then suffered stage fright and forgot everyone's name, including his mother's. Next week I hope to announce the winner of the Lister/stage carpenter prize for best/worst speeches from the Oliviers.