Art: Ex-chairman damns Opera House report

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The Independent Online
Lord Chadlington, who quit as chairman of the Royal Opera House last week, has angrily hit back at a scathing parliamentary report which forced his resignation. Alexandra Williams looks at the accusations directed at Gerald Kaufman, head of the Commons Culture Committee.

Last week the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee delivered a damning indictment of the management at one of Britain's greatest cultural institutions.

The running of Covent Garden was "chaotic" and a "shambles" and the embattled board was told to resign.

The chairman of the board, Lord Chadlington, duly did so the day after the blistering 20-page publication, saying that was the honourable thing to do.

His resignation speech was measured: "In the end I felt I don't want to be regarded as a public figure who sits on the fence until someone pushes them off. I've been there only a year, but the responsibility lies with the board. I must give a lead, as a matter of honour."

However, yesterday he furiously hit back at the "hysterical hyperbole" of the report, accusing the Committee of a "gross abuse" of its privileges for attacking "on the flimsiest of evidence and innuendo" public-spirited people who freely gave their time and money to the cause. Writing in The Spectator magazine, under the headline "Gerald, you're wrong ... and hysterical too", he said: "The language in which the committee's report is written - of which Mr Kaufman seems so proud - is insulting in the extreme."

The committee of 11, chaired by Mr Kaufman, the Labour MP, launched the inquiry in July. It concluded that it would prefer to see the House, facing the worst financial crisis in its 51 years, "run by a Philistine with the requisite financial acumen than by the succession of opera and ballet- lovers who have brought a great and valuable institution to its knees."

The Royal Opera House has received pounds 78m lottery money and an annual subsidy of more than pounds 14.5m but has an operating deficit of pounds 4.5m, which is expected to double by the end of 1999. Last month the second rescue package this year saved the house from insolvency.

Yesterday, speaking from Florida, Lord Chadlington said: "The Spectator article was extremely easy to write because it just flowed and is exactly how I feel. Enormous strides have already been made in putting the House in order and as for the exclusivity of House that's the very thing I was addressing."

Whilst he accepted that change was needed, he said he had already initiated much change, particularly in financial controls, management information and corporate governance. He implied that he felt the committee had abused its powers by hounding people out of office and discrediting the efforts of management rather than just advising government.

Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, is expected to make an announcement concerning the future of the House next week. A department spokeswoman said: "Lord Chadlington's comments are his personal opinion, not something we would like to comment on."