Funds cap on arts companies

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THE country's biggest arts companies, including the Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, are likely to be put on fixed-term funding contracts.

An end to the 50-year-old system by which the same companies, by and large, can expect to continue to receive public money year after year was promised yesterday by the incoming Arts Council chairman Gerry Robinson.

Mr Robinson, who also chairs Granada PLC, was brought in by Culture Secretary Chris Smith to bring a more business-like approach to the Arts Council and arts funding. His first initiative is sure to take the arts world by surprise.

He said at a lunch with arts journalists yesterday that he would be bringing in "funding contracts" ranging from one year to five years for all the Arts Council's clients. When their time was up they would have to prove again that they were worth public money and the council would decide if they were actually good enough. He said this would encompass all the well- known names including the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Mr Robinson said: "We have to have a period of time in which we can say in five years time we will have another look at whether they should have the money. You need a mechanism which enables you to look at it quite freely and make a judgement.

"There is a real problem under the present system that funding just carries on. I think the London Arts Board [which recently cut funding to Greenwich Theatre] has been very brave in saying that certain organisations are not up to the mark."

Mr Robinson also said that the Arts Council had been "ineffective" in recent years and did not seem to have any overall policy. Part of his philosophy he said, was "to fund fewer organisations better".

In the past the council has occasionally ceased funding small companies. But while the major clients may suffer variations in their grants, they have been secure in the knowledge that they are seen in perpetuity as publicly funded flagships. This could now change.

A spokesman for the Royal Shakespeare Company said: "We will have to wait and see what happens. We have to plan several years ahead anyway so we would not be against fixed-term contracts as such. But we would certainly be extremely shocked if there was any thought of us ceasing to be publicly funded."