Gowrie bows out with plans for the lottery

The earl's last six months as Arts Council chairman will see some hard lobbying, he tells Stephen Fay
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The Independent Online
Lord Gowrie has six months left at the Arts Council before, as he puts it, he hands in his dinner pail. During that time he does not intend to be a lame-duck chairman.

He plans to try to fill the gap left by next year's cut in the council's grant with National Lottery money: "It's not just for luvvies that we're asking for money - there has to be a stop to the perpetual erosion of income for the performing arts," he says.

Grey Gowrie believes that new legislation - to be introduced in November - will allow him to use lottery money to finance education and access programmes such as touring, for theatre, opera and ballet companies. This would save money to meet higher overheads for companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and English National Opera.

He will also lobby the Culture Department to put an end to museum charges. (He would charge only for special exhibitions.) Besides that, he will do what he can to save the Old Vic by helping the National Theatre raise the pounds 7m purchase price. "I'm very much in favour, in principle, of the NT's buying it."

Gowrie says he was surprised that people found the announcement of his departure next April so unexpected: "Perhaps that was naive of me." He denies suggestions from friends of his that he is going because he is unwell. "I do take a pill that has a slight effect on my centre of gravity. It means I don't like standing without some sort of support."

He says he always intended to leave a year before his five-year term expired in 1999 - before the "Millennium knees-up"; and he told the Culture minister, Chris Smith, so at the Edinburgh Festival, to give the minister until the New Year to think about the succession.

However, the Culture Department asked him to announce it early so that his successor can be appointed next month. He or she can then help select the Arts Council's next secretary-general. "But the Government have decided to Nolanise us, and it means the trawl for a successor takes longer," he says. The Culture minister is no longer free to appoint a crony with a minumum of fuss; the position must now be advertised, candidates head- hunted, credentials carefully scrutinised.

Gowrie would not have had to go so precipitately if Mary Allen, who was his secretary-general, had not accepted the job of director of the Royal Opera House - without advertisment, head-hunting or scrutiny. He is conscious that managerial turmoil at the ROH has brought the whole of the subsidised sector of the arts into public disrepute. He does not, however, single it out as a special case: for him, the crisis spreads across the board.

The problem is the concept of "conditionality". Lottery money cannot be spent to meet the cost of the day-to-day running of arts organisations. He believes changes in lottery legislation are required and proposes to lobby for new rules to allow the Arts Council to divert money into general budgets.

The chances of this have improved, he thinks, because the most costly items have already got big grants ("with the exception of the South Bank"). However, the topic that is likely to dominate Gowrie's last few months at the council is the ROH. An imperious board, an insecure management and a pile of publiic money for redevelopment have led to an all-out search for skeletons in the closet.

The council appears to have submitted a report to Chris Smith which reveals no skeletons, and says that the lottery money is being properly managed. But the unfolding saga of the opera house means that Gowrie's reputation as a chairman of the Arts Council may still depend on how it ends.