Gowrie to leave Arts Council a year early

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Lord Gowrie, the former Tory minister, is to step down a year early from his post as Arts Council chairman. Announcing that he would leave in April, he said it was for "entirely personal" reasons. However, it is also true that the Labour government is ambivalent about the usefulness of the Arts Council in distributing grants, and Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has been critical about the way the council allowed the crisis at the Royal Opera House to develop.

The post of chairman is a high-profile and important one, as he or she can play a guiding role in developing arts policy and in rewarding or punishing arts institutions financially. Lottery money given to causes by the council has further increased its influence and that of the chairman. Crucially, the post is unpaid, limiting the people who can afford to take it on. Possible successors to Lord Gowrie include the Labour peer Lord Puttnam and the former Tory heritage secretary David Mellor. Both have already been given jobs by Mr Smith's ministry.

Lord Gowrie took up his five-year appointment in April 1994. He famously quit as arts minister in Margaret Thatcher's government in 1985, saying nobody could be expected to live in central London on the then ministerial salary of pounds 33,000 a year.

Yesterday he said: "My reasons for leaving ...are entirely personal. The job has been one of the most challenging of my career and also one of the most exciting and rewarding." But it took up most of his working day, he said. Lord Gowrie wants to spend more time working as chairman of Development Securities, an office-development company. "I am chairman of a fast-rising plc. I have other commitments on my time and the chairmanship of the Arts Council was presented to me as being a busy, active but non- executive job," he said.