Gowrie to chair Arts Council

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EARL GOWRIE, the former arts minister, is to replace Lord Palumbo as chairman of the Arts Council, when he retires from the post next March.

The appointment was announced yesterday by Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, who said it was a 'crucial appointment' that had come at a 'crucial time'. 'His priorities will now be to set a vigorous course for the new Arts Council of England and to set in place and carry forward the council's new responsibilities for the national lottery,' Mr Brooke said.

Lord Gowrie will be the first chairman of the new Arts Council of England, following devolution of the Scottish and Welsh councils and increased delegation to the 10 regional arts boards. As head of the council, he will oversee the allocation of pounds 225m of government funding to the arts.

The appointment comes at a time of unprecedented criticism of the council, under the leadership of Lord Palumbo. The shelving of its much derided 'national arts strategy' and the withdrawal of its decision to stop funding 10 theatres has left it with a reputation for incompetence and an apparent lack of direction.

After a review by Price Waterhouse - the management consultants - in the summer, it was also found to be 'cumbersome and costly' and ordered to cut running costs by pounds 600,000. Although traditionally government funding of the council has risen every year, last month's Budget reversed the trend with a pounds 3.2m cut. The reduction came in the same week that the Arts Council announced a U-turn on its controversial decision to reduce London's publicly-funded symphony orchestras from four to two - a decision which resulted in the resignation of Kenneth Baird, the council's music director.

Particularly vocal critics of the council's leadership include David Mellor, former Secretary of State for National Heritage, and Tim Renton, a former arts minister, who has sought its abolition.

But in a statement issued yesterday, Lord Palumbo said the appointment would put an end to 'uninformed and irresponsible' speculation about the council's future. And he gave an 'unreserved welcome' to Lord Gowrie's appointment to the unpaid post.