MPs have slammed the Arts Council's spending waste in an official report just two days before devastating nationwide arts cuts are announced.
The Culture Media and Sport Select Committee has published a report recommending the council reduce its administration costs – in effect its own operational spend – by a further 50 per cent, even though it has already implemented substantial cost-savings.
The council is set to announce its funding for organisations from 2012 to 2015 on Wednesday. This will involve swingeing cuts forcing many arts bodies to close. The Government slashed the council's funding by almost 30 per cent last year.
Arts industry insiders believe the timing of the report is designed to damage the council and deflect negative reaction to the forthcoming announcement away from the Government.
"We realise that cuts in public spending will have a major impact on arts and heritage organisations, forcing some closures, and we regret that," said the committee's chairman, John Whittingdale. "However, at a time when cuts are biting across the board, it is right that all sectors share the burden. Our report suggests ways in which arts and heritage organisations might improve financial management and explore other funding schemes."
The committee highlighted the council's investment in the £60m West Bromwich arts centre, the Public, which was completed two years late in 2008 at twice its original budget. The committee branded the project a "gross waste of public money". It also suggested the council look into selling part of the Arts Council Collection, the largest national collection of art.
MPs noted the high level of funding the council had received in recent years, adding that its funding increased by 150 per cent to £453m in the 12 years preceding 2010. It also cast doubt over the organisation's ability to make competent forthcoming decisions over funding in the timescale it had set itself.
Politicians also criticised the winding up of the UK Film Council, which it stated was "handled very badly by the Government". The report's conclusion said: "We would not expect a decision with such significant implications for the film industry to be sprung on the UK Film Council with little discussion or consultation.
"It is extremely regrettable that a film-maker of the stature of Tim Bevan has, as a result, decided to take no further part in Government-sponsored initiatives." The report also highlighted MPs' concerns that the Arts Council was an ineffective replacement for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, another recent victim of public spending cuts.
"The report is out of date in places," responded a council spokesperson. "The Public is old news, and is not representative of the Arts Council's investment in capital projects. Selling off works of art from the Arts Council's Collection is not a sensible solution to the current budget cuts."
The spokesperson said the organisation currently spent just 6.6 per cent of its income on its own costs, including 3.4 per cent on administration, which was "exemplary among its peers", and said that the Public fiasco occurred before a change in management.
The news comes just days after arts luminaries wrote to the Prime Minisiter asking for him to join a dialogue over a "long-term policy for public investment in the arts". On Friday, the director Sir Richard Eyre warned of a cultural apartheid between those with and without access to the arts.