Why won’t the arts council tell us who’s getting our money?

So much for transparency and accountability

Share

The Arts Council has announced a round of emergency grants to bail out a number of organisations running into trouble. It does it every so often, but this time something odd and alarming struck me about the announcement.

More than 50 theatres, galleries and other organisations at “serious financial risk” are sharing £14m of emergency grants, but the Arts Council has decided not to name the most recent beneficiaries because of “commercial sensitivity,” explaining that naming them could “prejudice the commercial interests of the organisations concerned”.

So much for transparency and accountability. This is public money, millions of pounds of public money, and yet the public is not to be told where its money is going. The excuse of “commercial sensitivity” is ludicrous. There is always commercial sensitivity, as all arts organisations sell tickets, have sponsors, hire catering companies, and enter into many other commercial transactions. So why name any of them, ever? Will the Arts Council now also stop naming organisations that have their grants cut? By its own logic it should refuse to name them, as commercial sponsors might take fright. And while we’re talking about illogicality, how is it that organisations which have received emergency funding in the past, from the English National Opera to Hull Truck Theatre, have been named without their world falling apart commercially?

 I have long argued that the Arts Council, an unelected quango which distributes taxpayers’ money to arts bodies, is an anachronism, and the democratically elected government through a Culture Secretary backed by civil servants should be taking the role of distributing the cash, so that a minister can be answerable in Parliament for these decisions. As it is, funding decisions are taken behind closed doors, and when a minister is asked in the House of Commons to justify a decision, he or she can simply answer: “That is a matter for the Arts Council.”

It’s bad enough that there is no holding to account the organisation that distributes nearly £500m of cash each year to arts organisations. But now, with this set of emergency grants, we don’t even get to know which organisations are getting some of the cash. It’s just the sort of thing the arts world would be up in arms against, were it happening in any other area of public life. It’s also just the sort of thing that the new Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, should be concerned about.

The chairman of the Arts Council Peter Bazalgette and its chief executive Alan Davey have set a dangerous precedent here. Under a very dubious pretext, they have introduced unnecessary secrecy into the grant-giving process. The arts should be a beacon of open, transparent decision-making. Spending £14m of our money and refusing to tell us how it has been spent, is an affront to democracy.

 

Lost in translation

There was “stand-in” drama at the production of Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare’s Globe when Clive Wood playing Antony fell ill. Globe stalwart John Light nobly volunteered to step in and read the part, which entailed him embracing Eve Best’s Cleopatra while holding a script above her head. I think I can trump that, though. I have seen a performance of Rigoletto at the English National Opera, in which the singer playing Rigoletto lost his voice during the first half. The management rang round frantically during the interval to find a replacement. They did manage to find a baritone who rushed to the London Coliseum. He did indeed know the role — but in Italian. So he sang in Italian, and the rest of the cast sang back in English. It was a memorable, if largely incomprehensible, evening.

 

Churchill and Olivier - a meeting of titans

It was sad to hear of the death this week of Mary Soames, the last surviving daughter of Sir Winston Churchill. Lady Soames was for a while the chairwoman of the National Theatre, and I had lunch with her there on one occasion. Since we were eating just by the Olivier theatre, I asked her if she had ever met Laurence Olivier. “Oh, yes,” she replied, “he used to come to see Papa.” It was not just a remark that crossed the decades, it was also a salutary reminder that there was a time when a Prime Minister, even one who was fighting a war to save the free world, would always find some moments to chat with the world’s greatest actor.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas