Magazine article Art Monthly

Arm's Length?

Magazine article Art Monthly

Arm's Length?

Article excerpt

Following last month's news about Arts Council England's peer review comes news of major developments affecting both the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) and Arts Council Wales (ACW). At the beginning of last month the Welsh National Assembly announced a comprehensive review of ACW's role and the nature of its relationship with the Assembly Government. For its part ACW has stated that it hopes the review will 'establish well-founded and lasting arrangements for the governance of the arts in Wales that reconcile the needs of democratic accountability and the value of arm's length principle in a way that will have the support of the arts sector and a wider public.' However, ACW may just find that its hopes are ill-founded.

In July 2004, First Minister Rhodri Morgan made clear his wish to streamline what he saw as inefficient quangos in Wales and bring the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board and the education and training body ELWa under the control of the Welsh civil service; by the end of 2004 ACW was also in the firing line, with the understanding that all future decisions on grants and policy will be made by Cardiff Bay civil servants--a clear indication that ACW's autonomy and freedom from government interference were in danger. It was also decided that the region's six big companies, possessing an entirely Welsh remit, will receive their grants direct from the Welsh Assembly. The projected date given by the assembly for these changeovers to take place is April this year. The recently announced review of ACW came immediately after the Welsh culture minister Alan Pugh announced his decision not to renew the contract of ACW's chair Geraint Talfan Davies after it ends on March 31. Davies was told he would have to reapply for his job in April because the assembly was seeking a chair who would 'lead on the issue of increasing attendance and participation among disadvantaged groups', and so he decided not to reapply. A recent advertisement for new ACW members focused solely on this issue, ignoring other detailed selection criteria that had previously been agreed between the assembly and ACW.

In Scotland similar events have been taking place. On January 19, Patricia Ferguson, the Scottish Executive's Minister for Culture, echoed First Minister Jack McConnell's vision that culture will in future be 'at the core of everything we do'; local councils will be required by law to ensure that children are educated in a way that develops individual creativity and are given every opportunity to appreciate the creativity of others. …

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