Magazine article Public Finance

Culture Shocks

Magazine article Public Finance

Culture Shocks

Article excerpt

MY VISIT TO the Department for Culture, Media & Sport coincides with an important announcement. More than 200 organisations have just been told that they will lose government funding as Arts Council England passes on the 15% cut in its own budget for theatres, festivals, dance companies, galleries and orchestras.

It's a significant day for the arts, but also one to remember for DCMS staff. Thirty people are about to leave as part of a redundancy programme that will eventually halve the staffing level. The smallest department in Whitehall is taking one of the biggest percentage hits in terms of its administrative costs (down 50% in real terms over four years) and its budget (down 24%).

Once known as the 'Ministry of Fun', the DCMS is facing up to an unfunny future. Much of the pressure will inevitably fall on Simon Judge, the finance director. Fortunately, he has extensive experience in Whitehall, reaching back to 1985, and can remember a previous downturn or two.

Judge joined the DCMS as FD in March 2009 shortly after qualifying with CIPFA under the Warwick fast-track diploma in public finance and leadership. He had previously been director of financial strategy at the Ministry of Justice and had also worked at the Department for Work & Pensions and the Treasury.

So how well is the DCMS faring in such an unsettling environment? 'The department has carried on delivering and morale is surprisingly high,' Judge says. 'I can count on the fingers of one hand the people who have switched off and disengaged.'

There are good reasons for this, he suggests. 'I think it's a combination of two things: a lot of people are really interested in the subject matter and care passionately about what they do, whether it's culture, media or sport, or the Olympics; and, being a very small department, there's not much scope for hiding.'

The Olympics, of course, provide a reason to be cheerful. The DCMS is the lead department for the Games, and the chance to help stage a successful event is something that most civil servants would want on their CVs.

But, unfortunately, press attention has been distracted by cuts to arts organisations, including the demise of the UK Film Council, and embarrassing spoonerisms involving Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt's determination to be first with the spending axe has made him popular with certain elements in the Conservative Party and the Tory-supporting press. In the department, however, he did not get off to a good start when he addressed DCMS civil servants at an all -staff meeting last July and told them that one in two would be losing their jobs.

'We had been passing this message around internally and giving pretty large hints that this was the way the Spending Review settlement was going and people needed to start thinking about it/ says Judge. 4As with lots of internal communications, however much you try to tell people that something is coming there's often a trigger event that causes them to say "Oh, crikey".'

The Oh, crikey' moment was the meeting with Hunt. There was initially some confusion over the timing of the departures. In fact, over the four years, 250 posts will go, 100 of which are involved with the Olympics. Meanwhile, responsibility for media policy and competition has transferred to the DCMS from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - along with more than 70 officials - following Business Secretary Vince Cable's comments on the Murdoch empire. …

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