Arts cuts: An 'interesting situation'
The immediate response from the arts community to the government cuts in arts spending is interesting.
On the one hand, the museums appear happy. They feared a blitzkrieg and ended up with a much-better-than-expected 15% cut. They had in their darkest moments contemplated 40%. The tone of their statements has been magnanimous - one of acceptance that they too must share the cuts pain and of thanks to the government for recognising their work.
On the other hand, they're quite cross. Particularly Arts Council England (ACE) and the arts bodies it funds, the funding body having taken a cut of nearly 30% with an additional stipulation to reduce its administrative costs by 50%.
Alistair Spalding, the CEO and Artistic Director at Sadler's Wells said it was "bad news for the arts". And this from the National Theatre's Nick Hytner:
"By any measure, the 30% cut to the Arts Council grant is dismaying. A large number of immensely valuable enterprises will stop stone dead. Obviously, in the context of massive cuts to public spending across the board, we must put our heads down and work with a 15% cut to the Arts Council's regularly funded organisations, if the Arts Council is able to achieve this. However, it would be foolish to underestimate how tough the challenge will be for many excellent companies."
As he says, the government wants ACE to mirror its decision with museums and impose only a 15% cut on the "Regularly Funded Organisations" it oversees. By doing so, it will fulfil the government's ambition of capping the cut to all "front-line" arts organisations at 15%.
The request raises two issues. First, it leaves the ACE pot for projects such as the Manchester International Festival truncated while putting the organisation itself under severe pressure. Second, it calls into question the "arm's-length" principle that has long been held between the government and the quango.
So is the government asking or insisting? Some within the DCMS are saying that they have asked but not insisted that ACE does not cut front-line arts organisations such as subsidised theatres, orchestras and dance companies by more than 15%. And I understand that is the basis on which conversations have taken place between the two parties.
But when I was talking to Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey yesterday afternoon, he said it was contingent on their settlement. When asked what would happen if ACE disobeyed, he replied it would lead to an "interesting situation".
He was also quick to stress the high regard in which he holds the leadership of ACE, and that the demand to cut 50% in administration costs did not reflect a belief that the place was being badly run.
But it's hardly a vote of confidence and it will no doubt require yet another organisational review for ACE at a time when it seems likely the government will want the organisation to inherit some of the duties previously undertaken by the abolished Film Council and Museum and Libraries Council.