Arts budget: Devil is in the detail
The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked on Tuesday as he sat before the culture, media and sport select committee if he was an "eager assassin".
Jeremy Hunt's starting point was to look first to his own department's overheads with the intention of "protecting frontline services." He immediately introduced a scrappage scheme for DCMS ministerial cars and shortly afterwards announced a target of 50% departmental savings to be achieved over a four-year period.
He was asked about the consequences of his decision. What, for instance, was the range of money set aside for redundancies? Neither he nor his permanent secretary knew. It was an awkward moment.
Jeremy Hunt is a successful businessman with a first class honours degree from Oxford. Such achievements require not just intelligence but also the ability to pay attention to the details. For it is in the minutiae that the devil resides, hoping not to be spotted before wreaking havoc.
The eagerness with which the new ministerial team at the DCMS has gone about their cost-cutting business has taken many by surprise, especially as it started while their platitudinous words of love and protection towards the arts still hung in the air from pre-election hustings.
Ed Vaizey said shortly before the election that his position would be to advocate to his colleagues not to cut the arts because in the great scheme of things the budget was tiny and it wouldn't be worth the hassle.
The tiny argument clearly failed to convince and cuts came and more will shortly follow. But the concept of tiny is still important. There is some concern that decisions already taken, such as abolishing the UK Film Council, and others being discussed at the moment are being made without the necessary due diligence.
The Chaos Theory holds true for the arts. A small regional theatre forced to close due to cuts in Arts Council and regional government funding not only impacts on the local community but eventually on the National Theatre, which then impacts on the whole sector, tourism, the creative industries and so on.
There is wastage in the arts. Systems could be improved. It is not unreasonable to seek to effect change on behalf of the public who is funding the activity. But to come to the right conclusions and to make the right decisions requires the skill of a key-hole surgeon.
Precise measures brought about by deep understanding of actions and consequences could take the arts in Britain to the next level. But a ham-fisted, ill-considered botched job could leave them crippled.
These are big decisions that need to be predicated on small details. And that, I suspect, takes time.