Ironic Twist in Arts Council Story

You may remember a period from a couple months back when almost every day we had a new post about the funding situation with the Arts Council England. In brief, the ACE sent out Christmas letters notifying former grantees that their grants were going to be cut or eliminated entirely. A bunch of theaters and publishers (including Arcadia and Dedalus) got really pissed, people signed petitions, and most of the funding was restored. (Not so for Dedalus, although they ended up finding a different savior for their financial troubles.)

Well, as reported in today’s Times it turns out that the Arts Council “stands accused of misusing lottery funds after failing to distribute more than £150 million intended for cash-strapped projects.”

The Times has learnt that the council, which announced drastic cuts to hundreds of theatre and orchestra grants last month, has accumulated a big cash pile. Figures obtained by the Council for the Advancement of Arts, Recreation and Education, the only non-government body with access to lottery accounts, shows that £152 million sits unspent with Arts Council England, up from £144 million last August.

Last month the funding body – one of 13 distributors of lottery money – faced a vote of no confidence from actors and directors after it cut the grants of nearly 200 theatres, orchestras and other organisations. [. . .]

Concern about the amount of unused lottery money has prompted warnings from the Commons Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office in recent years. In 2001 the Arts Council agreed with the NAO to reduce its surplus to £75 million. It also missed its own target to reduce the balance to £105 million by March 2007.

From what I can gather, this lottery money comes from ticket sales and can be given away to any cultural organization making a convincing case.

Of course, there’s a completely rational explanation for this situation:

“A lottery cash balance is not spare cash sitting in the bank. It represents committed funds not yet paid out,” she said. “We have already made significant reductions to our balance – down from £224 million in March 2004 to £152 million at March 2008.”

She added that the surplus target was £140 million, but £10 million of payments due to go out by the end of March were delayed “as the necessary legal charges were not in place”. [. . .]

Asked to provide precise details of where the £152 million had been committed, she said that their accounts team would have to check the information before it could be released.

That sounds so reasonable right up to the, “oh shit, I can’t seem to recall the name . . . um . . . I’ll get back to you” part of this.

Does anyone handle PR for the ACE? Anyone? This year has been one PR nightmare after another for this place . . .

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