Monday, March 28, 2011

Just the beginning...

Does the UK government have the first clue about what it's doing? Less than a year since the coalition came to power and they're already being told by their own select committee that decisions they made a few months ago were poor - something the public spotted right away when the UK Film Council was turned into a clay pigeon and shot down. Now they want the ACE to slash another 50% of its own operating costs and are making noises about not being 'convinced' that so many subsidised orchestras are needed. Yet so many of the comments, as reported today, are self-contradictory, confused or oddly timed that the incoherence and anxiety that lie beneath are clearly visible. You can read the whole Select Committee Report yourself, here.

..."Arts industry insiders believe the timing of the report is designed to damage the council and deflect negative reaction to the forthcoming announcement away from the Government."... (The Independent) (Read the rest here.) 
..."The committee also said it was not convinced there was a need for so many symphony orchestras to receive funding from the council and the BBC; claimed heritage had been underfunded compared with the arts; and expressed concern at the deep level of cuts to funding for culture proposed by some local councils.

The arts world is waiting anxiously for the results of public funding applications, which are due to drop into email inboxes up and down England between 7.30am and 9.30am on Wednesday. Grant applications have been made by 1,300 organisations; almost half will be unsuccessful....  (The Guardian)" (Read the rest here)
Feeling sick already? We ain't seen nothing yet. I'm not saying the status quo was perfect - yes, there's a serious deficit, and yes, there was a world financial crisis. There has to be a way to save money. But it has to be a competent, considered, sensible way and we have yet to see anything that suggests the current administration is capable of this; or that there is an electable alternative that could be any better. The sense of lunatics running the asylum has rarely been stronger; today, after all we've seen taking place in the US, persistent clinging to belief in the free market as the answer to all the world's problems seems staggeringly naive at best and, at worst, plain stupid. In one word: Detroit.

It's the apparently hasty and ill-considered way in which decisions like the abolition of the Film Council and the PLR (public lending rights) distributing agency were forced through that seems most dubious. The report says the following re PLR:
147. We are surprised at the Government's decision to abolish the PLR body and disappointed that DCMS did not discuss the future of the PLR with its Registrar before announcing its abolition. It follows the same disturbingmodus operandi as with the other bodies, including the UK Film Council. We have not found anyone who supports this decision. Any proposal that the Arts Council should take over the PLR was unrealistic and rightly abandoned. However, this has left the PLR in a state of protracted uncertainty, which could have been avoided had the department discussed proposals with the PLR sooner.
148. We do not believe that the British Library is an appropriate body to take on the work of administering the PLR. Far more appropriate is the ALCS, which already distributes royalty payments to authors. We understand that there may be a legal technicality preventing this, in which case we recommend that legislative measures are put in place to allow it to happen as soon as possible.

Meanwhile in academia, ideology-driven policies that bear little relation to reality are taking hold too...have a dekko at this weirdly Stalinist requirement, reported yesterday, that humanities research at university level will be required to study 'the Big Society', something that I hope profoundly might have been misinterpreted or misquoted or at least mis-something. Here are David Lodge's thoughts on the university situation.