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Jacob Rees-Mogg eyes Arts Council England for efficiency cuts

The Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, has stated that his department is reviewing a number of Arms-Length Bodies to assess whether they should be abolished or retained

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said that efficiency savings of at least 5% must be offered by each Arms-Length Body – including Arts Council England – as part of the government’s Public Bodies Review Programme, and that ‘lead reviewers’ will be appointed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to find these savings.

They may also recommend that the various bodies be considered for merging with others or even closing down, their duties being brought back within the DCMS.

In a statement from the Cabinet Office, Rees-Mogg says that 295 bodies employ over 330,000 people and spend over £220 billion per annum. So, his review intends to instil a culture of efficiency and transparency. ‘Public bodies must spend taxpayer money with greater care,’ he stated.

‘The outcome of this work should see powers returned to accountable ministers, greater efficiency and where appropriate, the state stepping back both financially and from people’s lives. Bodies will make the most of Brexit opportunities, reflect the society they serve, improve their use of data and work as a coherent system rather than in silos.

‘I know departments and their public bodies will welcome this opportunity to ensure they are a match fit,’ the Minister concludes.

The suggestion that Arts Council England, which includes amongst its responsibilities the disbursement of monies for music education, should be brought under tighter control from DCMS has naturally caused some concerns, considering recent changes in emphasis from both DCMS and the Department for Education (DfE).

The Arms-Length Bodies were established specifically to give national sectors such as the arts independence from government interference. But ministers are ultimately responsible for the ALBs’ spending and performance. So, the review programme places accountability on the Cabinet Ministers to decide whether or not to accept the review’s recommendations.

It states: ‘Ministers are ultimately accountable for their department’s public bodies and will want to define their role in the review process. Generally, this will involve:

  • decide which bodies are reviewed and when by writing an annual prioritisation letter to the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency and Chief Secretary to the Treasury;
  • decide on and appoint the Lead Reviewer;
  • decide whether a body merits an in-depth review or not;
  • if appropriate, request a challenge panel is established;
  • accept or reject the recommendations suggested; and
  • hold to account the department and public body for the implementation of the recommendations.’

There is clearly concern in the arts sector about this, particularly in relation to the strong views of the DCMS Secretary Nadine Dorries, but abolishing Arts Council England would require a completely new structure to disburse funding across the huge arts sector.

And with further cuts inevitable through Rees-Mogg’s instructions, bringing that role in-house would make the DCMS and government extremely unpopular.