Some more information and views on Arts Council England today. It has already been news this week that Arts Council England is reducing its staffing by 21%, more than one-fifth, due to a cut in Government funding.  A whopping 117.5 full-time equivalent staff, from an old total of 559.5, will go. The details of the restructure are public but they are annoyingly vague about how it will affect libraries, beyond saying that the sector will be just one of 13 national disciplines.  That’s just 1 in 13, less than 8% of the whole.  Which makes libraries seem pretty insignificant.

There also seems to be a move towards concentrating in the capital, with, despite the overall deep cuts, there being 63. instead of 60 now, staff stationed there  next year.  Compare this to the 66 (instead of the old 91) being stationed in the whole of the North of England, a massive area, being defined as Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and all points north.

That’s the bare bones. I have some digging and found a few more things out:

  • The number of Relationship Managers (RMs) for Libraries is being reduced to just five for the whole of the country. They will also have responsibility for a small number of National Portfolio Organisations i.e. bodies which receive regular funding from the Arts Council and by definition these are not libraries.
  • Understandably, given their tiny numbers, Library Relationship Managers will not be expected to maintain a relationship with every library authority in an area. Area management teams, in conversation with the Library RMs, will decide where specialist expertise is most needed.
  • Library RMs will report to a National Discipline Lead at Director level. This Lead is a role that will take up around half of the time of one of the Directors in one of the regions. This Director reports to the Executive Director Arts and Culture who is also responsible for the 3 national Policy Leads – Children, Young People & Learning, Creative Media and Engagement & Audience.
  • The RMs for libraries currently meet in a Libraries Practice Group and that will be replaced by a Libraries & Literature Practice Group.  Therefore, even those five RMs that are library focused will have their influence diluted.

Obviously, what this means is that there will clearly be fewer person/hours devoted to libraries. Links between library authorities and the RMs are already, before these cuts, tenuous.  For many authorities, they may now become effectively non-existent.  Only those authorities who, for whatever reason, need to be talked with, will be. All other authorities will, effectively, only be generally monitored from afar.

It is too early to tell whether the restructure will result in a greater integration of library issues into the decision making structure or if will mean libraries will be increasingly marginalised. If things go on as before, it is very likely that the latter will be the case.  For, Libraries are a late addition to what is a purely Arts organisation.  Many in libraries would reject that their natural place in the Arts, arguing instead – with good reason – that they fall equally as well with education or social welfare or, even, employment.

Better than nothing?

However, there’s no point in library staff and supporters being antagonistic to ACE.  Being nasty makes few friends and ACE, for all else it is, is one of the few official supporters that libraries have.  With money being so tight, the £6 million and more that ACE has in its gift for Libraries is a powerful reason for authorities to be as supportive of the organisation as possible.  Dogged with criticism, the Envisioning the Libraryof the Future project, is still the biggest thing out there on the subject of working out what public libraries should look like in a few years time. In addition, library campaigners may not appreciate ACE being so cosy with the DCMS but it does at least have some traction with the ministry.

So, despite a bumpy first year on the job, with more cuts under way, Library staff and their supporters should not give up on Arts Council England. If anything, they need to redouble their efforts to be seen as relevant to it and to use all of the resources that it still boasts.  Obviously it’s true that ACE will continue to have an Arts focus – the clue is in its name – but that is no reason to turn up one’s nose at it. Those sectors more forgiving, such as Museums, have not had such a reduction in ACE personnel, presumably because they played a more positive game with ACE than libraries did. So, library staff may need to get over their indignation and start playing the game with ACE. Or it may be libraries, not ACE, that ends up in the hole.