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Ding-dong, Dame Liz has gone. Could this be the salvation of Arts Council England?

Members of the Arts Council received a warm note from the chair this morning, informing them that the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had told her she was not to be reappointed for a second term. The note was courteous, dignified and warm, but its distress was unambiguous.

UPDATE here.

Dame Liz Forgan ends her long record of public service with a blot she should have avoided – the blot of dismissal.

The dismissal came out of the blue. Liz, a former journalist, politically on the left, had formed a good working relationship with the Conservatives Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey who hold the purse-strings at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). She bounced back well when Hunt-Vaizey rejected her original plans to punish the Big Four theatres with 30 percent cuts and she formed an efficient partnership with her chief executive Alan Davey, a former lifer at the DCMS.

So why was she sacked? Hunt gives a clue in his statement this morning: ‘The next chair of the Arts Council will have to steer the organisation and the sector through another challenging period, in particular in increasing the amount of private giving to the arts, and encouraging the sector to make the most of technological changes. I am confident that we will find the right person for the job, and confident that our arts and culture will remain the envy of the world.’

Read his lips. What Liz Forgan failed to do was make significant cuts within the ACE itself. She and Davey have been talking about reorganisation and job trimming for a year and nothing has been done.

The next ACE chair will have to wield the knife, and plunge it deep. The ACE is inefficient, over-staffed and, in many respects, otiose.

It may be that Liz simply could not face the bloodshed and can now put a brave face on her departure as a defender of jobs and infrastructure. That, however, won’t wash for long. She’s going, and Davey may soon follow. The opportunity is there to reinvent the Arts Council for the 21st century.

There are two or three good candidates who would love the chance to do that. Watch this space for details.

Bye, Liz. Please don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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  1. None of the previous Chairs has had his term extended, so this announcement won’t make many ripples. What I can’t understand is how there’s so little encouragement for Arts supporters in the UK – unlike the US, tax breaks are few & far between. If one is trying to cut down on what’s perceived as non-essential expenditure (my idea of non-essential is very different!), & one is expecting private donation to make up the difference, methinks there’s a pretty steep hill ahead..

  2. Simon Landau says:

    The timing is a bit odd. Hunt is expected to go to Health after the Olympics so is Vaizey going to be the main decision maker ? Or will we have to wait until October(ish) for a decision ?

    Meanwhile places like Sheffield are stuck with a new version of planning blight that is seriously impacting decision making.

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