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.
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.