Thursday, 7 February 2008

From the Heritage Bunker (Episode 5)

Minister: Ah, Sir Humphrey. I need a little chat with you.

Sir Humphrey: Indeed, Minister? How can I be of assistance?

Minister: People are complaining about the budget cuts being made by the Arts Council as a result of the Olympic Games.

Sir Humphrey: Hardly a surprise, Minister. The cuts are really quite significant.

Minister: But I thought that you told me that we couldn’t divert money from the Arts to other things, like gardens. Surely the same applies to sports?

Sir Humphrey: Indeed it does Minister.

Minister: Then how are we diverting money from the Arts to the Olympics?

Sir Humphrey: We are not, Minister. This is Lottery money; a completely different set of rules applies.

Minister: But surely, they can’t just stop funding like this?

Sir Humphrey: Well, Minister, I am sure that you will recall that, when the lottery was established, it was made perfectly clear that any funding from that source was to be regarded as additional, and not to be used to fund things which the government would otherwise be funding. So, when it gets cut, it is the additional items which will suffer.

Minister: But it looks to me as though the Arts Council are cutting mainstream activities. They don’t look like additional items to me.

Bernard: Yes, they are Minister, because they’re additional to what we pay for. We give them part of the money they ask for each year, and then they ask the Lottery for additional money for the additional projects. So anything we don’t fund is defined as additional.

Sir Humphrey: Thank you, Bernard. However much the Arts Council get, it is for them to decide how to spend it, Minister.

Minister: But most of the money they spend comes from us – can’t I tell them what to do?

Sir Humphrey: Certainly not, Minister. The whole point of having an Arts Council is so that politicians don’t take decisions on arts priorities. If you started interfering, what would be the point of having an Arts Council at all?

Minister: But who decided to cut the funding from the Lottery?

Sir Humphrey: Well, when the government decided to bid for the Olympics, they decided that the lottery would be expected to pay for a large part of the costs.

Minister: But I thought that the Lottery Commission was independent of the government, and the funds couldn’t be used to replace government expenditure?

Sir Humphrey: Minister, really. That was what was said when the lottery was established, but surely no-one really expected any government not to control the way in which billions of pounds of money was being spent – especially when the potential alternative was more taxes?

Minister: But isn’t that what they promised?

Bernard: That was a politician’s promise, Minister. It’s like saying that they’re not going to increase taxes, when everyone knows that’s exactly what they’re going to do.

Minister: So, what can I do?

Sir Humphrey: You could write to the UK Heritage Minister on the matter.

Minister: What difference will that make?

Sir Humphrey: None whatsoever, Minister. You asked me what you could do, not how you could change the decisions.

Minister: So what can I do to change the decisions?

Sir Humphrey: Nothing, Minister.

Minister: So Welsh Arts Projects simply lose out to the Olympic Games in London?

Sir Humphrey and Bernard: Yes, Minister.

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