Giving with one hand

Maurice Davies, 26.03.2012
Where does the government stand on philanthropy?
Two announcements last week make the government’s policies for culture look inconsistent and erratic.

The first, in last week’s budget, saw the government restrict the amount of tax relief people get on donations over £50,000.

Now, that’s hardly going to affect me or you, but there are a few super-rich people who are public spirited enough to give millions to museums and other good causes.

I’m no tax expert (I barely understand my own) but it seems to me that restricting their tax relief will presumably make the rich less likely to give.

The second, on the same day as the budget, saw culture secretary Jeremy Hunt come as close as he could to sacking Arts Council England (ACE) chair Liz Forgan by telling her he would not be renewing her term of office when it expires in early 2013.

His reason for not wanting her to continue chairing ACE?

He needs to “find someone who could steer it successfully through what will be another challenging period, not least around the digital and philanthropy agendas”.

So, is philanthropy on or off?

And Forgan, as chair of the Scott Trust, owners of The Guardian, presumably knows lots about digital, so why reject her?

I think a clue may be in an earlier sentence in Hunt’s letter to Forgan: “You have made the arms-length principle a real and energetic construct, which has guided our engagement and enabled difficult decisions to be made wisely.”

Could he be hinting, ominously, that under Forgan’s leadership the arts council didn’t always do what it was told - or at least agued its point of view very energetically.

So who might Hunt choose as the next ACE chair? A philanthropic digital entrepreneur who is likely to do what they are told?

And in the light of other recent revelations, will the successful candidate also need to be a Tory-Party donor who has given the right level of donation to be offered access to policy-makers, but missed the small print that it only covers culture policy?!

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12.04.2012, 00:10
I once volunteered in a fundraising department of an environmental group and doing research into the world of charities was quite an eye opener. They appeared to be some of the most unaccountable organisations in Britain and a good proportion had not bothered to submit annual accounts for five years or more, despite what the law says. Many of the trust funds doled out money on personal whim and connection, all courtesy of tax reliefs at the expense of those who don't have the disposable income to engage in such largesse. Now we hear that far from thinking of others, many of the most wealthy are using tax relief for their own personal financial gain. There are many exceptions, but the museum world should think carefully before it sells its principles for gold. We have seen what relying on the rich has done for our political system; let's hope our top museum leaders and agenda setters won't make similar mistakes.