The Metropolitan Arts Centre received £950,000 as part of Arts Council Northern Ireland's annual funding programme in 2015-16. Photo: Ardfern. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Arts Council of Northern Ireland makes case for survival

Jonathan Knott, 02.08.2017
Review of arm’s length bodies in the country is under way
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) has set out its case for continuing to exist, as the country’s Department for Communities (DfC) reviews the effectiveness of its arm’s length bodies.

In November, the Northern Ireland Assembly resolved to review the number and functions of its arm’s length bodies “with a view to reducing their number, where possible, and maximising the available revenue”.

The arts council is one of 21 arm’s length bodies overseen by the DfC (not including the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is not part of the review). In January, the country's then Minister for Communities, Paul Givan, said that he was keen to see the review progressed quickly, despite the political uncertainty in the country.

The arts council submitted evidence to the DfC last week arguing that it passed three tests set out in the Cabinet Office’s guidance for departments reviewing public bodies. These relate to specialist expertise, political impartiality and independence from ministers.

In reference to the political impartiality test, the arts council said: “By making funding decisions independent of the political process, we manage risk on behalf of the department and thus afford the minister necessary protection.”

The Cabinet Office guidance also says that departments should consider a range of alternative delivery models for the body’s function, including abolishing it, moving it out of central government, and bringing it in-house.

The arts council distributes public money and lottery funds to arts organisations, events and initiatives across Northern Ireland. In 2015-16 it gave £950,000 to the Metropolitan Arts Centre in Belfast and £112,000 to the Centre for Contemporary Art Derry-Londonderry as part of its annual funding programme.

The devolved government in Northern Ireland has been suspended since January following a financial scandal, and the nation’s political leaders have not yet reached an agreement on forming an executive following elections in March.

Paul Givan told the assembly in January that he had put in place a small central team to take forward the first stage of the review, and that his officials had arranged meetings with the chairpersons and chief executives of the bodies to initiate early engagement and consultation.

He added: “Obviously, the work I have commissioned has started and will continue. Ultimately, it will be up to the next executive and assembly to deal with the outworkings of that review when the findings come through.”

Links and downloads

Arts Council of Northern Ireland submission to the Department for Communities