by Michelle Lefevre

If you've ever listened to people in positions of power answering tough questions then you already know the drill. The man or woman in a suit (pantsuit?) will waffle for minutes on end about nothing in particular.

They will admit to nothing, they will account for nothing, they just want to get it over with so they can get back to counting the days until they retire.

idiot.jpgWe, here in TheLab™, thought to ourselves what would happen if ACE (Arts Council England) actually had communications and policy staffers that, you know, knew what they were doing?

Granted, if that was the case then most of these incidents would never happen in the first place but let's gloss over that plot hole and move on.

The Andrea Stark Debacle

Arts Professional revealed that a former ACE employee, Andrea Stark, was being paid a six figure salary by the funding body despite working for a new employer. It also transpired that Ms Stark would receive a six figure severance package when she finally cuts her ties with ACE.

Her new employer has ties to the Royal Opera House and its former chairman Tony Hall. ROH is a recipient of huge amounts of ACE funding.

The funding monolith denied anything improper had taken place. Here's what they should have said though.

"After a detailed investigation of this matter serious problems have been identified in staff employment procedures and with the judgement of many high ranking staff members at Arts Council England's central office.
We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to the general public and the artists, companies and groups that we fund across the country. The independent team tasked with investigating this situation have made the following recommendations that will be implemented immediately.
All senior staff members will be contractually forbidden from being employed in any capacity by any organisation that has received funding from Arts Council England for a period of three years after leaving this organisation. This will include all NPO funded bodies and any GFA funded group that has received more than £50,000 from ACE in the previous twelve months.
This ban will extend to any organisation where board members, chairmanships or other senior positions are held by individuals or groups of individuals that also have positions of authority within ACE funded NPOs or GFA funded bodies.
Additionally, Ms Stark's employment with Arts Council England has been terminated (with immediate effect) and she is now ineligible for any redundancy payment from this organisation.
All senior staff members involved in this situation have been issued with a final written warning with regards to their conduct in this matter. Should any further situations arise within the next 12 months (or any historic situations come to light) that are deemed to be grossly unprofessional, incompetent or in violation of ACE's code of ethics and code of practice then that staff member's employment will be immediately terminated resulting in the complete loss of all redundancy and pension benefits.
Arts Council England believes that it can only operate with the full trust and support of the general public and the organisations within the arts that look to us for both financial support and, ultimately, decisive leadership.
In this instance that trust has been broken and we must work tirelessly to restore confidence in this funding body.
The independent group appointed for the purposes of investigating this matter will form a new, permanent watchdog to oversee all potential conflicts of interest and to ensure strict adherence to our new code of ethics and code of practice."
The Pay Rise Debacle

During a recent "live chat" with Arts Council England CEO Alan Davey, a participant asked Mr Davey why he and others should get a pay rise when all around them are being cut or sacked. Mr Davey waffled, here's what he should have said.

Statement issued by Alan Davey, CEO Arts Council England

"Upon receiving the Renumeration Committee's recommendation of a pay increase for senior staff members at Arts Council England I have personally made the decision to reject their recommendation.
Given the ongoing turmoil caused by cuts to funding for the arts from both central and local government and the staff reductions at Arts Council England itself it would be highly inappropriate to accept any increase in pay for the foreseeable future.
In order to ensure both confidence in my leadership and confidence in the Arts Council in general I have ordered a freeze on all senior executive pay for the next three years.
Additionally, I have discussed with and I am recommending that senior staff take a 5% pay reduction (also for the next three years). The outcome of this ongoing discussion will be made public by the end of this week.
Arts Council England must lead from the front during the continued assault on the arts by our elected officials and we must also lead by example."

The Live Chats Debacle

During the last live chat with ACE CEO Alan Davey a participant pointed out that the live chats were not much more than a PR exercise and little of what was said to the public was of any real value.

Mr Davey waffled, here's what he should have said.

"Following a detailed review of the current format of Live Chats with ACE senior staff members we have initiated a complete revamp of how we interact with members of the public and the press.
The current format will be replaced with bi-monthly live Google+ Hangouts (a multi user video chat system open to the public to view) where members of the public, artists and others will be able to put questions to senior staff members. These questions will not be pre-screened although participants will be selected by ACE to represent a cross section of people involved with the arts across the country.
In addition ACE will also host quarterly "Town Hall" meetings across England where a live audience will be able to ask direct questions of our CEO and other senior members of ACE. Each meeting will concern a different art form, such as dance, theatre, visual art etc. The meetings will be filmed and the video made available, unedited, as soon as possible after the event.
We are instituting these changes because we realise that public and press access to senior staff is vitally important in building and maintaining confidence in the organisation. It is also vitally important that we receive feedback on our policies and use that feedback to make substantive changes to those policies when necessary so that we can better serve the needs of the diverse range of individuals and organisations that we support."

In a statement from the real ACE communications folks they denied the funding body was completely useless, or at least they would if we asked them, because who would admit to such a thing?