The Evil Imp

Empty Space

For the most part it would appear that a politician’s job is to come up with crazy ideas and then let somebody else deal with the resulting mess. Whether it’s storing petrol in jerry cans or deciding that a colossally expensive “digital arts channel” should become a permanent fixture of the culture scene.

During a speech last week at some event or other (it really doesn’t matter what it was) the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt declared that he thought it was a good idea that The Space, the online platform for the arts run by Arts Council England (ACE) and the BBC should become a full time thing.

He said;

“The question I want to pose is – should we be even more ambitious about The Space? Should we turn this into a permanent, brand new digital arts channel, with live performances every single day of the year?”

Mr Hunt continued;

“And let me say this as a challenge – should we make it a condition of public funding for the arts that the recipients of that funding provide, free of charge, some of their content for live broadcast on a new digital arts channel as a way of making sure that that content reaches more of the audiences who are funding it through their taxes? I leave that as a question with you.”

First of all phrasing this idea as a “question” and a “challenge” is just gutless politicking. So when some inquisitive journalists types, like us, here in TheLab™, start asking questions about how you’re going to pay for something like that the press flacks at the DCMS can claim the whole thing was just a general wonderment, no need to worry about the cost.

Even if you do want to worry about the cost of it, according to the DCMS, it’s not their problem anyway, it’s ACE’s problem.

Bad Intel

Speaking of costs. The Space currently has 53 projects funded to go online before the service shuts down in October. The average cost of each project is just shy of £65,000. If you extrapolate that average cost across the entire NPO portfolio of 694 organisations funded by ACE it would cost £45Million to fund. Add in the Grants for the Arts applicants (2,681 for the last financial year) at a more modest average of £3,500 per project and the cost jumps to almost £55Million.

For the financial year 2012/2013 ACE will distribute £310Million to arts organisations across England. The projected cost of The Space would absorb more than 17% of that budget.

That doesn’t include the infrastructure costs of actually running the website itself (never mind all the “digital channel” nonsense it’s just a website). It’s also not possible to pin down a finite cost to running an online service.

The more popular a website is, the more bandwidth and server infrastructure it uses and the more money you have to spend. If it gets massively popular you could have a huge financial headache on your hands.

Over a ten year period The Space, in its current form, would cost more the half a billion pounds.

So, we asked the DCMS to explain how the Culture Secretary planned to pay for this little exercise and a spokesman said;

“the Arts Council have actually come out and said that they are going to run it as a permanent thing so you need to speak to them about how they are going to fund it”.

When asked exactly when ACE had announced a major policy decision with significant cost implications the DCMS responded on the “Thursday or Friday” after the minister had given his speech.

This news was in fact news to ACE themselves because they had no idea what the DCMS was talking about. A spokesperson there said only that the idea was under discussion and that the cost implications would be part of those discussions.

Over at the DCMS, when we explained that ACE had no idea what they were talking about the DCMS spokesperson claimed he had said that ACE were only “discussing” making The Space permanent.

Which is not what he said at all, not even close, but instead of admitting he mis-spoke or had no idea what he was talking about he deciding making something up was a better course of action.

Even after all that the DCMS still maintains that it is not for the DCMS to decide how such a massively expensive project should be paid for despite the fact they control ACE’s budget and the DCMS and the Culture Secretary cut the funding monoliths budget by more than 29% last year.

The Rub

So there you have it dear readers. Our thoughts on The Space are pretty clear. It’s a monumentally boring waste of time and money.

Making it a full time, all encompassing “requirement” of public funding would put a massive strain on an arts budget already hopelessly mis-managed by ACE themselves.

That said, it is ludicrous for anybody, least of all a government minister, to posit “questions” about such things without doing at least some basic arithmetic to figure out whether or not your idea is even fiscally possible.

Ladies and gentleman, we give you the people in charge of the future of culture in this country, the ability to find your own ass with both hands, not required.