The blame game

OK, I made a few positive comments about Michael Gove last week. Now it’s no more Lady Nice Guy.

I’m extremely fed up with what is fast becoming the mantra of the Government whenever anyone protests against any cuts. ‘Oh, that was a local decision – we can’t possibly do anything about it.’ The implication also seems to be ‘and by the way it’s therefore nothing to do with us, not our manor, guv’.

The first instance I came across of this in the arts was Ed Vaizey brushing off the 100% cut of the Creative Partnerships programme as ‘an Arts Council decision’. This isn’t actually good enough: he has to take some responsibility. It was the Government which cut Arts Council England’s grant by 29.6%, and at the same time impressed upon ACE that it wished to see ‘front line arts’ protected. CP wasn’t front line: cuts had to be made fast: out it went. Mr Vaizey is simply wrong to try to imply that he had nothing to do with it. If he was going to shorten the already stubby arm’s length of Government by indicating where organisations should be saved, the other side of that coin is that he could have said ‘but please don’t cut CP’. (Whether ACE is right to have followed his wishes is another argument altogether.)

Mr Vaizey was at it again last week at the State of the Arts Conference, implying that cuts to local authority grants were somehow the fault of arts organisations which didn’t have a good enough relationship with their LAs – not that LAs had to find quick (if regrettable) wins in the game of slash ‘n’ burn.

Michael Gove has recently done the same thing, concerning music services. Speaking on Music Matters on BBC Radio 3, he was questioned by Tom Service about the Henley report. Mr Service asked about those councils – such as Wiltshire and Central Bedfordshire – which are already making cuts. Gove’s reply? That it was a local decision – he couldn’t possibly interfere.

This is not only maddening and cruel (the human cost has been mounting since councils started to warn their music staffs of potential redundancies many months ago), but also illogical in the extreme. Michael Gove wants all children to ‘have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and to sing’. He has welcomed Henley’s recommendations. Where councils are cutting their music services, these outcomes are less and less likely to happen. He is a cabinet minister, for goodness’ sake. It should not be beyond him to start some sort of dialogue with local authorities to prevent the destruction of services which have taken decades to build up and will take ten years or more to restore to their current level.

And why are these services being cut? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s because councils have suffered swift and draconian cuts, which have been unneccesarily front-loaded. They need to make savings fast. It’s not possible to make efficiency savings on that scale in such a short space of time – instead, the non-statutory services fall under the axe. That is not the councils’ fault – it is not even their wish. It is because of Government policy.

It reminds me of the process of editing and article for a magazine. Say you’re cutting 100 words from a 900-word piece. If you’ve got time, you can pore over the piece, take out a word here or there, re-phrase someting so it’s six words long instead of ten, and so on. You preserve, you prune, you shape – the author may not even be able to see what you’ve done. However, if you’ve got a deadline thundering towards you at sixty seconds a minute, you look for the sentence or the paragraph that can go wholesale. Chop, chop – and Robert’s yer mother’s brother.

What’s happening to our music services now is that whole swathes – swathes of excellent quality and high achievement – are simply being edited out. What’s most galling of all is that the people who are causing it may – unless we are very vigilant – escape the blame.

Published in: on February 14, 2011 at 18:34  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. it’s all fashioned political cover, should we be surprised?

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