Edition number 22; dateline 24 July 2009

How to run a ballroom: a beginner's guide

There is, it seems, a bit of a  hole in the budget at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. According to recent press reports, there is something in the region of £100 million sitting in a column marked ‘committed to major capital projects’ but nothing similar in the column marked ‘available for major capital projects’. In light of such financial immodesty concerns have been expressed regarding the viability of such schemes as the planned extension to the Tate Modern, the new exhibition space at the British Library, the Stonehenge visitor centre and a new home for the British Film Institute. There will be other projects similarly called into question of course and there has been a general agreement among the nameless people quoted in the press that this represents another cock-up by the DCMS, confirming its status as the hapless junior department cowed and ridiculed by all the bigger departments in the noisy and boisterous family of competing interests that is central government. As one unnamed senior figure in the arts world put it, “This is no way to run a railroad.” Derek and Clive’s “This is no way to run a ballroom” might have been more apt but we get the point.

Once again it is a case of ‘poor old DCMS’ but for better or worse it remains the department that sport, leisure and culture looks to as its first port of call for representation; this despite our sector’s growing claims on the time and budgets of the departments for health, communities and education, not to mention skills, trade, industry, environment, rural affairs, children and families, enterprise and trade. We must all prepare ourselves for the hardships to come and few areas of government are likely to escape the impact of a significant downturn in public spending. While we watch the banking sector rebuild itself on the proceeds of the biggest public bailout in history and wonder at the return of the bonus culture, while we try to work out why employees in the public sector must brace themselves for redundancies and pay cuts at the same time that those in the financial sector celebrate financial meltdown averted and the ensuing rewards for their own self-proclaimed brilliance, the sport, leisure and culture sector will have to get on with what it does best, which has always been getting on with what it does best.

Various thinktanks, departments of state and policy institutes are said to be taxing themselves with the task of how to square the circle of public expenditure in the wake of the financial crisis. Salami slicing of public spending is being weighed against radical approaches to the delivery of pubic services. Sir Michael Bichard, adviser to the Treasury and former permanent secretary, reckons that “the future has got  to be about better services and less cost”, although he is less clear about how anyone who has advised the Treasury about anything in the last five years has the right to an opinion on anything beyond the colour of soft furnishings and the likelihood of rain. There seems to be widespread agreement around Westminster that it is time is for new thinking and radical approaches; nothing must be ringfenced and no area considered sacred. Thus forewarned, the general public sits back and waits for the salami slicer to be fitted with a new blade, wondering why the most obvious, non-radical options, such as saving £5 billion on identity cards that are unwanted, unwelcome and unconstitutional or saving £25 billion on a Trident weapons system that is at best outdated and more realistically an utter waste of money, are not  first on the list.

If the time for radical thinking on public services ever comes – and the reaction to the global financial meltdown makes it seems more likely that it won’t – someone might like to ask the sport, leisure and culture sector for some ideas. It is a sector in which being inventive and pragmatic, pioneering and practical, imaginative and, yes, even radical has a long and successful history. Ask someone at the DCMS; they’ll at least know someone to talk to.

Jonathan Ives



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“If the time for radical thinking on public services ever comes – and the reaction to the global financial meltdown makes it seems more likely that it won’t – someone might like to ask the sport, leisure and culture sector for some ideas.”

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