Táim an-shásta go bhfuil deis ag an Roinn labhairt leis an gcoiste inniu faoin staidéar tábhachtach seo faoin luach ar airgead a fhaighimid ón gComhairle Ealaíon. Déanann an comhairle obair sár-thábhachtach ar son muintir na tíre. I thank the members of the committee for the invitation to discuss the findings of the recently published value for money and policy review of the Arts Council. I am assistant secretary at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and I have overall responsibility for the arts division within the Department.
I would like to begin by introducing my colleagues. Ms Orlaith McBride is director of the Arts Council. Professor John O’Hagan is professor of economics at Trinity College, Dublin and he supervised the review. Ms Deirdre Mahony was lead evaluator and she is also from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The Arts Council represents a significant proportion of the Department’s overall Vote. The proportion was 21.5% in 2015. It is for this reason that the Department was anxious to ensure a robust examination of the outputs and outcomes of the annual investment in the Arts Council. The main objectives of the review were to examine how the Arts Council operated over the period 2009 to 2012 and, more important, what it achieved for the taxpayers' investment in the arts. The Department is pleased to note that the review found that the Arts Council has performed well over a challenging period and, in particular, managed to do more with less. While that is somewhat a cliché, I say it in particular in relation to its own administrative practices, while also noting that there has been a significant reduction in overall funding available for supports to artists and other cultural activity since the beginning of the economic crisis.
The review was undertaken in compliance with the Department's requirements under the Government's three year evaluation programme and followed the standard methodology for such reviews. It focuses on a challenging period for the public finances, from 2009 to 2012. The value for money review was overseen by a steering committee, chaired by Dr. O'Hagan, involving representatives from the Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Arts Council and an independent member from outside of the arts sector. Dr. O'Hagan is well known as a commentator on, and advocate for, the arts and his involvement was critical in ensuring the methodology for the report was robust and rigorously applied. Dr. O'Hagan also brought his considerable experience to bear on the examination of the societal value of the arts, which forms a critical part of both the report and the recommendations for the Arts Council.
I will now speak on the findings of the report. The review found that the Arts Council operates efficiently, administering its grant schemes in a manner that ensures the maximum funding available goes to artists and arts organisations. It has achieved this by reducing its administration costs and reorganising its work to better support artists and arts organisations and it has done so during a time of constrained funding and decreases in staff numbers.
The review also identifies areas where the Arts Council can improve. It recommends that the Arts Council should find a better balance between supporting its existing portfolio of organisations and providing support for new organisations. It makes recommendations about improving the transparency of its grant application and award process, building on the Arts Council's own good initiatives in this area. It recommends that the Arts Council examine the outputs of its annual investment programme to ensure there is a balanced distribution of arts opportunities across the country. The Arts Council has already moved to improve transparency with its recently relaunched website, where each allocation decision is shown along with the reasons for the award of funding on a user-friendly map of Ireland.
The review also makes recommendations about how we can better track the outputs and outcomes of the Arts Council's annual investment programme. In the short term, it recommends the introduction of a set of 11 performance indicators so, into the future, both the Arts Council and the Department will be able to answer questions about how it performs and, more importantly, what it achieves for the public's investment. For the longer term, and the more challenging question of understanding the societal value of public investment in the arts, the report makes a range of recommendations about how data can be better gathered, examined and reported.
The Minister is committed to ensuring that the findings of the report are used to improve access to, and support for, the arts in Ireland. She had a very productive discussion last month with the chairperson and director of the Arts Council on how this can be achieved. The Department will build on the positive engagement with the Arts Council in the preparation of the review to ensure that the recommendations are delivered. We will do this in close consultation with the Arts Council using the normal governance arrangements, including regular liaison meetings and the annual service level agreement.
The Arts Council has recently launched its new ten year strategy, which has incorporated many of the principles highlighted in the report. To clarify, the value for money review and the preparation of the arts strategy by the Arts Council happened in tandem, so there were lessons and learning from both processes which informed the outcome of both. Orlaith McBride, director of the Arts Council, will be happy to answer questions on how the value for money review will influence the implementation of the new strategy.
For my part, I wish to note how a number of our recommendations have already been applied to the Arts Council's investment strategy. For example, the council has undertaken to make clear the criteria used to make funding decisions, thereby improving the transparency of its operation. It intends to build sustainable relationships with organisations by supporting them to develop sustainable fundraising strategies and programmes and it has committed to better measuring and monitoring of the outcomes of its investment strategy, which will inform future investment decisions, including in terms of ensuring balanced regional distribution of arts opportunities. This ten year strategy will be followed by a series of three year implementation plans in which the Arts Council has committed to incorporating many of the detailed recommendations of the value for money review.
To conclude, the Department considers that this review is unique in terms of the scope of the analysis involved and it is a testament to the Arts Council that its work has stood up to this rigorous examination. The council has been proactive in changing its structures and working arrangements to better serve the arts community and the public. It has also maintained the integrity of its programme in a difficult financial climate, in part through significant cuts to its costs. The Department is confident that the Arts Council will build on this positive finding and, indeed, the momentum of its strategy development process to continue to improve its offering to the arts sector and the return on the investment to the taxpayer.