Arts Council England (ACE) is innocent of all allegations of malpractice in relation to its Artists Taking the Lead (ATTL) programme in Yorkshire, according to the report of an internal review led by its Chief Operating Officer Althea Efunshile. Accusations by a member of the public that the successful bidder for the £0.5m Cultural Olympiad fund, the Leeds Canvas consortium, should have been deemed ineligible at the outset have been rejected, as have claims that ACE failed to follow its own guidelines, especially in relation to the undeclared links that members of the judging panel had to the successful bid.

The report is based on published documents, together with six interviews by Efunshile, five of them with Yorkshire ATTL panel members and one a former member of Leeds City Council. Whilst acknowledging that the expression of interest for the programme was drafted jointly by the Artistic Director of Yorkshire Dance and the City Council’s Head of Arts and Events on behalf of the Leeds Canvas consortium group, Efunshile says: “I do not agree that this is evidence that the bid was not artist-led or that the bid was in fact Leeds City Council led.”

Efunshile admits that the “guidance was clear that ‘Ideas cannot be accepted from organisations which are not led by artists such as local authorities or higher education institutions…'” but points out that “the guidance was silent on what would be the allowable role played by a local authority or higher education institute” and recommends that “in a future project of this nature, the guidance should be clearer not just on the nature of relationship that is not allowed, but on the sort of relationship that would be allowed.”

The report also finds that “the very title Artists Taking the Lead was misunderstood by certain members of the public.” Efunshile says that “it was always the intention that artists and arts organisations could put forward ideas for a commission”: the concept of ‘taking the lead’ referred to the process of deciding which should be the successful commissions – not the implementation of the project, and she says that this “…may have contributed to the sense in some quarters that individual artists had fared less well than expected.”

In relation to declarations of interest by the panel, the report finds that “with the benefit of hindsight”, both Efunshile and panel Chair Nima Poovaya-Smith agree that “it would have been better” if the Chair had not taken part in the decision-making about the Leeds Canvas expression of interest or final bid due to her Board involvement with Opera North, which was a member of the bidding consortium. But Efunshile says that this error of judgement is “tempered by the fact that I judge that the relevant paragraphs in the guidance were not crystal clear”. She concludes: “I do not in any way question the integrity of the Chair or any other member of the panel.”

All other relationships between panel members and the Leeds Canvas consortium were deemed irrelevant, and not worthy of being declared prior to the judging process, but the report concludes that certain statements in the written guidance to panels were “ambiguous, slightly confusing and not entirely helpful”. In his response to the report, ACE Chief Executive Alan Davey blames “less than clear guidelines” as having led to public concerns, and said: “In the future, we need to ensure that such questions do not arise.”

Carol Lee, the member of the public whose concerns triggered the review, said: “The outcome is everything I expected – everyone is innocent! That is just ‘the way things are’. I am satisfied my investigations were thorough, but I expected a whitewash and got a whitewash.”

Article originally published by Arts Professional.