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New ways of working in partnership with local government

  • Date: 2 September 2010
  • Area: South East
Beneath the Surface, Surrey Creative Communities Programme, 2009

Beneath the Surface, Surrey Creative Communities Programme, 2009. Credit: Photo: Janetka Plantun

With a mission as far reaching as Great art for everyone, partnership working is critical to the Arts Council’s success.  So, alongside the many cultural changes afoot, we are striving to improve the way we work with local authorities.

The south east is home to 72 local authorities, and as one of the biggest investors in the arts, we need to maximise on our resources by working together to achieve shared priorities in the region.

In the Arts Council's Stakeholder Focus survey 2009/10, local authorities said while they valued individual relationships, they wanted a better, closer and more coherent relationship with the Arts Council as a whole.

Stephanie Fuller is Senior Manager, Regional Planning and her role includes overseeing strategic partnerships. 'The good news is that these new ways of working have already begun,' says Stephanie.

'Rather than a small team of officers managing relationships with all 72 local authorities, that role is now embedded into every relationship manager’s job, making communication much easier.
‘It’s a big improvement,’ Stephanie explains.  ‘We aim to foster sound working relationships with every local authority, to create the conditions where healthy partnerships can develop.

‘Of course, with tighter resources we’ll have to be realistic about what can be achieved. So we’ll focus on key, strategically important local authorities who are investing considerable sums in the arts.’

A Regional Planning Relationship Manager takes an overview of local government in the region, providing support and cascading knowledge to the relationship manager team.

While, on a national level, Richard Russell, Director of Strategic Partnerships, ensures that there is a two-way flow of information between national discussions at Whitehall, the Local Government Association - the national representative body for government - and the regions.

With the theory in place, how is this new way of working taking shape in practice? In the south east, Stephanie is working with Gail Brown, Arts Manager at Kent County Council. They have started by exploring shared goals and mapping out resources to help local authorities plan their future investment.

‘It feels like a more mature, equal relationship,’ Gail says. ‘Now we’re standing together and saying “we’re a strong sector and we can work together”. It’s more important than ever because it’s about sustainability.

‘The protocols and lines of communication are clearer so at a regional level we know who to talk to.’

Gail is the Chair of advocacy and research at NALGAO, the National Association of Local Government Arts Officers, which is responsible for providing support and leadership to the cultural sector nationally. NALGAO represents 415 members, most of whom are local government arts and culture officers and some are arts professional associate members such as National Campaign for the Arts, Audiences UK and professional artists.

Gail and her South East Regional co-Chair, Charlotte Gardiner - Arts Development Officer at Waverley Borough Council - are working with Stephanie and her team to ensure Arts Council England and NALGAO work together in campaigning for sustained arts investment from Government. 

'There’s no point in arts development officers doing work that isn’t in line with the Arts Council, who we look to for leadership,’ says Gail. 

‘We need to shout loud together about how the arts can benefit our communities, and work together to ensure sustainability, good governance and structure, and growing audiences.

‘We are all facing cuts. We need to find new ways of working, inspirational partnerships and look at how we can attract other investment to the arts.

‘From the south east perspective, working with Steph and her team, it’s positive because of the knowledge they bring. With people like her and Sally Abbott at the helm, you know you’re in good hands.’