Agenda Item No


The Vale of Glamorgan Council

Cabinet Meeting: 16 June, 2014

Report of the Cabinet Member for Leisure, Parks, Culture and Sports Development

Arts Connect Collaboration – Progress Review and Renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding


Purpose of the Report

1.         To provide an update of the progress achieved by the Arts Connect collaboration and to consider the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding until March 2015.


1.         That Cabinet notes the progress of the Arts Connect collaboration over the past two years and considers extending the Memorandum of Understanding for a further year to March 2015.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To assess progress made to date and agree a way forward.


2.         Cabinet agreed in November 2011 to join a collaborative arts service called 'Arts Connect'.  Arts Connect is a partnership between four local authorities: Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, the Vale of Glamorgan and Rhondda Cynon Taf.

3.         Arts Connect has been in operation since March 2012 and is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which ended on 31 March 2014. The collaboration is led by the Rhondda Cynon Taf Arts Service, supported by a Leadership Group (of officers) and a Member Group (one elected Cabinet Member from each Council). The Arts Council of Wales, Welsh Government and Welsh Local Government Association are also members of the Leadership Group.

4.         A new MoU (Appendix A) has been drafted by Rhondda Cynon Taf to extend the agreement to March 2015. The new MoU is essentially no different from the former one, but new partners have been invited to join – Caerphilly and Torfaen Councils. These authorities have not yet agreed to the collaboration and are still considering their potential membership. 

Relevant Issues and Options

5.         This is the first arts development collaboration of its kind in local government in the UK. The first two years of the collaboration have not been without difficulties, although there have been some successes.  Two recent Welsh Government arts-related initiatives in particular are worthy of mention.   

6.         Arts Connect Officers have played a key part in the consultation process of two recently developed research documents for the Welsh Government, ‘Arts in Education in the Schools of Wales’ by Professor Dai Smith, published in September 2013, and ‘Harnessing the power of the arts, culture and heritage to promote social justice in Wales’ by Baroness Kay Andrews, published in March 2014.

7.         The Arts in Education report was jointly commissioned by the Minister for Education and Skills and the then Minister for Housing Regeneration and Heritage. Following a year long review, it was the first in-depth report looking at the relationship between the arts and education sectors in Wales, the UK and internationally. The report contains a number of recommendations, the central focus being for the Welsh Government to affirm and highlight the importance of the arts in education. The evidence compiled in the review reaffirmed that a creative, arts-rich approach to teaching helps to deliver improved literacy and numeracy. The Minister for Culture and Sport and the Minster for Education and Skills have since expressed a commitment to working closely with the arts and education sectors, and other key partners, in taking the report forward. This has resulted in the Welsh Government engaging Estyn to undertake a best practice review of the arts in schools during 2014, and the Arts Council of Wales, following discussion with the Welsh Government, commissioning a ‘toolkit’ that support arts practitioners and teachers in using the arts to improve the standards of literacy and numeracy in schools.

8.         The ‘Harnessing the power of the arts’ review investigates the ways in which cultural and heritage bodies can work more closely together to broaden access to, appreciation of and participation in culture, thereby contributing to reducing poverty. The report complements and builds on the Arts in Education report.  It is anticipated that the Welsh Government will publish a detailed response and action plan to this report in July 2014, in parallel with its response to the ‘Arts in Education’ report.

9.         The Vale Council’s Arts Development service has responded to reviews independently and as part of Arts Connect.  There is no doubt however that Arts Connect has strengthened the local authority arts services’ voice and profile within the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh Government departments, the Welsh Local Government Association, Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association (CLOA), Creative and Cultural Skills, Sector Skills Councils, Careers Wales, Arts Development UK and other relevant agencies

10.      Nevertheless, the question still remains: Has Arts Connect delivered improvements in the delivery of the arts for the Vale? This is explored below in the form of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis.

11.      The strengths of this collaboration for the Vale have included:

·               Networking opportunities for a lone Arts Development Officer (currently supported by an Arts Intern).

·               Improved regional communication for the development of arts activities.

·               Increased recognition for the arts nationally, with a launch event attended by the First Minister.

·               'Being Creatively Active' - arts activities aimed at older people with dementia and Looked After Children across the four councils, for which Arts Council funding has been awarded (£30K, divided across the four councils, providing the Vale with a grant worth £7.5K). There has been significant impact on health and well-being, social interaction, creativity, learning and skills development, confidence and team building, encouraging reminiscence, improving memory recall and mental health capacity and providing enjoyment for the participants involved in these projects.

·               Singer Songwriter competition - participation by local young people, master classes delivered by key musicians from the industry, leading to recording contract opportunities in some cases.

·               A Venues Forum, in which some of our third sector theatres participate.

12.      There have been a number of weaknesses in the collaboration that have not been addressed, despite being raised in the Leadership Group:

·               Arts Connect has developed joint theatre programming, but the Vale has not been able to take advantage of this, as the collaboration has consistently declined to work with venues that are in the third sector (Barry Memorial Hall, St Donats, and more recently Penarth Pier Pavilion).

·               Lack of a website and social media presence. Although there is a marketing group, this focuses primarily on Council-run theatres only (no joint working with third sector venues).

·               There has been limited joint marketing - only theatres which are council-operated.

·               RCT, as the lead council, has maintained a strong lead, but has until recently been unable to delegate work to other Councils who have other strengths (such as the Vale's web and social media presence - however, we are currently developing a page for Arts Connect use on the Vale’s website).

·               The collaboration has not developed a joint vision or strategic plan.

·               The Venues Forum isn't highly rated by our third sector partners; other networks, such as Creu Cymru (a collaborative network developing a vibrant, progressive theatre and arts centre sector and Continued Professional Development for communities and professionals in Wales) have more to offer and are more willing to engage with third sector venues.

·               There is poor communication between the partner organisations; for example, in the Being Creatively Active project, where RCT officers consulted social services staff, but failed to get final agreement on funding contributions. As a result the project nearly fell through in the Vale.

·               The Vale has sometimes been left out of initiatives, as there is a perception that the Council would not fund them (for example; It’s My Shout Productions Ltd, who specialise in working with young people in the community to annually produce up to 30 short films for television and screen for the BBC, S4C UK Film Council and the Arts Council of Wales.)

·               There is a lack of useful measures of benefits of the collaboration.

·               There has been no impact on the provision of public art as a result of being a part of the collaboration. However, the arts team in the Vale organised and hosted one of only two Wales wide conferences at Art Central Barry together with Ixia Public Art , Crew and the Arts Council of Wales that benefited the Arts Connect Area and interested parties further afield.

13.      There remain some opportunities for the Vale, if the collaboration were working more effectively, with a clear strategic plan:

·               New partners, such as those in the third sector or other councils, and with other departments within the current member group (such as Cynon Valley Museum in RCT, who remained outside the partnership as it wasn’t within the arts section of the council. This venue has since closed).

·               The potential for joint theatre programming with the third sector, and joint exhibitions.

·               Opportunities to grow audiences with real joined-up marketing, including the use of the web and social media.

·               The opportunity for efficiency savings through joined up working, such as one box office (to include third sector venues) through a contact centre.

14.      However, there remain a number of potential threats to the success of the collaboration:

·               Williams Commission/Cardiff & Vale footprint - Cardiff is not a partner in the collaboration. (However, CLOA, the ACW and the WLGA hold a dialogue with Arts Connect as part of the South Central region).

·               Protectionism - remaining within local authority silos.

·               Austerity agenda and cuts to the arts venues and budgets.

·               Councils within the collaboration placing their theatres into trusts.

15.      The current proposal is for a one-year extension to the Memorandum of Understanding under the same terms as previously. Following this extension year, it is expected that Rhondda Cynon Taf will suggest that further regional collaboration is undertaken and that partnership funding is potentially identified for collaborative projects from arts development budgets for Arts Council of Wales or other such funding applications.

Sustainability Implications, including Climate Change

16.      None as a direct result of this report.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

17.      Other than staffing (currently an Arts Development Officer and an Arts Intern), no further resources would be committed by extending the Memorandum of Understanding. Expenditure would be considered on a project-by-project basis, and determined in the light of available resources and the value of the project to the Vale.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

18.      The Memorandum of Understanding stipulates (paragraph 9.2) that it may be terminated by any of the partners by giving 3 months notice. However, by agreeing to extend it until March 2015, it would be reasonable for the Council to comply with its provisions until then.

Crime and Disorder Implications

19.      Participation in arts activities can reduce crime and anti-social behaviour. The Youth Offending Service has developed links with arts development and has undertaken various arts activities.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

20.      Older people and people from deprived backgrounds are less likely to participate in the arts. As arts participation has a positive impact on well-being and community cohesion, positive action to provide opportunities is required.

Corporate/Service Objectives

21.      The Corporate Plan includes an action (CL4) to develop operational partnerships with other Councils to promote shared service provision.

Policy Framework and Budget

22.      This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

23.      Consultation has been undertaken with the Vale Arts Forum and no adverse comments have been recived.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

24.      Corporate Resources

Background Papers

Memorandum of Understanding 2014-15

Contact Officer

Tracey Harding Arts Development Officer - 01446 709805

Officers Consulted

Head of Performance and Development

Responsible Officer: Sian Davies, Managing Director