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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Arts Council told to 'get a grip'
National Centre for Popular Music, Sheffield
The National Centre for Popular Music was the biggest flop

England's Arts Council has been criticised after 13 of its 15 major projects went over-budget , costing 94m.

Arts Council England must get "a better grip", according to Conservative MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the House of Commons' committee of public accounts.

A catalogue of over-runs in time and money is detailed in a report to parliament by the National Audit Office.

Arts Council England said it was now "much tougher" and more ready to turn down funding applications as a result of its experiences.

A spokesman said the report was positive and most of its projects were "rip-roaring successes".

Two closed due to financial problems
Five more experiencing financial difficulties
Nine of 13 completed projects finished late
13 went a total of 94m over budget
Budget increases ranged from 2% to 58%
Arts Council gave extra 33m on top of original funding
Arts Council gave 337m of 650m total costs

But two high-profile arts centres have closed due to financial problems, nine of the 13 completed projects were finished late and Arts Council England used 33m of extra lottery money to bail out troubled schemes.

"There is no excuse for the escalating costs and delays that have dogged these projects, Mr Leigh said.

The projects that have been forced to close are the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield and the Dovecot Arts Centre in Stockton-on-Tees.

The 15m National Centre for Popular Music, which was supposed to have been a magnet for music-lovers with a raft of hands-on exhibits, had predicted that it would attract 400,000 visitors per year.

But only 100,000 went in its first six months and Arts Council England will only be able to recover 500,000 of the 11m it invested.

The government-backed body is attempting to put together a plan to reopen the Dovecot Arts Centre.

We have got a grip, our processes are much more robust, and we have learned lessons
Arts Council England spokesman

The report said most of the 15 major projects were delivering the "intended benefits in terms of... the number of performances and productions, the level of visitors, and the quality of the new facilities".

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, said: "But it is disappointing that two have had to close and that on most the construction work did not go to plan, with delays and cost overruns which resulted in 10 projects needing additional lottery funding."

An Arts Council England spokesman said: "The report states very clearly that we have got a grip, that our processes are much more robust, and that we have learned lessons.

"Some of those were hard lessons, but they were important lessons, particularly from these projects, which were very early projects in the history of the lottery."

The council would be "more sceptical" about plans for visitor projections, contracts and building ownership in the future, he said.

"We're much more ready to say 'no'," he added.

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