§ 8. Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
What proportion of the South East Arts budget for 2000–01 is spent on administration. 
§ The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)
The actual figures for 2000–01 will not be available until the audited accounts arc released later this year. I understand that the forecast figure for operating costs is £1.642 million out of a total expenditure of £7.21 million. Operating costs are therefore estimated at 23 per cent. of the South East Arts budget for the year.
§ Mr. Blunt
Does the Minister appreciate that, between 1999 and 2000, there was a 30 per cent. increase in 573 administration costs—representing a doubling of the 2000 figure—and that a 25 per cent. administration charge by a major charity would be of significant concern? Given that the treasurer of the local music society writes to me to report that it takes up to two years to get a grant of £500 or £1,000, that the grant application form is a major piece of creative writing and that it Counts only if he has had discussions with the bureaucrats at South East Arts before its completion, there is some evidence for his conclusions that South East Arts isself-serving, intolerably wasteful and inefficient".Will the Minister inquire into the administration of South East Arts?
§ Mr. Howarth
The hon. Gentleman is very disparaging about South East Arts, but it does a very great deal of very useful work. Of course the figure for administrative costs is much too high. We are working to bring it down, principally by increasing grant in aid to South East Arts. That provision was so niggardly under the previous Government that spending on administration was inevitably a very high proportion of South East Arts total budget. We increased its grant by 16.7 per cent. last year, and have done so by 31 per cent. in the present year. The Arts Council is reducing the number of special programmes that carry high administrative costs. We are setting targets for the reduction of administrative costs and we have asked the quality and efficiency standards team—QUEST—to offer advice.
I should add that the task of South East Arts has been made significantly harder as a result of the hon. Gentleman"s local authority—Reigate and Banstead borough council—last year withdrawing its contribution to South East Arts and its support for the arts development officer in his area, which South East Arts co-funded. Support for the arts must be a partner ship between central and local government. If the hon. Gentleman"s borough council refuses to play its part, heavier administrative and financing costs inevitably fall on South East Arts. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) should be concerned, because his constituency covers that council, too. Is he happy that Conservative-controlled local authorities should behave in such a way?