Friday, 11 January 2008

Councils, Balls and Humbug

Apparently the National Year of Reading was launched by the government this week. Three cheers, eh? Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said literacy is 'one of the best anti-poverty, deprivation and crime policies we can think of' and called for every employer, school, library, college and local authority to be involved. This is pretty rich: I refer you once more to Susan Hill's blog about libraries on Jan 2 (see links to the right).

Meanwhile, the British Council is going to disband its film, visual arts, drama, dance, design and literature departments, which serve to promote British culture worldwide and increase dialogue and cross-fertilisation, surely important in this global village of ours, and is now telling staff to focus on 'Progressive Facilitation', 'Market Intelligence Network', 'Knowledge Transfer Function' and so on. And no, I didn't make up any of that empty jargon.

To put the tin lid on it all, the Arts Council is reducing or removing grants to many worthwhile projects, including small independent publishers such as Anvil Press, Dedalus and Arcadia. Even so well-established a poetry imprint as Bloodaxe is, in the words of MD Neil Astley, 'scared stiff; you can't plan.' At least Tindall Street Press are OK - just as well, given that their first time author Catherine O'Flynn, won the Costa First Novel Prize with 'What Was Lost' (and it was also longlisted for the Booker). And why is the Arts Council being so mean with organisations for whom a few thousand pounds either way mean the difference between survival and going to the wall? It's because all those grants can go off to something so much more worthwhile. The Olympics. Yup. That cash-starved behemoth out in Docklands. Dontcha just wish we hadn't won that gig?

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