What's it worth? Bribery in the Arts
Now, you’re probably reading this and thinking “Fat chance that this will apply to me”. After all, when was the last time you heard of an arts manager being ‘bought’ – there’s hardly going to be a betting scam on the curtain down time of One Man, Two Guvnors at the National, is there?
Well, think again. The UK Bribery Act, which came into force on 1st July, asks all companies to keep records of ‘gifts’ received by directors and staff. Cleary designed to stop backhanders that may influence multi-million pound business deals, it seems that there’s a law of unintended consequences situation brewing here.
Last week’s Birmingham Post headlined with details of hospitality enjoyed by senior officers and councillors at Birmingham City Council. The implication seemed to be that these were perks designed to influence decision-making at the Council. Clearly some of the people listed are key influencers and decision-makers in the city, so from my perspective it was good to see that they had attended performances by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Royal Ballet, amongst others, at Symphony Hall and the Birmingham Hippodrome.
They were often guests of local businesses that had been sufficiently enlightened to see that sponsoring events, or becoming corporate members, is a wonderful way to support their local arts organisations, and to entertain influencers and their guests in a relaxed and enjoyable setting. But what if this became seen as a bribe? What if the mere act of having to record such hospitality opportunities meant that politicians and officers turned down invitations: would this stop companies sponsoring the arts?
Sadly, there’s increasing anecdotal evidence that this is precisely the case. I know of two local sponsors who are reconsidering their support of arts organisations because they can’t secure the quality of guests they seek to bring to events, as these guests are so worried about the implications of the Bribery Act. I know some of the potential guests, and find it hard to believe that they are worried because there is some sort of impropriety waiting to be uncovered; instead, they’ve made the judgement that it’s just not worth the hassle of having to fill in registers and potentially have to defend their decision to have a night at the theatre following Freedom of Information requests.
So, yet another Government policy having an unintended negative impact on the arts sector. If anyone knows of other instances of this happening, please get in touch. Perhaps it’s worth building a body of evidence to submit to DCMS so that they can lobby on our behalf. I shouldn’t think that anyone thought this through when the Act was put in place, so we have to highlight such instances. After all, wasn’t it David Cameron who declared war on red tape earlier this year and pledged to leave Government with companies in a better state to grow their income than when he arrived?