Argyll and Bute Council has just delivered a typical misaligned appointment in the award of a £20k tender for a consultant to deliver ‘a strategic action plan for the heritage, arts, culture and tourism sector in Argyll.’
The tender brief is as elastic an all-embracing piece of waffle as you could conjure if you were a satirist – and if you looked at what it optimistically hopes to get for its money, you realise just how little understanding anyone at the council has of the nature of culture and of its role in society.
Being ignorant is, to a degree, beyond one’s personal control. It lies at various points on an axis of opportunity and interest. The council is to be commended for realising that there is a serious gap in its strategic provision for Argyll; and for trying to do the best they could to address this.
However, if you know nothing yourself, it is an obvious imperative that you appoint someone who knows what you do not.
In this case the council has laboured and spent to produce a perfectly vacuous initiative.
Knowing nothing of the nature of the issues concerned, the Council – aided and abetted by joint funder HIE – has selected a bidder who equally has no given knowledge, expertise or experience of the cultural sector; and no evident track record of work in it.
Moreover, they do not appear to have any serious knowledge of Argyll – and this is not a place like anywhere else.
We have no knowledge of the shortlist for the tender but it is unimaginable that there were not capable, experienced and informed alternatives for so complex and specific a job.
The full brief for the tender is here – and the ‘Total quantity or scope of tender’ section [under ‘Full Notice Text’] contains no more than a repetition of the three paragraphs of the brief Introduction. And as for ‘Further Info’…
A more inept and less adequate guidance for bidders would be hard to find but hey, it’s only public money.
Below is the ‘Introduction’ to the job – which remains the only substantive information for potential bidders. It’s supposed to be an ‘Abstract’ [from what?[ and it is certainly everything that word calls up.
‘Argyll and Bute Council is seeking to appoint a consultant or consortium to deliver a strategic action plan for the heritage, arts, culture and tourism sector in Argyll.
‘This will be achieved through effective collaborative working with a wide range of stakeholders in the cultural sector in Argyll and partners at a national and local level, linking the valuable work they carry out with the current public sector strategies for the sector.
‘This work will help to gain full engagement from relevant stakeholders and articulate the sector’s ambitions for creativity in Argyll. In addition the action plan will articulate the economic contribution of the arts, heritage, culture and creative industries in Argyll including the potential increase in cultural tourism.’
What the successful bidder delivers in response to this will make entertaining reading somewhere down the line.
Ah yes, the successful bidder.
That is ‘Business Tourism Solutions‘ based in Edinburgh.
Look at their website, linked above and see what they say about themselves.
Read the details on each of the photographed company team and then on the listed specialists they call upon as and when.
Not one of them has any background in the arts, culture or heritage – three quarters of the four areas of expertise harnessed into a single brief.
Together they do summon a profile to approach a tourism-focused consultancy, which covers 25% of the field of the brief.
The information on available personnel provides a clue as to how this appointment has come about. One of the ‘as and when’ specialists is Sue Crossman, who, if memory serves us right, presented to an early Argyll and the Isles Tourism Summit in the gloom of the Corran Halls in Oban.
This event was effectively run by Argyll and Bute Council; and Sue Crosman’s presentation on Tourism Intelligence Scotland [for which she works] – a superb resource – was, to us at least, the most interesting element of the event.
This would suggest that the drowning know-nots of the council grabbed onto the life raft of someone they had seen at work and whose expertise centred on the least ethereal of the four subjects in the brief – tourism.
That’s practical – but added to the nature of the brief, suggests that the place in the outcome of the arts, culture and heritage will be subordinated – and has now certainly become so – to the tourism business.
The arts, culture and heritage can whore with the best but they are each essentially much more than the producers of products to sell. They can do this, of course – and triumphantly – but there’s a lot more to it than that.
These things often become a poncers paradise, talking a language and cloaking themselves in a glutinous pretension that, deliberately, excludes people and makes them feel unable.
The best of them is muscular, robust, engaged, mysterious maybe [and what’s wrong with the lure of the unknown] – and often ‘difficult’. The things that form us are never the easy ones. But this does not mean that that life we refer to as ‘the arts, culture and heritage’ is accessible only to the few.
The key to the door is realising that there is no ‘right’ answer, only the interest in finding your own and in discovering that that ‘answer’ is valuable to yourself. In this world too many Emperors are naked and when that is your personal ‘answer’ to an experience – provided it is not born of defensiveness rather than openness – it is as valuable to you as any other would have been. Not everyone has the courage to nail a pseud.
No authority at any level can hope to create conditions for these agents that move us across time, place and experience to flourish and to enhance society – and economic development – without understanding what they are and what they can do.
So – ‘E’ for effort, with great interest in what emerges for our £20k.