£53m art row.

The Arts Council has been ordered to strengthen its financial expertise after allowing 15 major projects to overspend by £53m. The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the body’s lack of financial and project management expertise while dispersing £532m was ‘unacceptable’. MPs said the overspending and subsequent supplementary allocations ‘raise questions about the way the grant applications have been assessed by the Arts Council in the first place’. Prestige projects under investigation included London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre – now £16m over budget, and the Albert Hall – £9m over. Other financial difficulties surrounded refurbishment of the Royal Opera House, the committee demanded the Arts Council monitor the effectiveness of action they claim to be taking to put things right, including steps ‘to bolster their financial skills’. MPs were particularly concerned at a failure to stick to special conditions imposed to deal with particular risks – such as paying out £68m of a total £75.5m grant without a key special condition – the production of a revised business plan being met. They said they did not accept the Arts Council’s claim that construction industry difficulties could not have been anticipated. And they warned the financial stability of some beneficiary bodies ‘remains open to question’.

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