Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Arts Council chair in ‘conflict of interest’ row

By Brett Campbell

The chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has come under fire over a potential conflict of interest.

Members of advocacy group ArtsMatterNI raised concerns after John Edmund revealed details of work for the Nerve Centre in Londonderry.

He declared in the Arts Council’s register of interests an “assignment for the Nerve Centre on workforce planning for NI Screen industries commenced 1st April 2018 and due to end on 1st June 2018”.

Conor Shields of ArtsMatterNI, which lobbies politicians and funding providers, said it  had “obvious” questions about Mr Edmund’s  role with the creative media arts centre in Derry.

“Whilst many Arts Council board members have made various declarations, is it appropriate for the Arts Council chairperson to work for an organisation in direct receipt of annual funding from the Arts Council?” he asked.

“Is NI Screen, also in receipt of funds, formally part of this assignment too?”

He also asked: “Does the acceptance of this assignment not constitute a real conflict of interest that cannot simply be declared?”

Mr Shields called for the Department for Communities, which funds the Arts Council, to comment on the matter.

The Arts Council passed two votes of no confidence in Mr Edmund at the end of 2017 and staged a series of walkouts from turbulent meetings.

It came amid public criticism of him over a speech he made in which he said arts groups were too dependent on Government handouts.

It sparked outrage in the sector, which has been left reeling from budget cuts. However, Mr Edmund resisted calls to quit.

Mr Shields questioned whether the consultant marketing veteran had “seriously undermined” governance protocols within the organisation.

“At a time when the Arts Council has presided over cuts to 43 annual funding programme organisations across the sector, is it appropriate that the chair of the Arts Council personally enters into a potentially lucrative contract with an Arts Council annual funding programme client?” he said.

“The arts sector, our local citizens and every taxpayer who contributes to public funding should be confident that Northern Ireland’s principal funder of the arts has robust and appropriate checks and balances on their procurement and appointments — especially concerning those charged with its governance.

“There remain questions as to how confident we actually might be.”

No one from the Department for Communities was available for comment when contacted last night.

The Arts Council said Mr Edmund was unavailable this week and that it would not be commenting on the matter until the chairman has had a chance to respond.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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