In straitened economic times, the services on which public money is spent rightly comes under close scrutiny. We have a right to know what our still relatively scarce public resources are being spent on, and journalists have a professional duty to provide us with this information, and to comment upon it.
In the field of book publishing, the main state funder is the Arts Council. This organisation has received remarkable little scrutiny over the years, in either bad or good economic times. (In fact, in my twenty years working in publishing, I have only once seen a detailed investigation into the workings of the organisation – by, to her great credit, Rosita Boland.) I may have missed some coverage, but not much, I suggest. The lack of investigative reporting in this area is perhaps not as surprising as it may appear: the journalist writing a critical piece one day might be applying for a grant for their novel the next – or their publisher might be.
In recent months, Liberties Press has received significant media attention in relation to various aspects of its business (attention which is wholly out of proportion to its size and influence, but that’s another story). The funding the company has received from the Arts Council over the years formed part of this coverage. Despite my requests, the journalists who wrote the initial article have given no attention, either at the time or since, to the funding offered to any other publisher, nor to the business dealings of any of these publishers – or to those of any non-funded publisher, for that matter.
Over the twelve days of Christmas, I will be tweeting details of funding received by publishers over the past eight years. These tweets are not intended as an attack on any of the organisations named, nor on the Arts Council itself (or its director or any of its executive officers or other staff). In some cases, the awards have been justified, and the money received has been well spent. I repeat: these tweets do not constitute an attack on any individual or organisation, but rather an effort, albeit a small one, to draw attention to what the state is spending our money on.
This course of action may be seen as sour grapes on my part, given the fact that Liberties Press has been offered nothing in the current round of funding, and, unlike most of the companies on the list, has never received more than e20,000 in any one year. So be it. (The company has, in my view, never been offered funding commensurate with its efforts to provide opportunities for authors and their work over the years, or the quality of its publishing output. Again, that’s another story.)
All the funding information I intend to put forward is available through the Arts Council’s website. For whatever reason, no one (journalists, authors, publishers or state agencies) has ever made much effort to publicise it. In fact, the reason for this is, I think, fairly clear: it is not in the interests of the members of a cosy little club to advertise who the members of that club are, or how much each member of the club receives from it.
I am not deluded enough to think that my efforts in this regard will do much to change the situation immediately. Nonetheless, I hope that they stimulate some public debate on the important issue of funding for the arts in this country – an issue in which I have been personally involved for nearly twenty years.