ACE's annual report covers the year ended 31st March, 2002, the day before the new Arts Council, incorporating the former Regional Arts Boards, came into existence. As, therefore, the new organisation has only been going for eight months, it is clearly too early to make judgements about the success or otherwise of the merger. What the report does, however, is to make clear its cost: £2,152,000, of which £1,291,000 was for professional fees - payments to consultants, lawyers and so on. We have to presume, too, that there will be costs involved during the current financial year which will be revealed in the next annual report.

What is worrying is that one of the main aims of the creation of the new organisation was to reduce administration costs and increase the amount spent on the arts. During the year in question, not only did we have the inevitable rise of pay in accordance with inflation (and more), we also had this extra £2.15m - and that does not take into account all the salaries paid to staff of the RABs, nor the RABs' admin costs.

Perhaps it is unfair to attack ACE on the basis of an extraordinary situation; perhaps we will see, in the report for the current year, the admin savings promised. But one does have to wonder how many years it will take for that £2.15m to be paid back by the promised savings. And we must also wonder how many companies or organisations will go to the wall when part of that £2.15m might have saved them. And the thought of £1.29m being paid to consultants does annoy.

There are, however, some good things to emerge from the report: the success of the Recovery and Stabilisation programmes, the Artsmark, the Lottery Awards for All programme, the Regional Arts Lottery Programme (RALP), the joint efforts of ACE and the Sports Council in the Space for Sport and the Arts programme (which provides much needed facilities for primary schools), the Creative Partnerships pilot (which brings together schools and professional artists), and numerous other initiatives.

And ACE is a lot leaner than it was some years ago, when an additional building was required to house the staff working on the Lottery grants, as Great Peter Street was too small. Now 45 staff are employed in Lottery activity at a cost of £1,779,000. In addition, management, support and administration costs totalled just under 6% of grant-in-aid and other non-Lottery income, which is a reasonable figure.

ACE in 2002-2002, according to the evidence of this report and as compared to ACE five years and more ago, is a much improved organisation. Whether the new organisation, which came into being on 1st April, will be effective in its avowed aims is something we must wait to see at this time next year.