‘Relentless pursuit of the impossible’
A WORRYING report by the chief executive of the Culture Company - which was tasked with drawing up the programme for Londonderry’s year as the first ever UK City of Culture - gives rises to fears for the future of the project.
In her report to the board, Shona McCarthy expresses frustrations that the programme has been cut back, that instead of delivering the programme, staff are now writing reports about delivery, and that morale is so low that people who have worked hard to deliver may lose heart.
“That is the point we are fast approaching,” she writes.
She also warns that high-salaried positions have been filled, but that her overworked, under-valued and under-resourced staff are struggling with bureaucracy.
“The lines have become increasingly blurred between governance and delivery,” writes the CEO.
“There is an increasing level of micro-management, approvals processes and delegated authority agreements are being routinely ignored.
“I have worked with CC Board and my team to set up and manage structures that have clear lines of communication, clear financial thresholds and simple report through mechanisms. Papers are prepared well in advance for CC Board, Finance and Audit Committees.
“Recommendation: Going forward, I am seeking the support of the company Board to review the existing management structures of the company and its business, identify any gaps or weakness, jointly address these with the senior executive team so that we can provide assurance for all stakeholders that the company governance and management systems are robust and put a stop to the unchallenged narrative that there is a fault here. Renewed confidence in our processes assured so that we can get on with the job in hand.”
Budget and shortfall
The CEO’s report says project budget options “with inherent levels of risk” were presented to the board at a previous meeting and that “it is unfortunate that the nature of that meeting allowed limited time for full analysis/ discussion of the budget”.
It adds: “The board agreed Option 2b. This option showed a £1.17m shortfall (before any bids to the Project Optimism bias), approval was given to publish the cultural programme on the basis that efforts to raise additional funds would continue and that the programme could be scaled to income secured.
“Issue: There is a current overall project shortfall of £1.17m. The options for addressing this need to be fully understood, discussed and actions on a way forward agreed.
“Actions taken: As recommended by the board, my team has carried out a number of significant scaling back exercises on the programme.”
This section of the report later says: “The programme delivery to date has surpassed all expectation...Further programme cuts will start to affect benefits realization.”
The third section of the CEO’s report says the core staff resource was capped at 18 when Derry City Council committed to cover the running costs.
Under the sub-heading ‘Issue’ the report continues: “The Company has been seriously under-staffed since August 2012. The strain and demand on the existing team is not sustainable. We have been in full delivery mode since the programme was launched in October 2012. The OB is being allocated for additional HR support but without assurances or agreements. To date there has not been any additional delivery staff recruited through the released OB funds.
“There is a concern that, given the large amount of the OB being retained by DCC, more high level/ oversight focused roles will be procured when the priority is to normalize the workloads of the existing team and ensure delivery of the year.
“Actions taken: In August we were asked by our board and stakeholders to identify the human resources required...This was submitted in September 2012. In the meantime we have had to use thousands of pounds from DCAL programming funds to address the need for producers and delivery costs. In October we devised a tender for event production/ project management support, this was suspended on advice from one of the consultants to the Project Director.
“We were advised in November of last year that the only avenue for securing additional human resource would be from the project OB. We were also advised that the ask from OB would be led by DCC but would have to be presented as an agreed proposition with Culture Company.
“We provided the breakdown of the additional support needed and have been told within the last fortnight that £553k has been agreed for additional human resource for the project. £234k of that will be for delivery support at production level with Culture Company.
“The rest of the money will be retained by DCC; we have not yet seen a breakdown for how the £320k will be allocated. We have repeatedly sought to secure the additional human resources for the project; we have secured people through secondment, internships, and volunteer efforts.”
Ms McCarthy recommended that the Culture Company should revert to the staffing structure agreed with external consultants and “the DCC Project Director” back in November.
In section four of the report, the CEO says the Culture Company was repeatedly being asked to produce Project Delivery plans, adding that there would never be a point where there is a complete and perfect plan.
“If there is ever to be an overall combined project delivery plan, then we had understood that would be in the remit of the DCC Project Director, in fact it was the SRO’s need for a combined project delivery plan that prompted the recruitment of this role.”
She then wrote: “The issue: The flawed expectation and relentless pursuit of the impossible, i.e. a guaranteed risk-free City of Culture project; and a perfect written account of every aspect and every detail of the project.
“The obsessive attention to risk has ironically neglected to consider arguably the greatest risk to the project, that the team who has created the programme over the past 18 months will become so demoralised that they lose heart in the entire effort. This is the point that we are fast approaching.
“With no increase in the staff resource we have had to choose between delivering and writing about delivery.”
Ms McCarthy said plans had delivered for a number of events including Sons and Daughters, adding that there are detailed project delivery plans in place for other medium and small-scale events.
Staff morale and motivation
In a final section, the CEO writes that “the lack of additional resource, over-working and under-valuing of the existing staff team has led to low morale, and the risk of people leaving the project at a critical time”.
She adds: “The issue: Constant messaging that we are not delivering, underperforming or need further scrutiny. Lack of direct delivery support where it is needed. Two tier value system. Lack of a structured communication channel with senior DCC staff with a responsibility for the project.
“Senior staff time absorbed by bureaucracy, governance and risk management, leaving less time for managing and support of line managees.”
She recommended: “That a clear and strong message is sent to all CC staff that additional support will be delivered. That this will complement and support their work, not undermine it. Their skillsets, expertise, and industry knowledge and experience are valued and respected.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Londonderry
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: South west