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ENO given two years to put its house in order

Arts Council England issues blunt warning to English National Opera

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The London Coliseum, home of English National Opera

English National Opera's press release today celebrates the fact that it will receive £30.5m over two years as part of a special arrangement from Arts Council England. "This figure represents the first two years of funding requested by ENO in its original NPO application."

While it's true ACE has granted ENO a special deal to help it through the next two years, there's a bit more to it than ENO has chosen to say in its brief and carefully spun announcement.

ACE itself adopts a more punitory tone: "English National Opera [...] will not be admitted into its national portfolio of organisations for 2015-18. Instead they will be placed under special funding arrangements".

The ‘national portfolio' is the list of organisations that ACE supports, and as of today ENO's name no longer figures within it. Instead, the company faces a 24-month probationary period during which every detail of its accounts will be scrutinised monthly and, mandatorily, competent new senior managers recruited. "Entry to the portfolio at a later date will be possible, but will depend on the extent of progress made." In other words, if the company fails to satisfy ACE, it will end up with nothing and that will be the end of ENO as we know it.

"serious concerns about their governance and business model"

Sharp recent cuts in English National Opera's funding occasioned the submission of a new development model, but according to ACE "a number of significant risks associated with the proposed business plan remain", along with the widely publicised "uncertainty about ENO's senior leadership team.

"No one is doubting that ENO is capable of extraordinary artistic work but we have serious concerns about their governance and business model and we expect them to improve or they could face the removal of our funding."

The St Martin's Lane company will be an organisation in flux over the next two years, then, and the power wielded by John Berry, who has tended to behave more like an all-encompassing European intendant than a UK-style artistic director, will come under especial scrutiny.

ENO's acting chairman, Harry Brunjes, has welcomed the new funding plan and states that the board "will continue to work closely with Arts Council England to inspire confidence in our future plans, the management of the Company and the London Coliseum".