The price is not right

<p>Cutting government support for writers was never going to make a major contribution towards balancing the nation's books. With Public Lending Right being allocated &pound;7.45m per year by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and with a few grants from the Arts Council being thrown in, the total sum saved would barely have been sufficient to keep an aircraft-carrier in nuts and bolts.&nbsp; </p>
<p>Nevertheless, PLR is precious to writers. Although modest by the standards of government support for literature in other European countries, and despite being capped at &pound;6,600, it can make an important contribution to a writer's income. This was why, despite appreciating the challenges faced by the DCMS, the Society of Authors invited writers to sign a statement urging Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, to take into account that PLR is a statutory right&mdash;not to mention a frontline service. Four thousand five hundred writers duly did so.</p>
<p>Bearing in mind the full swingeing scale of cuts in the public sector, we were not immoderately disappointed to learn that PLR funding is to fall by around 6% over the next four years&mdash;equivalent to something like 15% in real terms. Realistically, I suppose, we could not have hoped for much better.</p>
<p>Which is not to say, however, that all is joy unconfined. In mid-October, DCMS announced that, as part of its contribution to the so-called bonfire of the quangos, the responsibilities of the PLR Office would be transferred to &quot;another body&rdquo;. The government's stated aim in eliminating 19 of its 55 public bodies was &quot;to increase transparency, accountability and efficiency&rdquo;. Unfortunately for writers the effect of abolishing PLR will be precisely the opposite.</p>
<p>The Registrar of PLR, Jim Parker, and his staff of nine in Stockton-on-Tees run an impeccably courteous and efficient service. The running costs have been reduced sharply in the last couple of years. Naturally, it would be wonderful if the costs could be reduced still further&mdash;and yet in truth, it is very hard to see that there is more fat to be cut, given the need to run a registry, collect library loans data from all over Britain, and make payments to 24,000 authors every year. It is only fair to add that members, as soon as we alerted them to this misconceived proposal, sent in a flurry of emails confirming that the PLR Office is by far the most efficient public service with which they ever have dealings.</p>
<p>If the plan cannot be stopped&mdash;and the Society of Authors hopes that it still can&mdash;then a way must be found to ensure that the PLR Office, in whatever mutated form it is to take, continues to provide a first class and highly economical service to authors. Certainly, it would be ironic, and yet not wholly surprising, if an attempt to cut running costs only resulted in bureaucracy and inefficiency.</p>