OCW accountability survey

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In May 2023, the Court of Audit published its investigation into the 2022 Annual Report and operations of the Ministry of OCW.

Every year, the Court of Audit examines the accountability of ministers in their annual reports for their spending, operations and policies. This involves questions about whether the money was spent and accounted for in the past year according to the rules, whether things were properly arranged in the department, and whether the policy produced the desired results.

The cultural policy is judged to be adequate although the monitoring of fair remuneration, according to the Fair Practice Code, could be better: "A conclusion from our research is that endorsing the code only means that institutions have to tick in their application to agree with the code. We saw that the secretary of state does not currently monitor whether applicants apply the code in practice. While institutions applying for larger grants must explain how they apply the code in their organization, this is not checked."

The cultural policy is rated as adequate although the control of fair remuneration, according to the Fair Practice Code, could be better

One of the factors perpetuating a poor working situation is the prevailing culture within the sector. The Court does note that mandatory adherence to the Fair Practice Code as a grant condition does contribute to awareness and culture change within the sector, which is reflected, among other things, in awareness of the code.

However, awareness alone is not enough to achieve fair pay in the sector. The ambitions of the sector, the production and quality requirements of funders and the available budget are currently not in balance. Although the state secretary demands that grant applicants pay fairly, she is not enforcing this as yet. Nor can she, because the code has not as yet been developed into standards for fair payment. Fair payment is therefore often the aspect on which cultural institutions first cut back when they cannot manage their budgets. The expectation is that more action will be needed from the secretary of state to permanently solve these problems.

As yet, the code has not been developed into standards for fair payment

To this end, the Court of Audit makes three recommendations:

  • Set a start date after which fair payment by subsidized institutions will be enforced.
  • Agree with the industry that enforceable fair payment standards must be agreed upon by that date.
  • Agree with other major funders on equalizing grant terms on fair pay.

The Court finds three bottlenecks to the proper observance of fair practice. First, the tension between production and fair pay. Budgets in the cultural sector are systematically too tight to meet all subsidy conditions and requirements, ultimately leaving insufficient room in the budget to pay people fairly. In part, the culture within the sector also plays a role: intrinsic drive is central to it. Creators have an image of what they want to make and what it should look like. When the budget for the project does not come in, they often decide to go ahead and do it for less money. There is also another cause.

The Court finds three bottlenecks to proper compliance with fair practice

For example, institutions regularly deal with multiple grantors and other funders, each with their own requirements. Those requirements are not always perceived as realistic. But when institutions budget realistically, they have less chance of getting a project funded, and for a small institution without project funding, its very existence is quickly threatened. As a result, institutions often choose to make do for less money, leaving insufficient for fair payment of their people. There are other incentives for institutions to do more than they have the budget for. For example, many cultural institutions depend on their visibility. Smaller institutions in particular are afraid of losing public profile if they do not produce anything new for a period of time, which in turn makes them less likely to be considered for future grant applications.

Also, when an initiële budget provides sufficient room for fair remuneration, it regularly does not work out that way in practice. Cultural institutions that depend entirely on grants and project-based income for funding have difficulty estimating in advance whether they will be able to cover the costs of the project. If, in the course of the project, it turns out that certain subsidies do not materialize, or that other income is disappointing, this often comes at the expense of the remuneration of those involved. Canceling a project is often not an option, partly because the institution has already incurred costs.

Also, when an initiële budget provides sufficient room for fair pay, it regularly does not work out that way in practice

According to the Court, to date there is a lack of collective consultation within the sector as a whole, which means that in many places there are still no agreements on what fair remuneration means. There is no binding collective bargaining agreement or clear guidelines for fair fees for hired self-employed workers. Also, the Fair Practice Code does not contain standards for fair remuneration of workers, but only more abstractly formulated values, making it sometimes difficult for institutions to assess whether they pay fairly and for workers to enter into discussions with their work or client about their remuneration. One of the reasons for this situation is the diversity of professions throughout the cultural and creative sector. The Court speaks of a vicious circle: precisely because workers in the sector are in a vulnerable position, they have little opportunity to unite and collectively agree on fair pay.

In her response to the Court of Audit's investigation, the State Secretary let it be known that extra money will be available for strengthening the labor market in the cultural and creative sector and keeping it attractive from the start of the new BIS period in 2025.

Download the Court of Audit's accountability study here

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