Skip to content

Letter Zijlstra is just a request for information. But it does include a tickable invitation to suicide

Has state secretary Halbe Zijlstra the Lower House lied or misled in June when he stated that rushing through the culture cuts was necessary to absorb friction costs? Or does it just turn out to be improper governance?

Letters, sent on 16 September to institutions that are possibly affected, raise that question. To those cultural institutions, which from 2013 will receive no or less structural state subsidy, the state secretary offers to use the money left for their activities to wind down those activities, buy out commitments made and severance payments. So using money earmarked by a previous government for salaries and activities for 'friction costs'. That sounds bizarre, especially if we recall the past history.

June 2011

At the request of its digging partner PVV, the cabinet wanted to intervene in the cultural world faster and extra heavily. So while ongoing agreements had been made until the end of 2014, Zijlstra wants to get rid of 1/3 of the institutions and jobs for 20,000 independent entrepreneurs as early as 1 January 2013. The chamber was as shocked as the sector. After all, the Culture Note ran until 2015, institutions had planned accordingly, signed contracts and had already started the work for which the subsidy is intended. There was shouting and lobbying and when that did not help, they asked for a postponement. The companies and institutions can then prepare for a future with less funding from the state. It will also give them time to look for other sources of funding and more cooperation.

The secretary of state's rebuttal rested on two pillars. That early implementation was partly driven by local governments, as their multi-year budgets were just entering 2013. Local governments needed to know what to expect in 2015. Those same municipalities and provinces did not know how quickly they had to distance themselves from this argument, when it turned out that it was precisely this that mainly translated into a rigorous acceleration of the haircut, but Zijlstra had a second argument. In More than quality: a new vision for cultural policy he writes bluntly to the House and diametrically opposed to the advice of the Culture Council:

With a 2013 start, the resources are also available to accompany this process properly. Otherwise, the friction costs in the current years will have to be recovered from all institutions. The government is therefore not adopting the Council's proposal to observe a transition period until the end of 2015.

In the House of Representatives, he repeated this argument, adding

Given the tone of this debate, it is better to be sure as soon as possible what will stand and what will not.

Zijlstra finds angry culture people scary would rather get rid of them today than tomorrow. Reluctantly, but by a majority, the State Secretary's note was adopted. Now the latest quote appears to be the new norm.

September 2011

In anticipation of a final decision, the state secretary sent a letter (of which there seem to be three variants, we're looking into it, but it smells of divide and conquer) to dozens of institutions and companies in mid-September, suggesting they use the current budget for any friction costs.

This is curious, for a lot of reasons. After all, how can you decide to use your current budget for friction costs when you do not yet know exactly what your new budget will be, and therefore do not know how many people you will have to lay off? Even more remarkably, the ministry is asking those who have been notified to indicate where the costs lie within a month by means of "an overall proposal for coverage". In doing so, they are summoned to mainly sell the assets - buildings, halls, office premises - not to be forgotten. And downright disturbing is that this should tick:

I want to use the opportunity to use the remainder of the grant for the period 2009 - 2012 to phase out activities.

So ahead of a decision on that possible grant, it is already being asked to put its head on the guillotine.

Comments couldn't be more forthcoming. The Utrecht production house Huis en Festival a/d Werf informed us:

To make it clear through an unclear letter that we will not get any more money, and if we want to, we can also wind down our activities already in 2012 and use our subsidy money/reserves for friction costs, is improper to say the least.

We get subsidies to train, support and present makers until the very last moment. Should we stop this now so that OCW has to pay out as little friction money as possible? No. Our year is jam-packed with makers, activities and the festival and we are not blowing anything off here. We are now working on future scenarios but still so preliminary that it will certainly not be clear where this is going before 1 January.

The ministry also forgets that they are not the only funder but that municipality, province and fund also have an arrangement with many cultural institutions. This is improper towards the sector. In doing so, OCW is obliged with these heavy cuts to make a social plan together with the social partners, reserve friction costs and take its responsibility.

Also Labour Party-Member of Parliament Jette Klijnsma responded immediately, stating:

If this goes ahead, subsidies in 2012 will no longer be spent on productions and programming but on severance payments. That means the cuts to culture will take effect even earlier.

In that, she is right, but she is wrong when she states that the ministry cannot simply come up with other spending targets for the subsidies without the Chamber having discussed them. Indeed, Zijlstra is not proposing that.

The ministry subsidises companies and institutions to realise a cultural product. This involves an organisation, which of course has a business operation, and this includes possible severance payments and other friction costs. OK, those costs suddenly become very large because of the Cabinet proposals, but that too is part of operational management, especially in times of crisis. At least, that will be Zijlstra's reaction and there is little to argue with that.

What is more remarkable is that with this letter, Zijlstra is forcing companies to reserve money for their termination, while no decision has yet been taken on their future. The state secretary thus anticipates a parliamentary debate that will not be held until November. He is thus influencing democratic decision-making. Incidentally, it is also unwise, because there will always be directors of institutions who will quickly secure their own position and severance pay via this ukase. And if, via, say, the GeenStijl fuss arises about it, well, that's convenient then. "Cultural sector enriches itself" - we can already see the headlines. PVV happy, Zijlstra happy. Biscuit, dough.

The industry itself

In fact, the official response from the sector itself also rattles on all sides. The Nederlandse Associatie voor Podiumkunsten hastily sent a letter to potentially affected members advising them as follows:

Our legal expert recommends filing a registered response within the time offered with the information that can be provided in this short time frame. Submit this response under protest, stating that the time limit offered is far too short (for comparison: the regular processing time for administrative bodies is eight weeks). With regard to the expected friction costs, the same applies: as far as possible, give an indication of out-of-budget costs and again indicate that this is premature.

However, our in-house lawyer advises otherwise. After all, the ministry's letter is not a demand, to which a formal objection can be made, but only a request for information. But one with a tickable invitation to suicide. So the advice not to supply anything, but merely to object to the demand because information is requested here that anticipates a concrete judgment, sounds more logical. That is always lesson number one for every politician: I am not going into a hypothetical here.

A few questions remain.

Did Zijlstra lie to the House?

No, he explained why he believes it is necessary to implement the cuts as soon as possible. In doing so, he never said that this would cover all friction costs.

Did he mislead the House?

Let's just say he is teetering on the edge. For seducing the House to agree to the plan to make substantial cuts as of 1 January 2013 with the argument that a lot of money can be reserved for friction costs, and then deflecting them onto the sector itself ... If he gets away with it, then it is an absolutely brilliant tactic on the part of the State Secretary. We can then argue that the opposition and the sector should have asked for concrete figures earlier and more emphatically.

Is this a case of mismanagement?

That is up to the Senate and the courts, but it has every appearance of being so.

To be continued - of course.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5€ / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)