The artistic director of the National Theatre has described Arts Council England's proposed funding cuts as a "strategic catastrophe".

Nicholas Hytner also accused some regional Arts Council bodies of turning into "unacceptable fiefdoms".

The council, which is responsible for distributing public money to the arts, is proposing to cut the grants of 194 organisations and to begin regular funding for 80 new projects.

Speaking at the National Theatre 2008 season launch, Hytner said: "I would start quite strongly by defending the proposition that every now and then the Arts Council should be bold and encourage new ventures, and decide which old ventures deserve less support. I think that is almost unarguable.

"I think the Arts Council should be encouraged to think boldly otherwise new companies and new ideas will not emerge because they won't have the support.

"Having said that, the current situation is a terrible mess.

"They seem to be ill thought through and certainly very unfair on those who have been told to prepare for cuts."

He added: "It is a strategic catastrophe and it is a shame because I think in principle perhaps what they are trying to do is right."

Hytner personally lobbied the Arts Council about three organisations which he supports - the Bush Theatre in West London, the Northcott Theatre in Exeter and the National Student Drama Festival in Scarborough.

He is "gloomy" about the outcome, saying: "Obviously these companies have not been given enough time to respond to the proposed cuts and I tend to believe them when they say a lot of them were given insufficient notice of Arts Council dissatisfaction."

Hytner criticised Arts Council England's setup and suggested an artist with a real under-standing of the industry be made chairman.

"A hell of a lot of people in positions of power and influence don't just believe the bollocks, they live the bollocks. They complicate rather than simplify," he said.

"I think there is a very simply proposition here. Good theatre - and for 'theatre' read the performing arts in general - deserves public investment. The closer we can keep that proposition, the better.

"I have to believe that a proportion of these decisions have been well taken by informed and intelligent people, who have been undermined by those who aren't intelligent and informed."

Another problem, Hytner said, is that "the devolution of power to regional Arts Councils means there is a widely different set of criteria being brought to bear on different parts of the country".